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UPDATE Prime Minister Demands More Broadband Roll-Out Info from BT

Thursday, Apr 3rd, 2014 (7:49 am) - Score 925
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The Prime Minister of the coalition Government, David Cameron, has joined recent calls from the Public Accounts Committee by demanding that BTgive more detail in their roll-out plans” so that rival ISP schemes can “see whether there are different ways of filling any gaps” in the planned broadband coverage.

At present the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative is working with BT to make fixed line superfast broadband (25Mbps+) download speeds available to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017, using predominantly FTTC/P technology.

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But critics of the scheme, such as the PAC’s chairwoman Margaret Hodge MP, have been frustrated by both the apparent lack of competition / alternatives to BT’s infrastructure in the process and the operators “lack of detailed broadband rollout plans to create conditions whereby alternative suppliers may be crowded out” (here).

Alternative ISPs are too small to bid through the BDUK process but they can make approaches through the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF). However state aid rules require that public money not be used to overbuild another Next Generation Access (NGA) network, which means that altnets first have to establish whether or not their plans will conflict with the BDUK / BT deployment and that’s difficult if the full roll-out data has been withheld.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll and Bute, Mr Alan Reid, yesterday called on Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions to help get the information published and the PM duly responded.

Mr Alan Reid asked:

Bringing superfast broadband to rural areas is vitally important, and the Government are rightly spending over £1 billion on it, but my constituents are very frustrated that BT cannot tell them when, or even if, their home will be connected, which makes alternative planning impossible. Will the Prime Minister tell BT to produce clear plans for the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money it is getting?

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

I have had this discussion with BT, and I am happy to hold it again. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), will take up the specific point, which is that we have asked BT to give more detail in their roll-out plans about which homes and areas will get broadband so that other companies and organisations are then able to see whether there are different ways of filling any gaps.

However, I do not agree with some who think that BT has somehow not been putting its shoulder to the wheel. A massive investment is going into broadband: 10,000 homes and businesses are being connected every week. This is a real success story for our country.”

Meanwhile BT claims to be “delivering value for money“, a “very high level of transparency” and the operator yesterday pledged that “more detailed data will be released by [councils] in due course once surveys have been completed and we know for sure that we are going to an area“.

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The eagle-eyed will spot that releasing data stage-by-stage could mean that some alternative projects are left to wait until towards end of the BDUK scheme before they can “know for sure” where it will be possible to build that BT hasn’t. But by that point many might have given up or the Government could simply announce another extension, which would reset the clock all over again.

Meanwhile for BT, and indeed any operator that wanted to do the same, the problem is always that you can survey as much as you like but the reality on the ground once you get building can change things dramatically. In some areas you’ll find ways of taking things much further and in others it could be the opposite, but often you can’t be sure until the work is physically well under-way.

On the flip side there’s really no reason why problems like this can’t be resolved and concessions made so that coverage is adapted dynamically, although the risk aversion in some councils will usually tend to side with the safest bet than take a gamble on something different. In some areas that attitude could end up being counter-productive.

UPDATE 12:57pm

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BT has released a new statement in response to the PM’s comments, although it doesn’t add much beyond what has already been said except to pass the buck around a bit (councils and BT have been playing that game for a while).

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We are pleased that the Prime Minister has acknowledged the success of the BDUK programme and the good progress that’s being made up and down the country.

On the subject of roll-out plans, it is up to each local body to decide whether to publish maps illustrating the indicative roll out plan for the area.

Most have already done so and we continue to support those remaining councils who intend to publish more details over the coming weeks.

New locations to benefit from the BDUK programme are being revealed by BT and its partners every week. This activity will continue to ramp up as the roll-out progresses and surveys have been completed.”

It’s worth pointing out that the PM has above specifically asked BT, and not the councils, to be responsible for publishing the data.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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