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BDUK Coverage Data Still Elusive in Northumberland Broadband Rollout

Monday, March 31st, 2014 (9:45 am) - Score 568
northumberland_bduk_map

A fresh attempt to secure full coverage data for the Government’s many Broadband Delivery UK schemes has once again failed after BT refused to release the information for a related project in Northumberland, which is despite earlier saying that they were “okay” for such detail to be published.

The £18.9m iNorthumberland project aims to expand the coverage of BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network to reach 95% of local premises by early 2016 (note: 91% will get “superfast” speeds of 25Mbps+). But so far many of the local BDUK schemes have only been willing to publish vague coverage maps and even those that released detailed maps are often still unwilling to release the full roll-out data (e.g. down to the 7 digit postcode level).

The data itself is often necessary to help smaller ISPs determine whether or not their own altnet projects, which often involve bids for public funding through the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), will be successful. In particular RCBF grants need to verify that any proposed network(s) won’t overbuild the BT / BDUK scheme because this would create a conflict with the use of public money (EU state aid rules). It also helps local people to get a better idea of the expected coverage in their area.

But councils have previously warned that such coverage data would be open to uncertainty (coverage plans can change, thus no published details will be 100% accurate until the end of the roll-out), can create conflicts with non-disclosure agreements in some of BT’s contracts and then there’s the fear of bad publicity when the plans invariably change.

However last month’s Public Accounts Committee event (here) saw BT adjust its stance in response to calls for the data to be released. BT’s Group Strategy Director, Sean Williams, “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“. Similarly BDUK and DCMS have told local authorities, a second time, that “there should not be any barrier to their publishing [the] information“.

Since then some councils, such as Cumbria, have finally released more detailed coverage maps but nobody has publicly published the full roll-out list. In the latest example the Northumberland Gazette has unsuccessfully challenged BT to publish a list for all those areas that would be connected to its “fibre broadband” network under the local scheme.

Simon Roberson, BT’s Regional Partnership Manager (North East), said:

It is better to suffer the frustration now than for people to have bought homes or set up businesses because we have said we are going to take superfast there, and then two years later we find we are unable to do it. It is also much more cost-effective for us to plan it in stages.”

It’s not that we can’t see BT’s point here but, whatever your position on the pros and cons of publishing, all involved appear to have previously agreed to release the data and thus statements like this only serve to confuse. On the other hand some confusion, especially in light of the extra £250m that has recently been allocated to extend BDUK schemes, should be expected until councils have had a chance to agree how the extension will work.

Roberson does note that quarterly updates for the Northumberland project, and indeed almost all of the other BDUK schemes, are being released but this isn’t always enough to resolve the aforementioned RCBF issue (unless their project areas are also included but most of them are in remote rural areas and thus likely to be left until last).

As a side note the Gazette’s article actually appears to have requested a “definitive list of exchanges“, which should be a lot easier to satisfy than any demand for 7 digit postcode coverage. Similarly if they used the word “definitive” as part of that request then it might have given BT some wriggle room because the data will only be indicative, and not definitive, until the very end.

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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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