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UPD Councils and BT Move Closer to Publishing Full Broadband Rollout Data

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 (10:04 am) - Score 619
margaret_hodge_pac_bt_meeting_jan_2014

The procrastinating over whether or not BT and or Local Authorities will ever release detailed broadband speed and coverage data, ideally down to the 7 digital postcode level, as part of the Government’s national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme could soon come to an end.. in some areas, maybe.

A new letter exchange between MPs and organisations involved in the process, which has been published by the Grasmere Broadband Initiative, appears to suggest that last month’s Public Accounts Committee event (here) might have spurred some councils into taking action to address the problem.

So far most Local Authorities have only been willing to publish vague coverage maps, which means that many smaller ISP / altnet projects have been unable to obtain grants from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) because they cannot confirm whether or not BDUK and BT will overbuild with their own network (needed for state aid clearance).

Meanwhile councils have complained that a mix of natural roll-out uncertainty (coverage plans can change so no published plans will be 100% accurate until the end of BT’s roll-out), complex non-disclosure agreements, protection of BT’s commercial interests and fears of bad publicity appear to have delayed the efforts to get more information into the public domain. It’s also worth pointing out that many of the original BDUK contracts only required BT to supply 5 digit postcodes (e.g. BH13 3).

Never the less BT’s Group Strategy Director, Sean Williams, recently “made clear in all cases that we are okay for this information, down to seven-digit postcode level, to be published by local bodies if they so choose“. Meanwhile DCMS and BDUK have written to councils, a second time, to make clear that “there should not be any barrier to their publishing [the] information“.

Now a new letter exchange between Tim Farron MP and Martin Campbell of the Grasmere Broadband project has included the official position from Cumbria’s (England) Corporate Director for Environment and Community Services, Jim Savege.

Jim Savege’s Letter to MP Tim Farron

Dear Tim

BROADBAND INFORMATION

Thank you for your email dated 6th February. We have information provided to us by BT showing expected coverage at seven digit postcode level. The information was updated in August last year and marked as commercially sensitive. We have been working with colleagues in BT since then to agree how the data could be released. We understand, following the PAC meeting on 28th January that BT have no objection to the release of this information.

We are currently discussing the release of this data, in a suitable format, with BT. We hope agreement will be reached soon and the information will be released as quickly as possible.

Yours sincerely

Jim Savege
Corporate Director – Environment and Community Services

It sounds like progress, although there are still some suggestions that BT might be seeking a little something extra before releasing the data and we are currently querying that to clarify. Meanwhile some councils’, such as Dorset, have been doing a better job of publishing more detailed data than others.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We have made clear that we are okay for the coverage information in the contract to be published by local bodies if they so choose. Cumbria Council have the data in question and they can publish a map if they wish to.

BT does produce maps and marketing materials for several counties that have paid for that option in their contracts, but that isn’t the case with Cumbria. We did offer them that service at a small cost, but it is nowhere near as expensive as some seem to be suggesting and they are entirely free to commission their own materials.

As we’ve said on several occasions, any data released at this stage of the programme should be highly caveated. Our work in Cornwall proves that plans change significantly as we progress with the roll-out.”

In any case the situation appears to be moving forward but the proof will be in the pudding and hopefully we won’t have to wait another 6 months before the information finally surfaces.

The problem will then become with whether or not all councils take the same approach and what happens when the roll-out plan changes, which could lead to some postcodes being removed and or others being added to the list as the project progresses. Councils and BT will want to avoid this kind of confusion but it may be difficult when the data is so open to change.

UPDATE 11:26am

Added a comment from BT above.

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar Matthew Williams says:

    Good news hope it actually happens as it will certainly help people out more. Plus should allow Alt nets get a bit of the 20M up for grabs.

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