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

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 (7:49 am) - Score 925

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.

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“.

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

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.

Leave a Comment
25 Responses
  1. Oh dear, BT must be quaking in their boots now that Mr Cam-moron has spoken! 🙂

    Isn’t it amazing how BT is unable to release the data if it means giving others the chance to bid, but strangely it is no problem at all releasing the data internally when it is they that are bidding for (and then winning) the extra money?!?

    When is someone in Government going to wake up and realise what is happening and do something about it?

    Sorry, I keep forgetting… …they are politicians-in-power and thus do not give a s***!

  2. Avatar dragoneast says:

    This is what you get in a triangulated debate between the vested interests, the disaffected, and the PR industry that passes for politics. Localism used to be called “passing the buck”. What the heck is the regulator for if not to regulate and take the partisanship and prejudice out? But, as ever, political gamesmanship takes priority. Keep a dog (well, poodle, anyway) and bark yourself. And give the mushroom treatment to the rest of us. Straight out of the civil service handbook.

  3. Avatar George Lloyd says:

    BT Need to come up with a solution for the many thousands of exchange lines.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      We are seeing more and more EOL areas being targeted by the BDUK / BT project and a solution does exist, although I suspect that the bulk of related locations will still have to wait until later in the project.

  4. Avatar sam says:

    we need to be able to enter our postcode and house number to see if we will be able to get fttc or not, anything less is unacceptable.

  5. Avatar DTMark says:

    The Torygraph website is ramping David Cameron at the moment – every day there’s some article telling us what he believes. Those things being largely the things that over 50s complain about. Anyone would think there’s a General Election on the way.

    As they say, watch the hands, not the mouth.

  6. Avatar BT Investor says:

    I wish nanny state politicians would stop interfering with capitalism and allow BT to do its job. Of course BT should not be releasing commercially sensitive information for the benefit of rival operators. BT as a business has an obligation to its shareholders interests as well as delivering for consumers.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      Oh, where to begin.

      Just to check – you would support the withdrawal of all taxpayer funds from BT, and the removal of the pension Crown Guarantee too…?

    2. Avatar Gerarda says:

      These are by definition non-commercial areas therefore the coverage is not commercially sensitive.

    3. Avatar JNeuhoff says:

      BT does not act as a commercial company, it’s more like a beggar, receiving lots of taxpayer’s money, otherwise it is not able to commercially serve more than 1/3 of the UK with VDSL services. I am fine with your proposal, provided all the taxpayer’s money is given back, and the BDUK immediately scrapped!

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      “BT as a business has an obligation to its shareholders interests as well as delivering for consumers.”

      Wrong! There is no universal service obligation for nextgen broadband. Clearly, BT is NOT delivering for many consumers, BT is unable to provide up-to-date last-mile access network technologies, its ISPs have the poorest ratings, it has no longterm plan or vision for implementing fibre broadband on a large scale.

    5. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Then the last thing you need in some BT managers thinking they can write their own rules for state aid, lie about their costs and lie about their investment levels.

    6. Avatar Raindrops says:

      I thought we had them already NGA for all 😉

    7. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @Raindrops Yes your correct, but occassionally they get found out. Perhaps it is just to prepare those coming after them.

  7. Avatar John Popham says:

    How about all future rural broadband procurements state “we will not sign non-disclosure agreements”?

  8. Avatar FibreFred says:

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

    So why doesn’t he ask the right people 🙂

    If its the council decision and that is in the contract then… that’s how it is?

    1. Avatar A. Council says:

      The council can provide details of where BT are not going but it uses BT data known to be inaccurate which is corrected when the area is surveyed. Hence, the councils don’t have the information of where they are going until after the survey of each stage of the deployment at the moment and this is what needs to be fixed. The SCT identifies which postcodes (often 5 digit) will be covered but the only timing is x,000 per quarter and a provisional “Phase”. e.g. in the best case, a council with a postcode of AB1 2(XY) the SCT may specify a single phase, “Phase 3”, but some will be like “Phase 1, Phase 3, Phase7, Phase 8”. These phases are also known to be inaccurate. There’s an example on the web somewhere I’ve seen but BT has the freedom to “optimise and accelerate the deployment” and only provide Exchange area detail to later phases which tells you almost nothing. It is only possible from this to say that “parts of this area will be done in phase x but some not completed will be done later and other parts won’t be done.

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @ A Council Our sympathies. On billing? Are you seeing cabinet costs at £8-£10k or £4-£6k range. If the former, do you have access to the master agreements to see whether volume discount is being attributed to BT group or to Gov?
      Has you project management costs dropped since this was announced at PAC? How much future proofing are you seeing and what’s the incremental cost?

    3. Avatar A. Council says:

      @NGA for ALL: £4-6K, only pay invoices so can see costs. PM savings are real and money stays within project for further investment. Don’t understand what you are asking in your last question.

  9. Avatar four_eyes says:


  10. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    You may not know that old DC is a grove man…

    That man can toke with the best of them! Give the man a little break as he has had a lot to deal with family wise and after all, he seems to also be human?

    I am not a voter so should shut my mouth but who gives a shit right? I for one would not want to be in his position taking shit from both sides!

    Peace and love (and fttp)

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      He is being immensely supportive of a company who has refused to provide reference costs, mis-led about their costs (£100k a cabinet), mis-led about their matched funding (£1bn) and mis-led PAC about concessions in the Framework prices, where they now admit to pricing to win just one of the 40+ bids. The job needs doing, so contracts had to be signed but at least he did not say he was getting value for money.

    2. Avatar zemadeiran says:

      Well put,

      Do remember however that the man probably has a shitload of BT shares which he would not want to see fall in price…

      A billion is only a thousand million, which after all is said and done are only numbers. The true value of a country lies in it’s people and their ability to produce, grow and thrive.

      Like many things, fixed line services will shortly be going the way of a three legged donkey…

  11. Avatar bt says:

    BT openreach are feckin unreliable twats so tell mr scameron to feck off

    1. Avatar zemadeiran says:

      Wrong side of the bed this morning?…

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