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UPD UK Government Creates Confusion with Talk of 15Mbps Broadband

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 (10:09 am) - Score 946

The government has caused confusion after yesterday’s crucial Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) industry day, which was supposed to help resolve some long standing problems and design a way forward, created more questions than it answered.

The primary focus of the meeting between ISPs, mobile operators and the government was to discuss how the BDUK framework might need to change in order for the government to spend its additional £250m and extend the previous target, to reach 90% of the population with superfast broadband (i.e. “greater than 24Mbps“), to the enhanced goal of 95% by 2017.

In particular mobile broadband operators wanted a greater role in the BDUK process (here) and smaller altnet ISPs were hoping to solve the stalemate over release of funding from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) scheme, which would be used to connect the final 5-10% of mostly rural areas with faster Internet access (here).

Unfortunately the RCBF cannot easily distribute grants if BT, which has so far won all of the BDUK contracts, and Local Authorities refuse to provide detailed information about where their BDUK funded superfast broadband networks will go. In fairness this is difficult for BTOpenreach to do until they’ve been able to complete the necessary engineering survey work; plus deployment plans often change as the work progresses.

In August the culture secretary, Maria Miller, effectively threatened to withhold the extra £250m from local authorities unless they tackled the RCBF issue (here) but this appears to have had little impact and most projects are only releasing vague coverage maps (though some, such as Dorset, have still been able to do a half-decent job).

According to Computer Weekly, sources at the meeting suggested that the government offered some “positive noises” about embracing altnets but also admitted that related ISPs might end up having to wait until after BT had completed the BDUK funded rollout before they could access RCBF funding.

A Government (DCMS) Spokesperson said:

We did explain that information about the exact location of the final 10% would reveal itself in a phased manner as the implementation actually takes place – the majority of which is in 2015/16 – and that the delivery model we use will have to work within that constraint.”

The government also triggered fresh confusion over how it explains and defines “superfast broadband“, which is currently a reference to internet download speeds of “greater than 24Mbps” or 25Mbps+ if you prefer. It should be said that Ofcom now defines it as 30Mbps+, which mirrors the stance in Europe.

The government has reaffirmed that this is still their goal but, under BDUK state aid rules (here), connections have to meet a minimum speed of 15Mbps some 90% of the time during peak times in the target intervention area (i.e. technical capability).

This is necessary to cover the impact of things like Traffic Management or local network congestion (i.e. the connection might be able to do 30Mbps+ but other factors can often result in slower speeds), although at the same time some fear it being used as an excuse for failing to deliver a truly superfast service. But the rules do somewhat attempt to protect against such an outcome.

At the end of the day you get what you pay for and £1.2bn is a drop in the UK telecoms ocean. We can’t blame the government for trying to make a little go a very long way, although the extra funding should perhaps be opened up to more than just BT.

UPDATE 1:42pm

Added a link to the NGA state aid rules for a little clarification.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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