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Better Broadband for Suffolk UK Publishes 2nd Open Market Review

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 (9:37 am) - Score 936
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The £40m Better Broadband to Suffolk project in England, which aims to roll-out BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network to more than 90% of local homes and businesses by the end of 2015 (note: 85% will get “superfast” speeds of 24Mbps+), has published the results from its second Open Market Review (OMR) which focuses on the future plans to reach around 95% by 2017.

The Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme recently allocated an extra £4.82m (here) to help Suffolk achieve the new 95% coverage goal and the Suffolk County Council has already launched a tender and review process in order to lay the ground work for that (here).

But the latest development has seen the project publish its latest (2nd) Open Market Review document (this is needed to help identify where best to spend the public money) and a series of new tentative coverage maps, which gives a rough indication of where the money might actually be spent.

The latest information reveals that over 25,000 premises have already been passed with BT’s fibre network by the end of March 2014 (note: the most recent April figure is close to 28,000), which means they’re roughly on-track to reach around 100,000 premises by the end of 2015 (note: Suffolk has a total population of around 720k people and 347k premises).

However there are some inconsistencies between the new OMR and the targets already published via the BBS website. For example, the OMR references the current plan as aiming to “extend better broadband to over 80% of Suffolk premises by the end of 2015“, which might just be safe language because their BBS FAQ Page clearly puts the “fibre broadband” target at a firm 90% (with 85% on superfast speeds).

Similarly BDUK sees the 95% target as being for fixed line “superfast broadband” speeds of “greater than 24Mbps“, while Suffolk appears to define its Next Generation Access (NGA) solutions as connections that can offer greater than 15Mbps. As usual the proportion of additional premises under the extension programme that might expect to receive true speeds of 24Mbps+ remains somewhat unclear.

OMR2 Document Extract

Having due regard for the EC Guidelines (which would enable NGA areas getting less than 30Mbps to be classified as NGA White), and the DCMS policy objective of delivering Superfast Broadband (>24Mbps) (which would similarly enable NGA areas getting less than or equal to 24Mbps to be classified as NGA White), we have set the above speed criteria for NGA White to be less than or equal to 15Mbps.

We have set the NGA White speed criteria at this level having regard to the requirement in the EC State Aid Decision that public funding granted under the scheme shall ensure a ‘step change’ in broadband capability (typically provides at least a doubling of average access speeds) – our priority for targeting NGA interventions is to use the available public funding to provide a ‘step change’ in broadband capability for premises currently getting relatively slow broadband speeds (< 15Mbps), rather than using the available funding to provide more marginal increases in broadband capability for premises already getting higher broadband speeds (>15Mpbs).

We have also had regard for the current position in the UK retail market, whereby all of the major retail providers are using a threshold of at least 15Mbps for customers ordering a higher speed broadband service designed to support a bundle of broadband, Pay TV and telephony products with a quality of service that ensures a fully satisfactory customer experience. However, we reserve our position in relation to any speed tests that might be used to define future intervention Areas for public funding, which may seek to establish a higher level of minimum NGA speed to fully support current policy objectives (eg DCMS >24Mbps, EU >30Mbps) or future policy objectives.

It’s unclear where the statement which claims that “all of the major retail providers are using a threshold of at least 15Mbps for customers ordering a higher speed broadband service” has come from. We note that BT’s FTTC lines have an upper Fault Threshold of 15Mbps but we aren’t aware of the same applying to Virgin Media’s cable platform. The non-specific “higher speed” language also doesn’t do much to help.

At any rate BBS has yet to pick a supplier and their consultation remains open until 15th May 2014, thus we won’t get a complete picture of how any plans to extend the reach of Suffolk’s project will pan out until this process has completed. But of course they’ll almost certainly end up picking BT again because there aren’t any other viable BDUK bidders.

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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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