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Better Broadband for Suffolk UK Publishes 2nd Open Market Review

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 (9:37 am) - Score 890

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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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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8 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark

    So BDUK decided to set some targets and allocate some funding in total absence of any real meaningful information of how much it would cost to achieve said target.

    BDUK then removed local bodies’ ability to negotiate by nominating one supplier and in effect one technology.

    Said local bodies then go to the single nominated supplier armed with the cash, are told it isn’t enough, and then have to go back for more money.

    Repeat in perpetuity.

    On another note why is everything named in such an Orwellian way – “Open Market Review” – no, it isn’t – “OpenReach” – it isn’t and it doesn’t, “fibre broadband” – that’s a giggle, and so on.

  2. Avatar gerarda

    If I read the maps right then

    a) 23,245 out of 347,000 (7%) of premises will not get a 2Mbps service under either the current commercial rollout or the BDUK phase one. These do not all appear to be areas where BT rolled back their commercial rollout and so include ones subject to the BDUK contract.

    b) 85,700 (25%) of premises will not get a 15Mbps service under either the current commercial rollout or the BDUK phase one. This gives a 75% coverage which even with a lower than 24Mbps threshold is 5-10% lower than stated at the time of the contract. Some of that will be due to lower commercial coverage but it looks like the extent to which rural areas are beyond the scope of cabinets was under-estimated.

    The ITT is only going to be open to “Framework Suppliers” and there is the usual bar on wireless providers unless they are prepared to turn themselves into fixed fibre providers so I presume BT will have no competition despite their apparent inability to deliver even their contractual minimum 2Mbps under Phase 1.

    • Avatar DTMark

      Ah, but was there any contractual minimum?

      We were all led to believe once that this was a superfast broadband rollout, but as this article clarifies, the original project objectives were abandoned and Suffolk have agreed differently e.g. 15Mbps not 24Mbps or better. I had thought that Surrey had agreed the same too. Neither county has a “superfast broadband rollout”. Yet, BDUK appear to have signed off on this. Rather odd.

      All we need to do is have a look at the contracts. From memory the only contract we’ve actually seen was from another area and was somewhat redacted. It’s only our money, after all.

      And to answer the point in the original article, AFAIK if any cable modem doesn’t sync at the stated data rate/package speed then it’s automatically and necessarily a fault. This does not mean that there’s any throughput guarantee but then I’m not aware of any throughput guarantee with VDSL either. There couldn’t be, really, since not all the lines – unlike cable – can sync at any particular speed anyway.

    • Avatar gerarda

      The stated contractual aim was 2Mbps for all.

    • Avatar DTMark

      An “aim” or a “goal” is not a contractual requirement 😉

  3. Avatar gerarda

    yes but it was an electoral commitment -and I suspect it was in the contrat

    • Avatar DTMark

      I’m not convinced, for two reasons:

      – When I asked our county about it – for example, how is a minimum of 2Mbps going to achieved for everyone in our area – the question was avoided. I did get replies, but that particular question received no response. Believe others have done the same and failed to achieve a response.

      – If the budget is limited, and this is the underlying goal, then that’s the one which would necessarily have to have been sorted first in terms of the logistics and the finances, then seeing what’s left over for the “superfast” bit. However the projects seem to have gone in the opposite direction. VDSL cabinets will take some from 2 Meg but even if you put a VDSL cabinet next to every single phone cabinet in the country, you still won’t achieve 2 Meg for all.

      We simply need to have a look at the actual contracts which for some reason are “commercially confidential” despite it being our money and all semblance of “commerciality” having been drained from the process at the outset.

  4. Avatar JNeuhoff

    @DTMark: “We simply need to have a look at the actual contracts which for some reason are “commercially confidential” despite it being our money and all semblance of “commerciality” having been drained from the process at the outset.”

    Freedom of Information Act?

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