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Cumbria UK Still Passing the Buck over BT Fibre Broadband Coverage Data

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 (9:25 am) - Score 1,000

The Cumbria County Council has once again refused to publish the 7-digit postcode level broadband speed and coverage data for their state-aid supported roll-out of BT’s superfast broadband (FTTC/P) network, which aims to reach 93% of homes and businesses in the region by the end of 2015. This time the buck is passed back to BT on copyright grounds.

So far most Local Authorities have only managed to publish fairly vague coverage maps for their respective Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) supported deployments of BT’s “fibre broadband” network, although in recent months some of the maps have improved but many still lack a useful level of detail.

Most of the maps continue to make it hard to identify whether or not certain areas, such as those on the borders of the planned coverage, will actually benefit. Similarly a number of bids by alternative network providers to the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) remain stuck in limbo because without the 7-digit postcode data they cannot clarify whether or not the BDUK and BT scheme will overbuild their own network (a crucial requirement for state aid clearance).

At the start of this year 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“. Meanwhile Jon Zeff of the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said, “We will clarify the position to local authorities to make it absolutely clear that there should not be any barrier to their publishing information.”

But councils have continued to reject this, with some stating that the information is still deemed to be “commercially sensitive” by BT and thus they cannot release it. Meanwhile opponents argue that this should not be used as an excuse to avoid publication in areas where public money is being used, although it’s worth remembering that BDUK is a gap funded approach that mixes with private commercial investment (not as open as pure state aid).

On 11th February 2014 the DCMS sent a letter to Cumbria council that confirmed their approach (here), although its language was somewhat generalised and only indirectly referenced the 7-digit postcode level data in the context of an example map search. Since then the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has reiterated its call for councils to “publish detailed mapping of their implementation plans, enabling searches down to full (7-digit) postcode level. The information should include speed of service, as soon as that is available” (here).

As a result Martin Campbell of the Grasmere Broadband Initiative has been attempting to secure access to the 7-digit postcode level coverage / speed data and yesterday his Freedom of Information (FoI) request was finally met with a reply, which somewhat dodged the issue and passed the buck back towards BT.

Dear Mr Campbell

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 – DISCLOSURE

Please accept my apologies for the delay in providing you with a response to your request for letters sent by the DCMS/BDUK to Cumbria County Council regarding the release of postcode level information related to proposed broadband coverage, which we received on 13 March 2014.

The council does not hold information within the definition of your request.

Most of the information that we provide in response to requests submitted under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations 2004 will be subject to copyright protection. In most cases the copyright will be owned by Cumbria County Council. However the copyright in other information may be owned by another person or organisation, as indicated on the information itself.

You are free to use any information supplied for your own non-commercial research or private study purposes. The information may also be used for any other purpose allowed by a limitation or exception in copyright law, such as news reporting. However, any other type of re-use, for example by publishing the information in analogue or digital form, including on the internet, will require the permission of the copyright owner. Where the copyright owner is the council you will need to make an application under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005.

For information where the copyright is owned by another person or organisation you must apply to the owner to obtain their permission.

Yours sincerely,

Claire Park
Team Leader – Corporate Complaints and Information Compliance

At this stage, and after many months of going back-and-forth between the different groups involved, it’s now starting to look as if the struggle to get more detailed information released might never succeed. On the one hand this makes life much harder for altnets, many of which are seeking to secure a small slice of any public funding that might be available, while on the other ordinary people will have to continue making-do with lower detail coverage maps.

The recent allocation of £250m through BDUK’s Superfast Extension Programme has also resulted in many local authorities moving to re-examine their coverage plans for the final 5-10%. This is good news but it also casts a cloud of uncertainty over the intended coverage, at least until the extension strategy is agreed.

So far the only non-BT schemes that are able to move forward seem to be those like B4RN or Gigaclear, which aren’t dependent on state aid in order to get started.

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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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