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UPD BT Criticised by Campaign for Better Broadband in London’s Square Mile

Monday, Jul 28th, 2014 (8:10 am) - Score 883

The City of London Corporation has criticised BT for an “unacceptable” failure to deliver superfast broadband connectivity to businesses based within the heart of London’s Square Mile, which it hopes to put right by developing a new strategy and launching a campaign to help map demand for the service.

At present the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme is predominantly focused on helping more sub-urban and outlying rural areas (i.e. locations where commercial investment is more difficult to achieve and EU state aid rules more amenable), while the case for private sector investment in the heart of major cities is generally deemed to be much stronger (less need for public funding).

However, as we’ve written before (here), it’s not always that simple (e.g. physical obstructions, access rights, road work fees/rules etc.). The end result can be a patchwork of connectivity, with some streets able to access “superfast broadband” (FTTC/P) and others left to struggle by on a mix of older and slower solutions or significantly more expensive leased lines (much like the problem in nearby Tech City – here). Not to mention that this can sometimes affect local home users too.

Mark Boleat, Chairman of Policy for the City of London, said (CityAM):

It is a major concern that firms in the Square Mile regularly complain that BT fails to deliver in a timely manner and provide the level of service required, notably through its decision not to roll out superfast broadband. Market failure of this kind is clearly unacceptable for a world-leading global financial centre, and highlights that poor connectivity is not just an issue affecting rural areas.

The attractiveness of the City – and several other locations in London and elsewhere – is greatly disadvantaged by the lack of fast broadband connectivity at an affordable level. Larger organisations can access expensive dedicated leased lines and there is a range of suppliers available to provide these. However, these lines are unaffordable for the 13,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and 9,000 residents based here, thereby restricting them to copper-based slower broadband.”

The Government’s Connection Vouchers scheme, which following legal challenges and EU competition concerns ended up replacing the original £100m broadband infrastructure project, does at least offer SME businesses access to grants worth up to £3,000 +vat to get a superfast (30Mbps+) connection installed. But this approach is proving to be less popular than the Government might have hoped (here).

The City of London describes the voucher scheme as a “step in the right direction“, but they also want to go further and have launched a campaign (register your interest) to help prove that there is “strong demand” for access to affordable superfast broadband. Meanwhile a growing number of rivals to BT’s throne, such as Hyperoptic, are also entering the fray but they tend to focus more on larger Multi-Dwelling Units (MDU) and or big office blocks. Lest we not forget the existence of cable provider Virgin Media or wireless ISP Relish, it’s not just a ball game for BT to play.

Meanwhile the local city authority claims to be on the path to correcting the current problems by developing a new strategy to roll-out “fast, ubiquitous, cheap wired and wireless communications” to all, although Boleat doesn’t elaborate. Separate reports suggest that the City of London have been talking with the city’s other local councils (e.g. Southwark) about a partnership to tackle the issue, possibly through an agreement with a commercial partner, although the details have not yet been disclosed.

The local authority will also need to tread very carefully so as not to run into the same EU state aid rules dilemma as the Government has already experienced, assuming of course that direct public funding is even proposed.

UPDATE 11:25am

BT has kindly given us a response.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

As the Corporation of London say themselves, businesses throughout the Square Mile can access ultra-fast broadband on dedicated lines specifically designed for companies.

These are normally the most appropriate services for businesses given their demands are typically very different from consumers.

We are in talks with the Corporation of London about how to increase availability of lower-priced fibre broadband – which is primarily aimed at consumers, home workers and the very smallest SMEs.”

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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