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UPDATE BT Admit BDUK Broadband Speed and Coverage Data is Confidential

Monday, November 11th, 2013 (3:47 pm) - Score 2,791

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“.

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.

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

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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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29 Responses
  1. Avatar Phil

    Bill Murphy, I disagree with you. U’re have to show the public as part of BT residential line rental and shouldn’t allow to BDUK Fibre Broadband Speed and Coverage Data is Confidential.

  2. Avatar gerarda

    I find it astonishing this was not made a requirement of the contract. How can BT claim commercial confidentiality in areas that they had said were not commercially viable?

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      The areas deemed not to be commercially viable by all operators (not just BT) are not a secret. Every county published intervention areas, effectively maps showing where no company had plans to invest, or at least none that were shared during each county open market review.

    • Avatar gerarda

      @ new londoner read the article first then look at my comment in context

    • Avatar DTMark

      How do you determine “commercially viable” in areas where BT operates as a monopoly and is guaranteed to get all the taxpayer’s money? There is no such concept.

  3. Avatar dragoneast

    Nobody is explaining this very well are they? They are all just encouraging the conspiracy theories.

    I assume if there is a commercial issue it’s because the public funds are only part funding the roll-out by BT in the BDUK intervention areas. So BT are still dependent on a commercial rate of return (albeit a lower one than in the commercial roll-out areas). That COULD be prejudiced. Whether that is likely to occur may be a quite different matter. It’s the reverse side of the coin to the problem faced by grant aiding altnets in an area where BDUK funding is expended. I may be barking up entirely the wrong tree, so help me please, Mark.

  4. Avatar dragoneast

    Remember folks, BT aren’t a charity or a social enterprise, they’re a commercial company, with a fiduciary duty to their shareholders (beneficially including everyone who ever hopes to receive a pension other than just the miserly state one). It’s what we voted for and got the windfall from in the 1980s.

  5. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    N Yorks was a pilot project, and their deployment map is far more specific. The county council also set up NYNET to bring boradband to the most rural areas.

    http://www.superfastnorthyorkshire.com/where-and-when

    Things were obviously tightened up (i.e. made more vague) BT in the subsequent contracts

  6. Avatar Chris Conder

    The councils (run by BT) and BDUK demand detailed maps from anyone applying for RCBF funding, and no excuses permitted. Every postcode has to be accounted for. Why do BT not have to do the same? Why is there not a level playing field? Why don’t they listen to the PAC and the Sec Of State?
    Are they so in control that nobody can get answers? For 3 years communities have been trying to get some funding for rural broadband, and BT have in effect stopped them. At last they have admitted it, and so hopefully now government will do something? or are there no people with fibre moral or optic left running the country?
    Oh how other countries must laugh at this farce. Digital britain? we’re a joke. BT don’t even need the miserly £20M from RCBF but they have been determined nobody else could ever get it, and provide competition, and they have succeeded. Be sure their sins will catch them out.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      Chrisa

      Quote “Oh how other countries must laugh at this farce. Digital britain? we’re a joke.”

      Which countries are you comparing the UK, and using what criteria? Sources please as everything I see suggest that UK is aheaed of alll the other major European economies, is moving up the international league tables (eg OECD, Akamai, others).

      Given how little our government have spent compared to most, you could argue it has played a blinder. Useful to compare stats with your sources given the very different picture you are painting.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Don’t expect a reply…

      ‘Sins of BT’ has replaced ‘copper cabal’. Even the progress in Cornwall is not recognised as a success.

    • Avatar gerarda

      @New Londoner – I presume you don’t consider the likes of Holland and Sweden as major economies then?

      The graph on page 16 of this report shows just how much work has still to be done
      http://point-topic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Point-Topic-UK-Broadband-Availability-June-2013-report-and-methodology1.pdf

      So far the main achievement of BDUK has been to put back the USC by five years.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      ‘The councils (run by BT)’

      Okay. You just suggested that every council that’s signed a BDUK agreement is run by BT. This might not be entirely accurate.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Gerarda, how does the average ADSL speed actually help us with anything? That’s a function of line length and doesn’t take account of availability of FTTC or cable?

      Try the graph on page 24 and the map on page 25 instead, and remember that that’s land mass, not population, and it makes somewhat better reading.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Gerarda
      Since you ask, no I do not consider either Sweden or Holland to be major European economies, both having a GDP that is smaller than that of London.

  7. Avatar Chris Conder

    New londoner or liv, whichever. sorry for tardy reply, was peeling spuds.
    Its Bill Murphy who has played a blinder, not the government. He and vital vision have brainwashed everyone in power into thinking we have a digital infrastructure, whereas in fact all we have is ‘cheap’ broadband through existing phone lines. It is sufficient for many people in cities near exchanges or cabs. It is useless for everyone on longer lines. It is opening up a digital divide and because of all the hype its created with it million pound marketing and legal departments it has covered all this up with statistics. Every country with a good phone network (and yes we do have phones in every home, which is good) is suffering the same issues. The incumbents want to leach the remaining assets from it. That is fine, that’s business, but they shouldn’t stop innovation by others and prevent competition in the way they have done with the BDUK and now even the paltry RCBF pot has been scuppered. Shameful practice, and history will remember this copper cabal. And as for Cornwall, well if over £400 million couldn’t yield a few fancy case studies to show off in London its a poor kettle of fish innit?

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Whatever you’re smoking may I have some?

      I’ve heard the rumour that New_Londoner is Liv Garfield, though I’m fairly sure it’s not the case. She has rather better things to do with her time than indulge us.

      Cornwall isn’t £400 million it’s £132 million. While you’re banging on about how rubbish it is do remember that it wouldn’t pay for half of Cornwall to be improved let alone 95% if you were to insist on all FTTP. Even your bosom buddy Neelie Kroes is complimentary of the Cornwall product.

      Sadly if you can’t get something as basic as the cost of the Cornwall project correct I see no reason to think your other comments have any credibility, and struggle to see that you have any credibility on this matter.

      You should perhaps stick to helping rurals deploy their own networks rather than banging on about how rubbish BT and FTTC are. The hundreds of thousands benefiting from it really couldn’t care less and I really wish you’d change the record.

      The lack of transparency on the part of BT is disturbing but that good point is completely lost in the rest of your diatribe of bovine excreta.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Chris
      You forgot to state which stats for which countries you are comparing with the UK to conclude that the situation here is “a joke, Digital Britain is a farce.” Let’s see your data to back this up.

      And how is the digital divide growing when fibre broadband us now available at over 75% of premises? This suggests the divide is shrinking, and doing so rapidly, how do you conclude the opposite?

      You would prefer FTTP everywhere, remain elusive about how this would be funded or why so many would be prepared to wait so many years for a connection to this fibre utopia. Your own experiences with B4RN show the difficulties – a high cost per home passed, a very slow build rate.

      Please stop the sloganising, instead start specifying what you would do instead and how it would be paid for. You know my view, drop the billions of pounds wasted on the Common Agricultural Subsidy every year and funding becomes feasible, although timescales remain very difficult. In other words, less digital daydreaming by the fibre fetishists and more specifics please – I can do sloganising, alliteration too!

      PS I’ve said before I’m not Liv Garfield, remain resolutely male! (Neither do I use multi ids, another common suggestion).

  8. Avatar GNewton

    We have been saying that all along: The BDUK process is a farce, BT should never have received all the taxpayer’s money in the first place under these given circumstances.

    BT is NOT a charity! More infrastructure competition would have been needed, the excuses of commercial confidentiality do not apply here, because BT is a regulated telecom monopoly company.

    • Avatar fastman

      Gnewton there is no regulation around provision of broadband – ie it does not have to be provided – Voice has to be provided (up to Certain Level of Cost as part of condition of licene

      the speed and coverage templates are part of contact between Bt and LA (each will be specific to each LA)

  9. Avatar dragoneast

    I still don’t quite get BT’s position. When their postcode/cabinet/expected uplift plans for the commercial roll outs were leaked, and were widely available they didn’t take any steps to stop the circulation e.g. by injunction, which they would have done if the contents were that commercially sensitive. So I knew my postcode could expect FTTC almost a year in advance of anything appearing on the on-line checkers. Now I accept in more rural areas it may take more work to formulate proposals than the simple desk-top exercise it might be where there are existing cabinets, but why can’t the same schedule updated as evaluations are completed be kept publicly available? Sure the information might change, as all projections do. It might not help much though to those who want IT ALL, NOW.

    • Avatar gerarda

      BT had to make the commercial areas known to stop them becoming intervention areas. Once they got BDUK/EU approval to set up a monopoly those areas were then redrawn.

  10. Avatar Chris Conder

    Dear New Londoner,
    it isn’t fibre broadband unless its fibre to the home. and the homes you have passed are those who already had a connection. How many have connected? The divide is between those and those who have no connection, so if you are speeding up the 75% then the divide is growing? How can you make the stats say otherwise? I am sure you will think of a way. And as far as sloganising goes ‘fibre broadband’ through copper phone lines is the biggest joke this century.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      Chris
      There is no problem with calling any of FTTC, FTTN, FTTB or FTTP fibre broadband, given these are all terms used by the industry in the UK and elsewhere. You may prefer to limit its usage to FTTP, but you can’t impose this on a global industry that developed the technology.

      As for the digital divide, quite why you include those that prefer to stick with slower or no broadband when options are available is a mystery. Roughly 75% of premises can connect to fibre broadband according to Ofcom, and this continues to increase, so by any sensible definition the “divide” is shrinking, even if some choose not to take advantage of the options at the moment.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      Chris
      So those are my answers, what about my questions now? As a reminder:

      You would prefer FTTP everywhere, remain elusive about how this would be funded or why so many would be prepared to wait so many years for a connection to this fibre utopia. Your own experiences with B4RN show the difficulties – a high cost per home passed, a very slow build rate.

      Please stop the sloganising, instead start specifying what you would do instead and how it would be paid for. You know my view, drop the billions of pounds wasted on the Common Agricultural Subsidy every year and funding becomes feasible, although timescales remain very difficult. What do you propose, how will it be paid for?

  11. Avatar Diplodicus

    For the past two years, we have been gathering support for Gigaclear to offer FTTH to our Hants/Wilts villages and we are about to cross the finishing line. The process has taken far longer than it needed thanks to the actions of certain directors of a well-known telco who, on learning of our activities:

    * immediately made representations to all our parish councils warning them against doing anything to jeopardise the BDUK roll-out;
    * slagged off Gigaclear as small, not properly funded, using contractors to lay cables, etc. etc. etc.
    * wrote to our parish council threatening to take them to the local authority standards people if they even hinted at approving or seeming to endorse our campaign
    * accused me of publishing inaccurate and misleading on our village website but then refusing to say what it was

    Our two county councils have made it absolutely clear that they are unable to offer any information other than the usual low-scale .pdf map covered in weasel words about not vein definitive, subject to change, dependent on take up, etc. etc. It is 2.5 miles to our nearest cabinet and four miles to the exchange. Speeds vary from 0.1 mbps to a max 1.6 Mbps depending where you live.

    I chose to live in the country so I didn’t expect the government to subsidise my communications, However, with Gigaclear I can enjoy ultra-fast broadband, our community gets an investment of £3m and all at no cost to the taxpayer. Instead of encouraging us, our campaign has been attacked at every opportunity. Certain councillors seem to have jumped on the bandwagon and seem to us to wish to claim their share of the credit for bringing to ‘their’ communities “super-fast broadband” that won’t even meet the speed targets for the EU of 30 Mbps. Meanwhile BT’s “up to” 16 Mbps still manages to achieve an average max speed of 11.1 Mbps (Ofcom August 2013). If only!

    • Avatar DTMark

      Interesting stuff. I recall speaking with Hampshire CC on a similar theme. Two providers would have been interested in looking at our (wider) area on a commercial or semi-commercial basis, so this suggests a win-win.

      Hampshire CC were pretty well forbidden from dealing with those providers. BDUK said “Pot of money here. BT there. Move along.”

      I wasn’t able to gain a detailed breakdown of the areas to be “covered” nor any expected speeds. Nope, we won’t work with you at all. Pot of money here, BT there. We’ll do you a vague “map”. There is no real accountability, no transparency at all. It’s only “Other People’s Money”, isn’t it.

      Where we are now is that said map has been produced which shows that one half of the village, which happens to be the bit I live in, might be getting “an upgrade” of some sort. Assuming that’s VDSL – er, the commercial sector has already delivered. EE 4G is live and Three 4G is on the way.

      What I have from EE 4G is likely to outperform VDSL by some margin though for others (e.g. the ones really near the cabinet who have copper lines) it will be the other way around. Even with the taxpayer paying, BT still manages to deploy trailing edge tech that just doesn’t compete and may be an irrelevance here for another decade. Councils’ bargaining position was nil thanks to BDUK.

      The other half of the village with the slowest speeds (e.g. 0.5Meg down) is due to be “reviewed by 2017”. This is not going down well at all with the residents of that half of the village further calling for a campaign to build our own network which is where we began.

      And of course the first half of the village in line for the undisclosed “upgrade” is not actually guaranteed to get anything anyway. “Plans” are subject to “change”.

      And it will all have to be done over again anyway. I can see an exact rerun of the entire BDUK farce in a decade or so when the 5 to maybe 30-something meg speeds then demand improvements while BT then hold the consumer and the government over the proverbial barrel again about finally replacing the copper and aluminium sections.

      Points for joined-up thinking and value for taxpayer’s money: none at all. But then this was corrupt from the very start (my view, not ISPReview view) to make sure BT got the money so in that respect the project has been a success in that the objectives have been met.

  12. Avatar RD

    I do not forsee BT publishing the information and it does look highly suspicious. Are you going to tell me BT do not know and he council’s whom has all the info? give me a break BT were trying to keep it under wraps as everyone knows BT has a fairly big list of no go areas for FTTC/FTTP. I know i live in N Ireland where BT and the locals were trumping about NI having the most fibre in Europe. They said we were one of the first places in the EU with such huge fibre access. The problem is whilst they took out a fair chunk of public money they only did half the job. Hell my mother still only has access to TT or BT 8MB so if her and my father want BT Sport then 8MB from BT is going to be thier limit. Most of the lines connect only tothe exchange in the center of town and hence will only ever get the prospect of 24MB over copper and not FTTP or FTTC and its superior service and prices for having paid the exact same taxes.

    Now BT are long gone, the work is done yet no one is talking about all these people left stranded on copper tech we were led to believe would be surpassed. I wrote to Livingstone who told me BT were committed to finding new ways to support exchange lines. There is no way in hell it is going to happen as BT are too busy keeping the copper for the line rental. Honestly all this public purse robbing, refusal to drop line rental and copper is a plain slap in the face when BT just paid out 900m for the rights to the Champions League for BT Sport to expand thier fibre appeal.

    Yes you heard that right the same company who are refusing to roll out in most areas until the local councils meet them half way in costs have 900m spare to pay UEFA for football rights. What a disgusting thieving cartel BT really are.

  13. Avatar RD

    PS will there be a public inquiry in to how BT managed to muster up 900m pounds? Surely we should scrap BDUK now and call it a day? I would call thier bluff and slam the brakes on BDUK and remove all funding from it. And when there is uproar across the UK and people ask why? I would tell them why would the public create a 1 billion pound fund to get themselves fibre internet when BT had the 1 billion pounds themselves?

    Who is the UK telecoms operator here meant to be providing everyone with state of the art technology? The public or BT? If you say BT then i say how come so far all costs for fibre rollouts have been a split of roughly 65% EU/BDUK money and 35% of BT’s money?

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