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UPD UK Gov Creates Confusion Over BT and BDUK Broadband Coverage Data

Monday, October 28th, 2013 (3:58 pm) - Score 1,538

The Cumbria County Council appears to have confirmed that the government’s culture secretary, Maria Miller, will not require local authorities to publish BT’s postcode-based superfast broadband speed and coverage data for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funded deployments. The decision could leave small (altnet) ISP schemes in limbo for several years.

At present a number of smaller ISP and community schemes are stuck in limbo as they wait to secure grants from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), which has been stalled for several months over allegations that BT and Local Authorities have been refusing to reveal detailed coverage information related to the BDUK roll-out.

The £1.2bn BDUK project aims to make superfast broadband services available to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017 but state aid rules prevent public money being used to overbuild an existing superfast network. The catch-22 is that many RCBF projects cannot secure grant funding without first being able to prove that their networks won’t overbuild BDUK, which is difficult to answer without the release of specific coverage and speed data.

Back in August 2013 Maria Miller, whom has been keen to fend off related criticism from a scathing attack by the Public Accounts Committee (here), issued a notice to local authorities saying that she was “keen to see this information made available” so that other broadband ISPs and community groups could “determine whether it is worth their while to develop local broadband projects to fill in gaps” (here). Miller’s department is said to have warned that it would be difficult to distribute future funding to local authorities that didn’t comply with her request.

But since then the only coverage and speed data to be released has come in the form of vague maps and general targets, which rarely shrink down to the necessary street/postcode level information. A recent BDUK Industry Day event (here) also saw the government all but confirm that RCBF projects might now have to wait until BDUK has completed before they can access their own funding to help fill in the gaps. Now a new comment from the Cumbria County Council appears to confirm that the postcode data was never even part of Millers request.

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson told Computer Weekly:

The above matter was raised at the public accounts committee (PAC). However, subsequent clarifications issued by Maria Miller’s office defined what BT meant by information that could be shared. The list of postcodes to which you refer, called the speed and coverage template (SCT), is excluded. BT considers that the SCT is commercially sensitive.”

Meanwhile BT added to the confusion by saying that it remained happy to hand over the details for release by local councils. Naturally Miller’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has chosen to shirk responsibility for the mess and merely said that it was ultimately a decision for BT and the local authorities.

So to summarise, councils say BT won’t let them release the “commercially sensitive” information but BT said it’s not a problem. The game of telecoms Cluedo continues.

UPDATE 29th October 2013

In related news the Lancaster City Council held a meeting earlier this month that was attended by B4RN and BT. The meeting included an update on Lancashire’s “Rural Broadband” project, which is using public funding to help extend BT’s fibre-based (FTTC/P) superfast broadband network to 97% of local premises.

The issue over coverage also cropped up as B4RN are one of the altnets waiting for news of a significant RCBF grant, which has been similarly stuck in limbo due to the aforementioned situation. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee ultimately voted in favour of the following approach.

That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee:

1. Request that BT as soon as possible, produces a clear roll out programme for its superfast broadband in the Lancaster District to enable other providers to work in areas not covered by the BT programme.

2. Request Lancashire County Council to seek immediate permission of BT to provide a clear statement of the terms of their joint agreement.

3. Requests the removal from any future rural broadband contracts with BT that are on a non-disclosure agreement basis to facilitate openness and transparency.

4. Expresses its concern that a large amount of publicly funded infrastructure to facilitate improved rural broadband may be handed over to a single company, without the necessary measures being in place to ensure open and competitive access to other providers. (This may well lead to a rural/urban divide where more remote areas have to pay extra for a single supplier, where urban areas achieve lower costs because of effective competition. This will place these rural areas at a commercial disadvantage and would appear to negate the reason for extending public monies to achieve an equitable and economical level of service.)

5. Expresses its concern that the amount of expenditure by local authorities appears to have risen considerably at a time of severe economic pressure whereas the contributions from BT appear to have fallen. It is also a matter of concern that the costs related to the Northern Ireland programme also provided by BT appear to be considerably cheaper than the costs in mainland UK. Action should be taken by national and local government with BT to address this imbalance.

6. That, once the County Council has received a decision from the Government as to whether BT can enter the areas B4RN has reached, this decision is circulated to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

7. That the County Council in consultation with BT and B4RN provide answers to the written questions submitted.

8. That B4RN circulate details of the postcodes that were covered by the project.

The words “as soon as possible” in no.1 could cover a multitude of sins (e.g. waiting until the BDUK project is completed) and no.3 could impact future uses for a slice of the extra £250m that has been set aside to extend UK superfast broadband coverage out to 95% by 2017.

However one of the most crucial points appears to be no.6 because state-aid rules prevent overbuilding of an existing superfast network and there’s no doubt that B4RN’s FTTH platform ticks all the boxes in that respect. It would be extremely significant if the government decided that BT could overbuild B4RN via the publicly funded project.

On the flip side if B4RN can gain some security from the government then other altnets might consider it worthwhile to risk a deployment ahead of BT, which would prevent the incumbent from pushing them out later via BDUK funding.

As a side note B4RN has already done no.8.

Leave a Comment
39 Responses
  1. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Why can’t the OFT refer it to the Competition Commission who have the statutory oversight of commercial restrictive practices? They do for a lot of local stuff (like old tech cinemas and buses, for heavens sake). After all it affects consumer choice on something that is supposedly vital to the well being of the country (well, so a lot of the commentators and politicians would have us believe). Or haven’t the Government lawyers realised about the internet yet, or don’t they understand this new-fangled stuff?

  2. Avatar SlowLincolnshire says:

    What a surprise! Am sure this would go down as the most expensive game of ping pong in the world. Am fed up with all these mind games, wish they would get on with rolling out outdated FTTC as we are all eager for it………….NOT!!

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    And if BT have no objection as they say, well what’s stopping them from publishing it themselves. I’m sure the electorate would have something to say about any local authority that tried to use their “contract” to stop them.

  4. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Of course, I know the answer to my questions: it is that ALL Government procurement contracts contain a confidentiality clause, precisely to prevent the electorate from finding out what is being done in their name.

  5. Avatar NGA for all says:

    For £1.2bn, we are not telling you where your getting service, we are not telling how much you pay until we present you the invoice, but we are hoping to charge you three times what we billed in Northern Ireland, which per homes passed is closer to the benchmark for FTTP and you cannot examine what BT are ‘investing’.

    NAO, EFRA and PAC describe the deal as ‘rip off’ ‘fleece’ and ‘blackmail’ but no MP has shown any signs he will call a motion for the Gov to instruct Ofcom to amend BT’s Undertakings so the all necessary detail is revealed in the presence of state aid.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Surely they are telling the LA and Government though?

    2. Avatar JNeuhoff says:

      @FibreFred: Links please! What are your sources?

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      No, its a question! Hence the – ? Surely they are aren’t they? If not that is very very very wrong.

    4. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Fibre fred
      Coverage via SCT maybe, but under state aid rules it should be published.
      Costs -no, only the budget reported in the NAO report report table 11 P33.

      Under a proper application of state aid rules – BT marginal cost should be identified.

    5. Avatar DTMark says:

      Since we cannot look at the contracts we have no idea what has been purchased with our money.

      In the commercial world:

      – Customer specifies objectives and invites tenders.
      – Companies tender.
      – Customer reviews tenders and selects the one which best meets their needs ensuring that said tender meets specified objectives.

      If one of the tenders basically said “Give us the money and we will see what we can do” that tender would go in the bin. I would love to be able to send out contracts where the cost is fixed but the deliverables are not, but nobody would place any business with me.

      In the BDUK world:

      – BDUK specifies supplier which must be used
      – Supplier tenders as “Give us the money and we will see what we can do”. Moreover “We won’t tell you in detail what we’re going to do or what it will achieve”
      – Local body says “Here’s a stack of Other People’s Money. Thanks very much” and ticks box.

    6. Avatar NGA for all says:

      You have summarised the NAO and PAC concerns.

      You not mentioned the 6 months of networking planning, which is again paid for by the council but not yet published.

      Some councils are also reporting hefty change request costs. This is very offensive as LA are having to pay to query the efficiency of the BT design, any improved changes to which remain the property of BT.

      The publication of ‘detailed mapping’ to prevent overbuild and support value for money was a condition of state aid, so councils may use this to check with Europe whether they should pay the cheques before the Speed and coverage templates (SCT) are published.

      Hopefully Virginmedia may assist in demanding this as quite a bit of the public subsidy will be bumping up against their areas.

      PAC may also use this event to recall BT to answer this question and the question of the 3 times increase in subsidy over rural Northern Ireland, something they dodged.

      PAC have not used Contempt of Parliament proceedings yet to create enforcement orders in this case, but this may be what is needed to prevent this BT contract becoming the next Serco in a couple of years time.

  6. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    Altnets should in my IMHO not be given protection but like B4RN work with their particular community to provide what is required with a bit of future proofing built in.

    Having a national interop policy is also an essential requirement in regards to connectivity and access between the many Altnets that can exist. BT is large and has the man power and infrastructure BUT being much smaller and agile can bring many advantages.

    If the people creating policy in government cannot bring themselves to privatize Openreach then provide National broadband bonds for Altnets to spring up and prosper. Incentive’s can create a modern fast moving environment where many many small to medium firms can implement their expertise in the subject for the benefit of the UK.

    Maybe we should be working from the outside in?

    1. Avatar Chris Conder says:

      We should be working from the outside in, we’ve said that all along. The only way to provide competition is to start at the hardest to reach areas and that will stimulate market forces to compete instead of patching up the old copper in the cities.
      The RCBF funding was for doing that, but the failure of government to force the local authorities to release the information on postcodes means that the funding cannot be used by altnets. Defra won’t release the money until they have those figures. The only ones who have managed to get the funding are the groups working for BT. ie they hand their networks over to bt once they have built them. Build and Benefit BT its called.

    2. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Chris – who is this ‘we’?

      Given that they are 1000’s of hardest to reach areas how would you determine where to start? And really install backhaul into these areas bypassing the other communities on the way? And if the technology is FTTP it is very many £/premise.

      In many areas it’s clear from the maps where the non-covered areas are, either no cabinets or long lines – lots of opportunities for altnets, apart from the fact there are few potential customers per sq. km. in each of these areas…

      Face facts, nice as FTTP would be, the majority of end customers today will be happy with 30M and a Fod option.

      When the BDUK rollout is complete where will altnets be able to spring up and prosper?

    3. Avatar PhilT says:

      An Altnet that participated in the open market reviews and declared its plans should be protected from subsidised competition from a BDUK project because the area will be “Grey” on the State Aid maps.

      From what I can see B4RN didn’t participate as areas they are active in are White on the State Aid map. As with other things B4RN we won’t get a straight answer.

  7. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    When the BDUK rollout is complete government will announce we all have ‘superfast’ broadband and will ignore the very real digital divide. The fact that many won’t have superfast at all will be covered up. Bit like when they proclaimed 99.8% had broadband. But if they supported altnets now it would be different. Competition is what is needed. They are missing a golden opportunity by allowing this patch up, which will benefit the majority in the short term but is a disaster waiting to happen in the long term. Pouring money into copper patch ups is not the answer. Making a few go a bit faster is not the answer. The network cannot cope forever, its a scarcity model not an abundant one.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      How many is this ‘few’, how many million? Please state how much funding per property is needed for an altnet to install FTTP.

      There is competition, look at Peterborough.

      ‘The network cannot cope forever’. It can, capacity is provided as required.

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      Indeed, look at Peterborough, it appears to me that the altnet in question is choosing to deploy exactly where it can make a business case – in a large area of customers, albeit one where there is already competition already! To be fair there is the possibility of it covering a few pockets of not-spots where neither Openreach or Virgin consider deployment viable, but on the other side of the coin the TBB article (http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/6130-another-gigabit-city-for-the-uk.html) also suggests that the initial phases of deployment will be, in general, to businesses and not to consumers, not exactly the ringing endorsementfor rural deployment!

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      ” But if they supported altnets now it would be different”

      That we do agree on

      It would be a disaster

    4. Avatar NGA for all says:

      The Facts
      FTTP in hamlets/villages, emerging numbers suggest £1,000 per property, all new duct. This could be industrialised further, but it compares well with the BDUK £280 subsidy per premise passed for FTTC.
      FTTP on the hinterland outside these hamlets needs a budget of £2,500. The latter assumes your picking all premises up a valley.

      Part of the attraction of FTTP is the potential to alternatives to the incumbent. I think that the NAO report got BT from £100k per cabinet (L Garfield) down to £25000 but this = represents 36% of the alleged cost. This is still nonsense given the very detailed WIK report suggest the VDSL cabinet are £3-£6k to purchase.

      With a bit more transparency you would get the appropriate mix of FTTC and FTTP.

    5. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Cost Transparency is as important as competition given public money is needed. Ba4n should in its AGM and accounts reveal its current cost to bring fibre to your patch. If you can show FTTP being delivered (not activated) at c£1000 per property, then this beats the c£280 subsidy per premise past (5x£280 per connected customer) for BT FTTC is planning on claiming.

      Infrastructure sharing should be a given. It is made easy as I think Emtelle ducts and cables are being used in most places.

      Once that subsidy hits c£100 subsidy a premise for BT FTTC, it needs to be reviewed per engineering area given what is being achieved with the cost of FTTP installations. BT proved in about 1986 that FTTP had a lower LRIC (long run incremental cost) so the scale of the budgets available suggests more ambition is appropriate.

    6. Avatar Gadget says:

      Isn’t there a trap here in only thinking about the cost of the cabinet without taking into account the cost of installing, and maintaining the whole structure

    7. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Sorry Cabinet is used to represent Cabinet/fibre path overlay+ contribution to Handover point. Fully expanded expansion of the NAO Table 11 on p33 of their report provides an interesting breakdown, although the numbers are something the NAO did not accept The WIK economic analysis of the costs of GEA done for TalkTalk’s submission supporting their margin squeeze test claim are also very helpful and support fully the view that BDUK costs have been inflated.

      The WIK study provide a thorough update and healthy contrast to the 2009 Analysis Mason BSG costs which has been overused to justify some of the numbers in circulation.

  8. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    UK Gov Creates Confusion Over BT and BDUK Broadband Coverage Data

    It’s the only thing any government can excell at.

  9. Avatar Cynical says:

    “without the necessary measures being in place to ensure open and competitive access to other providers” – like B4RN then ? Not.

  10. Avatar PhilT says:

    Good luck to the council with item 1 – Competition Law might have some bearing on that. They may be able to persuade their BDUK project to release detailed plans as other counties are drifting towards, but they can’t require BT to disclose its plans and limit it to them as this would be anti-competitive.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Which bit of competition law? Comms Act 2003 and Ofcom market reviews make clear Openreach’s enduring monopoly in the intervention areas.
      State Aid conditions make clear the intervention area must be published.
      State Aid also states the costs presented must represent their marginal costs.

  11. Avatar GNewton says:

    “but they can’t require BT to disclose its plans and limit it to them as this would be anti-competitive”

    Not quite sure I can follow you here. These are taxpayer’s funded BDUK projects, so the rules are different here, aren’t they?

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      In areas where reasonably detailed plans are available is there anything worth being picked up by an ‘altnet’.

    2. Avatar gerarda says:

      Probably not now BT have been allowed a monopoly of state funding in most BDUK areas. If for example Suffolk had been allowed to put a county wide fixed wire overlay as they had waned to this could have been a sizeable contract for an Altnet, even on an interim basis.

    3. Avatar TheFacts says:

      What was proposed for Suffolk, and what do you mean by interim?

    4. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Looks like the BDUK scheme – ‘Our plan assumes a predominantly fibre-based solution (a mix of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and fibre-to-the cabinet (FTTC)) to 85-90% of premises by 2015…’ Which altnets applied?

    5. Avatar Gerarda says:

      The plan was disallowed by the dead hands of the EU and BDUK. So now there is no solution just a hope that by the time BT have finished their fibre cabinet installations they will have worked out a solution for the rest. As a report from the Better Broadband for Suffolk team to Suffolk County Council last month stated:

      “13. Deploying infill technologies last also increases the likelihood of securing the most future proof and cost effective technology possible. Following various trials, as well as the purchase of radio spectrum by BT, it may be possible to deploy a form of fixed wireless broadband to offer premises beyond the reach of fibre a significant uplift. However, allowing BT sufficient time to test and productise this solution, change controlling it onto the BDUK Framework, increases the chances of its deployment in Suffolk. ”

      To precis “we awarded the contract to BT even though they could not meet the specification”

    6. Avatar TheFacts says:

      So what solutions might have been proposed by others for the funding available?

    7. Avatar gerarda says:

      see five posts above

  12. Avatar Bob says:

    BT constantly play a game to keep the completion at bay. They should be forced to declare their rollout program down to cabinet level. BT have all but finished their commercial rollout. At present small players cannot try to fill in gaps in coverage as no one will declare where thy are

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      It’s fairly obvious from some of the maps already published with not a lot of detail. Where there are no cabinets or long lines. Not that difficult to identify areas that won’t be covered. Thing is, that’s often places with low population densities so not attractive for a company to build there.

      Instead of this continual moan about lack of detail why not look at opportunities in Cornwall as the first place. Or is the answer there that there is not much scope for an altnet…

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