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Broadband Delivery UK Again Push Councils to Publish More BT Map Data

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 (8:48 am) - Score 915
margaret_hodge_pac_bt_meeting_jan_2014

The latest Public Accounts Committee event, which saw BT’s Group Strategy Director (Sean Williams) receive another grilling by Margaret Hodge MP, has revealed that the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office is once again writing to councils in the hope to securing a greater publication of viable broadband coverage data.

Readers might recall that last year’s PAC report (here) made a point of highlighting, as a “matter of urgency“, the on-going concerns over the release of vital broadband speed and coverage data for the Government’s state aid fuelled superfast broadband (FTTC/P) roll-out; this is predominantly being conducted alongside BT and aims to cover 95% of the UK population by 2017.

Detailed coverage data for the Broadband Delivery UK project is required because otherwise alternative operators (e.g. smaller ISPs), such as B4RN, can struggle to get their bids for funding from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) approved.

The RCBF targets the final 5-10% of premises where BDUK and BT’s project is not expected to reach. But state aid rules prohibit overbuilding, which means that altnets must be able to confirm that their plans will not cross with BT’s. However BT regard this data as “commercially sensitive information” and refuse to release it (here), although in front of MP’s they tend to muddy the waters by shifting the blame on to Local Authorities.

Sean Williams, BT’s Group Strategy Director, told Monday’s PAC event:

It is a matter for local bodies to decide what information they put into the public domain and some have chosen to put the full information into the public domain and some have put maps in at a slightly higher level. I think the reason for that is because the exact location of the footprint is uncertain at this stage and so there is a risk that people could give them information that could change during planning and deployment.”

Margaret Hodge responded by saying “I’m not sure that’s honest” before wading into the issue in more depth and waving an example map around, adding that it was “nearly impossible for anybody to identify whether or not their little village or their little area will be covered“. The BDUK scheme last year wrote to Local Authorities requesting that they release more data but, as Hodge points out, this has so far only resulted in most areas releasing generally vague coverage maps (with a few rare exceptions like Dorset).

Meanwhile BT does make a fair point about not being able to 100% identify which areas will or won’t be covered until the BDUK deployment has actually run its course. This is supported by examples like Cornwall (here), where BT’s original aim to cover “at least” 80% of premises was eventually increased to 95% (note: this is not a BDUK project but it’s a good example of how work on the ground can change the deployment plan).

The event also revealed that most or all of the BDUK contracts only required BT to supply 5 digital level postcodes (e.g. BH13 3) instead of the full 7 level (e.g. BH13 3AB), which is one reason why councils might struggle to offer a truly street level detail on their maps. Mind you this also means that even their vague maps are likely to contain some errors due to generalisations of the expected coverage.

The small slice of good news is that BDUK has once again written to all local authorities in the hope of encouraging them to publish the aforementioned postcode data, which would at least be a mild improvement on the current situation. But Local Authorities could just as easily choose to ignore that request and so the debate continues. Credits to Thinkbroadband for spotting the event, which can be watched again HERE from around 16:53 onwards.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Slow Lincolnshire says:

    Nice to see BT getting another grilling from MP’s.

    “You’ve got the postcode data, why don’t you just publish it”, the look on his face is priceless as he’s useless at answering it. Show’s that BT is taking the UK Tax Payers for a fun filled ride

  2. Avatar NGA for all says:

    BDUK reported they identified 1/3 BT project management savings in Suffolk Norfolk. Well done. Why had BT these costs in there in the first place? Why do they not come out in every contract? Is inflating project management costs more impoirtant to BT shareholders than improving the earning potential of the network?

  3. Avatar MikeW says:

    If people saw the maps available from Superfast North Yorkshire, you’d stop saying the BT prevented the data from getting out. These maps look like they go beyond the 7-digit postcode, and reflect actual coverage areas for each cabinet in some cases, while other cabinets get roughly circular coverage areas.

    Those maps show enough detail that you can identify where the rural cabinets are located – well enough that you can almost go straight to the cabinet on Google Streetview.

    They also tell you exactly how far BT think superfast speeds can be sustained out from a cabinet – I measure it as 1200 metres in as many of the cabinets as I have checked.

    There’s definitely a difference in detail from county to county, and just pointing back to the original myth is no longer good enough – for journalists, BT, councils or DCMS. The real answer should be sought out from the councils… if you believe you can get a straight answer from a politician.

    Given that North Yorkshire is one of the pilots, we have to give a little latitude to the recent contracts. But it should point out that every county ought to be able to publish decent detailed maps within 12-18 months of the contract date.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @MikeW It is emerging from these PAC sessions that 1) BT has got different clauses in different county contracts, 2) Only BDUK can look at all contracts, 3) counties cannot look at one anothers. So N Yorks has published and Cumbria cannot until the clauses are lifted.
      We will find BT account teams targetted on money extracted and not optimising state aid invested in revenue returning assets, ie improved broadband is second to billed revenue. This is not in the national interest, neither is it in shareholder interest.
      PAC/NAO has much more to uncover.

    2. Avatar buyer beware says:

      Agree, defintely councillors who don’t want their constituents to know. Also to be fair as with Norfolk/Suffolk, additional monies can arise which gives option to extend coverage. I’ve checked lots of tel nos on several cabs possibly included in my area. Not everyone is on the cabinet you would expect. Some are on cabs that look likely but 2 kms away, not their nearest cab. Others are on cabs not included but in areas mainly served by a cab that is so will wonder why aren’t I receveing superfast when the rest of the street is. Does BT do any swapping of phone lines to sort this sort of thing out does anyone know?

  4. Avatar Martin says:

    Not sure who’s really sitting on the information in Cumbria, BT or CCC. Here’s an update from the 24th February 2014. Still no 7 digit postcode information to date, in spite of everybody agreeing that it should be released.

    http://grasmerebroadband.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/bt-or-ccc-whos-really-sitting-on-the-postcode-information/

    Martin

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