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Microsoft and Estate Agents Bash Slow UK Broadband Speeds and HS2

Saturday, October 12th, 2013 (8:12 am) - Score 1,204

Microsoft and a variety of Estate Agents have this week criticised the poor performance of broadband in rural parts of the United Kingdom. At the same time the software giant also warned that spending £42.6bn on the High Speed Two (HS2) railway link instead of super-fast Internet connectivity is a “strategic mistake“.

According to Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Europe, Stephen McGibbon, the Government should be doing more to support remote working by putting more investment into broadband instead of expensive new train routes (Computer Weekly). McGibbon was speaking at a Westminster eForum event this week.

Stephen McGibbon said:

The one negative fact about the future is the current and previous governments think we need to build railways instead of broadband infrastructure and networks. HS2 is an example of how [government support] is not sufficient.. as all it will do is move jobs into London more and reinforce [the existing model]. I think it is a strategic mistake.”

The HS2 project would build a new high-speed rail link between the midlands and northern England by 2032. But Microsoft is by no means alone in thinking that the money might be better spent on improving and possibly future proofing broadband connectivity to 100% of the population.

A recent report from an independent think tank (here) suggested that HS2 should be scrapped and that £5.5 billion of the planned investment could then go towards rolling out “ultrafast to-the-door” broadband coverage across the United Kingdom (note: they’d probably need at least four times that to do FTTH).

Most recently several members of the Treasury Committee have claimed that there are “serious shortcomings” in the current cost-benefit analysis for HS2. Earlier this year it was estimated to cost £33bn and now some expect this to hit £50bn. Meanwhile several campaign groups, including an alliance of 10 Local Authorities, are next week due to have their objections heard by the Supreme Court.

But it’s not all about trains and another report has reflected similar concerns from rural Estate Agent group Prime Purchase, which believes that not enough is being done to make superfast broadband available to rural areas.

Frank Speir, Director of Prime Purchase, said:

Slow broadband speeds are having a definite effect on the market. It’s becoming a much bigger issue. If the house sits between villages, it’s likely to be at the end of a telephone exchange with a very slow connection.

Sometimes people can buy Sky and get a satellite connection, but if you’re at the bottom of a valley and there are leaves on the trees it won’t work. It’s not an issue about price, it’s simply that I have to advise clients against making a purchase.”

However, ignoring the fact that Sky doesn’t actually do Satellite Internet connectivity (only TV via sat and broadband via fixed lines), it should be said that Prime Purchase tends to focus on more upmarket homes; the kind of people who would have enough money to install their own dedicated connection or maybe FTTP-on-Demand if it was available to them. Never the less their general point is fair.

On the other hand the Government, for all the criticism about their BT-only approach to the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, is in fairness managing to make a comparatively small pot of cash (around £1.2bn) go quite a long way. The current aim is to reach 95% of the population by 2017 and despite some delays the scheme is now making progress. It should bring superfast broadband to around 88% by the end of 2015 before achieving the original goal of 90% during early 2016 and then onwards to 95%.

At the same time separate commercial investment has been helping to upgrade areas to superfast broadband for the best part of the last 3-4 years and to many those benefits are now becoming more obvious, which is often reflected by reports from Ofcom and other groups.

But admittedly this will offer little comfort to the many that have yet to see any real improvement, especially people who live in the countryside; the last on the list to benefit. Similarly there are concerns that the current approach is not as future proof as it perhaps could be (hybrid fibre FTTC instead of true fibre FTTH) and might require further public money in the future.

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28 Responses
  1. Avatar Bob

    The HS” money would be better spent upgrading the existing network. It would also make sense to give a tax break to a company for each employee it allowed to work from home for say at least a third of the week

    Look at the benefits of homeworking for say 50% of the week. The company only requires half the office space , half the car park space etc. Road, Rail and bus travel is much reduced. It even saves the NHS moneys as the number of road accidents will be reduced

  2. Avatar JNeuhoff

    Absolutely agree. The UK broadband currently is in a mess, it’s more like a postcode lottery. Half-baked technology like copper VDSL is not future proof, see e.g. the new high-density video streaming services from Netflix etc. Not even the widely announced fibre-on-demand will be available for quite a while for vast majority of exchanges. Let alone simple things like naked VDSL, or multi-bonded VDSL lines. Hundreds of Millions Pounds wasted on BT for no ROI.

  3. Avatar Phil

    And Microsoft two activation on Windows 8.1 (one for standard and one for add on media center) is a mistake! And cost more money.

    • Avatar Roberto

      Yeah a bit difficult to take anything MS have to say about costs seriously. These are the people that most recently wanted to bring you an all spying, drm filled box for £400 and who previously have had anti-competitive judgements over browsers, media players and so much more against them.

      If they are so disgusted with the internet on this planet as one of the biggest businesses in the world why do they not start their own ISP like google has.

  4. Glad these posts keep appearing, at least our history books will have reference to the fact that government was warned. If they choose to ignore the truth and believe the words of a monopoly protecting its obsolete grip on connectivity via its phone network… etc.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      I know you are not a fan but at least the government are getting a network for their money as opposed to investing in something that runs dry before it completes early phases of its rollout

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Actually the words of people with an understanding of the technical and financial elements of what’s involved in a full UK rollout and not just someone biased and with no actual proposals.

  5. Avatar Gadget

    you may also want to check the results of the poll on this site more people want a better coverage than a faster speed from any deployment (2 to 1 at the current time of posting)

  6. Avatar Bob

    We have the government reinforcing the BT monopoly and without completion BT will provide the minimum it can get away with and that is to milk its legacy copper network rather than invest for the future

    The biggest hold to completion is the government and OFCOM have allowed BT to maintain its monopoly of the local loop. If the local loop was split off into a separate wholly owned BT company or a separate company that would do a great deal to get completion into the market

    There was a chance to get completion into the market if the BDUK contracts were better managed, Large areas would have helped as well so splitting say England into 9 regions for BDUK and splitting the contracts between two suppliers

    • Avatar FibreFred

      ” If the local loop was split off into a separate wholly owned BT company or a separate company that would do a great deal to get completion into the market”

      So other ISP’s have fibre ready to be delivered to the home and are just waiting for this to happen?

      TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin all ready to plough in millions to rollout fibre?

  7. Avatar finaldest

    Why is it that taxpayers should foot the bill to build HS2 or a national FTTH network in the first place.

    If HS2 was a viable investment then why are private investors not putting up the cash to build the network. The same argument also applies to FTTH.

    Personally I believe HS2 is a big failure in the making and the money should be spent elsewhere.I am not against big infrastructure projects and in general am a big supporter. A National FTTH network would benefit everyone so it’s a far better investment over HS2 so therefore I would spend the money on FTTH and then spend any remaining cash on upgrading existing infrastructure be it rail or otherwise.

  8. Superfast Britain is failing. In 2017 while 95% of the population may have access to superfast fibre – how many will actually have superfast (over 24 Mbps)? In Government spin terms you could say we have access to fibre now as somewhere alone the line there would be a fibre involved.

    The UK has missed the boat regarding superfast so it may as well miss the train…

  9. Avatar Bob

    The rest of the world is starting to move to a minimum 100Mbs standard in the UK we are still playing around with FTTC and that only to 90% of the population. The Rollout of Fibre has pretty much stopped most of the trial areas have been abandoned

    • Avatar FibreFred

      All of the rest of the world, most of, some of? Are we the only ones playing with FTTC or is most of the world also playing with FTTC?

    • Avatar gerarda

      @ Fibre Fred What network? The BDUK/BT roll out in Suffolk is already full of holes that they have no idea how to /intention of filling, and last Mondays BDUK industry day shows its a nationwide problem

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Bob: You’ll find quite a few posters here with the “I’m all right Jack” attitude, those having a VDSL line, and who find it perfectly OK when it is other taxpayer’s money funding their beloved telecom monopoly.

  10. Avatar GNewton

    While we don’t like Microsoft, I have to admit they are absolutely right in their assesment of the UK broadband. It amazes me that there are still people on this forum who believe that tax-funded VDSL lines via a monopoly telecoms company, with no ROI, is the way forward. Well, it isn’t. And not even these hopeless VDSL proponents have come up with a solution on how to bridge the increasing digital divide or the broadband postcode lottery.

    The sheet incompetence in the UK broadband scenario can be seen by the fact that there is still an anachronistic fibre tax (the modern day equivalent of the daylight robbery via the old Windows or curtain tax). Or that the BT infrastructure still belongs to BT Group, instead of being a fully independent network company.

    There is no detailed cost-benefit analysis of the BDUK money wasted so far. Nor is there an adequate telecoms regulator, OFCOM simply isn’t up to the task. If nextgen broadband is to be regarded as a vital utility, such as electricity, water, etc, then a longterm investment (not taxpayer’s money given away to a sinle company for no ROI) is needed. As it stands, this is simply not the case at the moment!

    • Avatar TheFacts

      If BT are in the best place to roll out a full FTTP network then why not with the appropriate checks in place? The other utilities have a single supplier to each property in an area.

      What’s the ROI on public grants to the arts?

    • Avatar Roberto

      FTTP is not a utility, and even if it were the argument still fails as you can choose your power company. It is not a single supplier (varies across the country) and even if it were a single supplier you can still pick to use gas or electric.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: Have you even read my forum post?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @Roberto – in the same way you can choose from many ISPs, some using LLU.

      Power companies like EoN do not provide the connection into the property, that is by a sole suppler for a particular area.

      Yes, I have chosen a gas supplier for my lighting…

    • Avatar Roberto

      “@Roberto – in the same way you can choose from many ISPs, some using LLU.”

      Really, which ISPs provide FTTP (which is what Thefacts mentioned) via LLU agreements?

      Errr that would be NONE.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      eg. AAISP: Uses BT’s FTTP service to deliver 100Mbps at £34.20/month with 15Mbps upstream.

      Entanet: One of BT’s FTTP trial partners, already offering up to 330Mbps where available.

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