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UPDATE BT Admit BDUK Broadband Speed and Coverage Data is Confidential

Monday, Nov 11th, 2013 (3:47 pm) - Score 2,838
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The Managing Director of BT’s Next Generation Access (NGA) division, Bill Murphy, has said that it and not Local Authorities are responsible for withholding the vital broadband speed and coverage (SCT) data as part of the publicly funded Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) roll-out process.

Back in September the Government’s Public Accounts Committee (here) recommend as a “matter of urgency” that BT publish the “detailed roll-out plans” for any of their state aid supported superfast broadband deployments under the £1.2bn BDUK scheme “so that other suppliers [ISPs] can get on with trying to reach the remaining 10% of the population that will still be without superfast broadband“.

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At the time BT’s Group Director of Strategy, Sean Williams, said that the information in question was the responsibility of Local Authorities to publish and that it was not standing in the way of publication. Even the government’s own culture secretary, Maria Miller, has previously said that she too was “keen to see this information made available” (here).

However most LA’s have so far only published vague coverage maps and those seeking the detailed template data have been told by councils that BT will not release it due to reasons of commercial sensitivity. Now BT has added to the confusion by appearing to reverse their earlier statements.

Bill Murphy, BT’s MD of NGA, said (Computer Weekly):

Because it’s commercially sensitive information. You can publish [coverage] maps and most councils are doing that… [but] you never know until you get there. We have a plan and a view but you do not know until you do the surveys and build and it is subject to change.”

In fairness BT does have a valid point about not having a 100% accurate picture of local “fibre broadband” coverage, which might only become clear after the BDUK funded deployment has completed. But this does somewhat overlook the significant confusion and problems created by their earlier statements.

The data itself is deemed vital for many smaller ISP (altnet) projects that are awaiting funding through the government’s £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), which was setup to help connect the most remote rural homes (i.e. where BT and BDUK will not go). Sadly this has now been stalled for several months by the current situation.

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The RCBF cannot release any grants unless it can be sure that the networks will not use the public money to overbuild each other, which is understandably prohibited by state aid rules. The catch is that you can’t be sure that won’t occur unless the relevant data is made available to check and the government has recently echoed BT by saying that this might not happen until after BDUK has ended in 2017/18 (here).

We have attempted to query the situation with BTOpenreach and hope to have their response in the not too distant future. In the meantime it’s worth pointing out that some LA’s, such as the Lincolnshire County Council, have told ISPreview.co.uk that they’re willing to work with altnet providers in order to resolve such situations. Unfortunately the majority of LA’s do not appear to follow by this example.

Meanwhile it’s worth pointing out that both BT and the Government still predict that the original target, which aimed to ensure that 90% of the UK had access to fixed line superfast broadband speeds of 25Mbps+ by 2015, could still be met (not to mention the extension to 95% by 2017).

UPDATE 4:16pm

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A spokesperson for BT has denied that the response represents a backtracking of their previous position and told ISPreview.co.uk that they’ve “always been very clear“. The operator told us that they were “happy” to support councils publishing draft outline plans on their website but warned that it would be “misleading” for the council and/or BT to publish postcode data before the detailed survey work is completed (note: Murphy also said above that the “build” would have to be done too).

The work is admittedly very complex and BT warned that it would be difficult to reliably predict who will or won’t be included in the footprint. Indeed BT highlights Cornwall as an example of how their original target of 80% was raised all the way up to 95% without changing the level of funding.

But might this apply elsewhere? Openreach are certainly considering a similar situation for the rest of the United Kingdom but it’s obviously too early to know how far beyond 95% they might be able to go (lest we not forget that the EU expects 100% superfast coverage by 2020).

On the other hand if we take this approach then the RCBF is effectively dead to all but BT because who’s to say that the goalposts won’t simply be shifted again in a few years’ time? Rival solutions can’t hang around in limbo to wait. The lesson here is that if your name isn’t BT and you’re waiting for an RCBF grant then don’t bank the future on it happening.

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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