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UPDATE Suffolk Signs First Superfast Broadband Extension Contract with BT

Friday, October 31st, 2014 (3:26 pm) - Score 1,094

The Suffolk County Council (SCC) today claims to have signed the United Kingdom’s first Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) based Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) contract with BT, which aims to extend the coverage of the operators “fibre optic broadband” (FTTC/P) network to 95% of local homes and businesses “before 2018“.

The Superfast Extension Programme reflects the additional £250m that the Government set aside under BDUK earlier this year, which is intended to help make “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) speed available to 95% of the population by 2017. By comparison the original £40m+ Better Broadband for Suffolk project aimed to make BT’s “fibre broadband” network available to 90% of the county by the end of 2015 and only 85% would actually get speeds of 24Mbps+.

Confusingly Suffolk’s new SEP contract with BT only mentions the 95% coverage figure as being for “fibre broadband” coverage, which as we know from experience may or may not reflect the availability of “superfast” 24Mbps+ speeds. However the Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, does say at the end, “Suffolk will see 95% of the county able to access superfast speeds when the project is complete.” Take with a pinch of salt.

Another interesting fact is that the extended project alone is worth £30 million, with around £15m coming from BDUK, £5m from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership Local Growth Fund and £10m from Suffolk County Council. But there’s absolutely no mention of any extra funding coming from BT in the official press release, which will no doubt raise a few eyebrows. We can’t help but wonder how those gripes concerning “commercial sensitivity” of coverage and speed data will stack up if BT doesn’t contribute.

Mark Bee, Leader of Suffolk County Council, said:

This extension contract will improve educational attainment and remove a major block to public service transformation in Suffolk. We estimate that public sector organisations will be able to achieve £49 million of efficiency savings within 15 years as a result of better access to broadband and that the local economy will grow by £2 billion with 1,500 jobs created.

Access to better broadband across the whole of Suffolk is at the heart of our economic growth strategy, as it will support future business investment and growth in Suffolk. Recently we reached the halfway mark, six weeks ahead of schedule, as more than 50,000 homes and businesses can now connect to faster fibre broadband as part of the Better Broadband for Suffolk programme.

I am extremely pleased with this milestone but we must continue to lead the way and push on to reach our new target of bringing at least 95% coverage of fibre broadband to Suffolk.”

Bill Murphy, BT’s Managing Director of NGA, said:

We are pleased to have been selected as the preferred partner for this project. This project will build upon the success of both our own commercial roll-out in the county as well as our existing partnership with Suffolk County Council.

In total we’ve already provided more than 250,000 Suffolk homes and businesses with access to high-speed fibre broadband and we look forward to extending this even further to bring the benefits of fibre broadband to even more parts of the county.”

Overall it’s anticipated that the extra investment will ensure that 16,000 more properties in Suffolk will get access to superfast broadband and the council is already looking towards how it can push coverage up to 100% by 2020 (we’re currently anticipating another round of Government funding to be announced around the end of 2014).

Meanwhile we’re off to query with BT why they don’t appear to be contributing to the second round and whether the 95% goal is for general “fibre broadband” availability or actual coverage of “superfast” speeds. We’ll report back if somebody responds.

UPDATE 3rd November 2014

According to the council, 95% is the target for “superfast” speeds and not merely raw “fibre broadband” network coverage. Still no word on why BT has not contributed though.

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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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10 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all says:

    You also should query why some of this money is being used to subsidise areas where BT has reduced its commercial footprint in Suffolk, areas close to BT Adastral park.
    Were there no operational savings from the inflated milestone payments in phase 1? Was the USC funding from Phase 1 surrendered?
    I support Openreach doing the work, but this is state aid and cost trabsparency is needed so BT Group do not divert funds from network investment or stop making a fair capital contribution which ought to be independently verifiable.

    1. Avatar fastman2 says:

      curions as to what relevance adastral park has to anything — (more misinformation / Disinformation – Adastral is R&D centre and nothing to do with braodband – my understand is the OMR specifially looked at Sub 15 (either under the former commercial programme or under the Current BDUk progamme)

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Fastman2 this is from para55 of the SCC Agenda

      55. It is critical to note that white areas exist not only in rural areas, but also in some key parts of the major towns. Some examples of these are the Farthing Road Industrial Estate in Ipswich, Haverhill Industrial Estate, and parts of key growth areas in Ipswich such as the town centre, Havens and Waterfront. So this investment will not only benefit rural areas, but is likely to be welcomed strongly by many urban and industrial areas also.

      Perhaps the existence of Adastral Park which supports 4,000 families in and around Ipswich is irrelevant, but you hope their capacity to consume their own dogfood would not be restricted where so many BT employees are concentrated.

      The document answers none of the other questions raised.
      Openrach Q2 accounts p12 states Capital down 9%, £94m in state aid and a 8% increase in cash flow. What more proof of gouging by BT group is needed?

    3. Avatar Gadget says:

      Quite a lot more proof I think unless you can split of the BDUK proportion of all of that Openreach spend.
      We keep coming back to the point that whatever checks and balances are written into the BDUK contract for the county included requirements on what can be claimed, when it can be claimed, how it can be claimed and how those claims can be audited to the satisfaction of independent professional auditors.
      Unless they find anything then any view taken externally cannot be guaranteed as even corresponding to the audited numbers and hence any speculation on financial mismanagement is simply that.
      It doesn’t stop the questions being asked, but has a very real danger that what is inferred from second-hand information without recourse to the actual figures could likely be completely inaccurate.

    4. Avatar nga for all says:

      @gadget point taken. if the milestones payments are more than double what is needed, the number is justified by the processes agreed, no matter inadequate the processes are shown to be or out of sync elsewhere.

    5. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @gadget – one flaw in over reliance on process to justify an end, which is if the input provided, Commercial Investment of £2.5bn, and Cabinet costs ‘£100k and millions per exchange, which were relied upon to set the milestones are found to have no foundation in truth.
      The myth of the £100k cabinet is found in the NAO report where the plausibility exercise run by BT showed £84k per cabinet. This includes operational cost 23%, 23% bt capital contribution (self certified) leaving the £46,000 total subidy including the cabinet system of £28.9k.
      Although the processes are sublime and legal framework very strong, the justification is wafer thin.

  2. Avatar gerarda says:

    As usual the numbers quoted are “fluid”.

    The number of properties left out of phase 1 that have to be picked up to reach 95% superfast is around 60,000 not 16,000.

    The number of properties for which BT have provided access to superfast is not 250,000. Even if they had not reduced their commercial roll out plans the figure would now be about 225,000, With the reduction it is less than 200,000 and may just about reach 250,000 by the end of next year.

  3. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    I’m sure Suffolk didn’t evaluate the take-up of Phase 1 before contracting for Phase 2. I’m sure no local authorities will.

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      Have you tried enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act? The takeup figures certainly exist for the taxpayer-funded BDUK areas. However, if they became public it would reveal how much of a failure the BDUK project truly is. The Suffolk county might end up withholding important information on how exactly the taxpayer’s money was spent for certain areas, using the BDUK commercial confidentiality clauses.

    2. Avatar gerarda says:

      Phase 2 was driven by the pressure on the council, MPs and the government to provide a service to notspots and slowspots left out of Phase 1 by the reduction in BTs commercial rollout. Cost was a secondary, and to those left out, largely irrelevant consideration.

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