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Worcestershire UK Councillors Row over Money for Broadband Advertising

Saturday, February 7th, 2015 (7:47 am) - Score 541
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The Government’s recent move to launch a major multi-million pound advertising campaign in order to raise awareness about superfast broadband availability under the national Broadband Delivery UK programme (here) appears to have angered some opposition councillors in Worcestershire (England).

One of the problems that the BDUK scheme has had to contend with is a lack of awareness for the new service, with many people often incorrectly assuming they’re not already covered by the connectivity and thus not even contemplating a subscription.

As a result the Government’s advertising project, which is also being encouraged at a local authority level, was setup to help raise awareness and thus boost take-up. This can also have a positive impact upon the claw-back mechanism, which allows some of the investment to be returned and reinvested into adding further coverage once a certain percentage of take-up (usually 20%) has been achieved.

One county that has adopted this approach at a more local level is Worcestershire, which has earmarked another £272,000 to help manage and promote the new service. But not everybody is happy with this idea and the County Hall’s Labour group is particularly opposed (you can really start to smell the coming General Election).

Councillor Peter McDonald, Labour Group Leader, said:

So far the council has contributed £8.5 million to the total cost of £20 million to provide superfast broadband to what is a minority of residents in the county. Not satisfied with spending £8.5 million for a private company to expand it has spent £272,500 promoting a private company through advertising and giving support to the programme.

The amount spent on advertising and supporting the product of a private company is eye watering. While vital services are being cutback and in some cases gone forever this council is putting the interests of a private company before vital services.”

The counter argument to this is of course that by promoting the service you will encourage reinvestment to occur sooner rather than later. On top of that most of the promotional work so far has tended to reflect the connectivity options offered from a large swathe of independent ISPs and not just BT.

Naturally the Deputy Council Leader, Simon Geraghty, has rebuffed the criticism as “misleading” and countered that it is “an excellent example of the public and private sector investing and working together to enable a next generation broadband network across Worcestershire and to drive economic growth” (here).

Meanwhile it should of course be remembered that other factors can impact take-up too, such as the higher prices of related services, consumers being locked into an existing contract for over a year (i.e. not able to switch yet) and not to mention a lack of desire or need for the product itself (especially if the consumer is already happy with what they have).

At the same time the roll-out itself is of course on-going and thus new areas are constantly being added to the coverage, which means that even if it’s not available to you today then, as the Government moves towards 95% coverage by 2017, there’s a good chance that it will still arrive in the future.

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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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15 Responses
  1. Its all part of the superfarce. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “not to mention a lack of desire or need for the product itself (especially if the consumer is already happy with what they have” – the current FTTC rollout only benefits those who already have a connection. The ones who really need help are ignored, as their lines are too long. FTTC is a dead end. So now they have to waste our money promoting it. This means free publicity for BT. The councils won’t get clawback because they can’t afford the vast amount of staff needed to check every invoice. If you dig deeper you will find the truth, but life is too short, and as usual, bt will get away with all this. The only answer is to modernise the network, and you can’t do that through old phone lines. The councils are being led by the nose and tied into NDAs. It is no good ‘promoting awareness’ until everyone has a fit for purpose connection to be aware of. The same thing happened with the ludicrous ‘project access’ in Cumbria in the last decade. £20 million wasted enabling some exchanges. £3million of which was wasted on promoting awareness. Big publicity announcing all of cumbria had broadband. Then when the BDUK pot was announced it was then admitted that actually most of cumbria did not have broadband. You really couldn’t make all this up, but the history books are being written on these blogs. We will remember the eejits who delivered this superfarce. The next installment starting soon. penultimate chapter entitled #Gfarce.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      What level of public spending do you support for broadband provision in the UK?

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts:

      “What level of public spending do you support for broadband provision in the UK?”

      Why do you care? You already said (a few days ago) that you want the government to invest in a nationwide FTTP! So have you changed your mind? Or come up with a better option for fibre deployment?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      “This means free publicity for BT.”

      FTTC services also available from other providers, not just BT Infinity

      As for the rest of your comments, seen them before, replied to them before, expect to see the same ones again in a few weeks.

      #totalboredom

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Another issue which always seems to be missed, is that, besides the investment required, FTTC is far, far faster to roll-out than FTTP (at least in areas where it’s appropriate) as it requires much less resource and is less disruptive. The current BDUK roll-out rate is over 40,000 premises passed for SF every week. I doubt FTTP would reach 20% of that given the resources available, greater level of roadworks and so on.

      That’s not to say that the rate can be sustained into the last 10%, but it’s still relatively rapid.

      To put this in perspective, the Australian NBN (which is lavishly financed and “fibre rich”, but not exclusively fibre) is managing 8,000 premises per week.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Psst

      Clawback has nothing to do with invoices – so no worry about the number of staff; we can leave @vfm to do the worrying about the invoicing for us.

      Clawback just needs visibility of the take-up figures. And they only need to be visible to either the council or to central BDUK, so there’s no worry about the NDA or transparency either.

    • Avatar MikeW

      “FTTC is a dead end”

      Or looked at another way… It gets fibre 90% of the way to the end user, it does so 5× cheaper, much quicker, and can be reused for the next installment. The best part is that it gives people an affordable, usable product in the meantime.

      “The next installment starting soon. penultimate chapter”

      The first part is true. I’m less sure about the latter now.

      “The only answer is to modernise the network,”

      I agree with that part. I just disagree that it has to be done in one go.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @MikeW:

      “Clawback has nothing to do with invoices – so no worry about the number of staff; we can leave @vfm to do the worrying about the invoicing for us.”

      That is one of the most stupid thoughts I have read here recently. Fortunately there are still posters out here who a have genuine concern when taxpayer’s money is wasted because of BTs inflated invoices and charges.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      The NAO has not raised any concerns as to any inflated costs. There is also no evidence of inflated invoices according to Sue Owens (Permanent Secretary) who states the following with regard to what they’ve put in place :-

      “Central assurance by BDUK of BT’s approach and reporting systems. For example, we have assured ourselves that BT will only charge for the actual salaries of staff costs based on appropriate timesheet reporting—no overheads or profits can be included in timesheet costs.”

      “Provision of detailed training, best practice guidance and one-to-one support to local body teams.”

      “An end-to-end “milestone-to-cash” process under which local bodies only make payments to BT once it has demonstrated that it has met certain implementation milestones. We have established detailed reporting templates which ensure that claims are supported by the necessary detail on what has been delivered and costs incurred.”

      “Full access to audit supplier invoices to determine the actual costs, backed up with step-by-step advice to local authorities on how to assure payments and a proportionate, risk-based approach to invoice checking.”

      “BDUK’s grant payments are contingent on the local bodies maintaining high assurance standards. Soon after contract signature and mobilisation, and periodically thereafter, we conduct checks of each local body’s readiness to assure milestone achievement and to scrutinise milestone claims before paying them. This has meant that we have picked up issues early and have worked with local bodies to improve their assurance approach before issues arise.”

      http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubacc/834/834vw05.htm

      In addition, for anybody involved with auditing, it’s not even necessary to do a detailed examination of every invoice to detect systematic abuse. As with any quality control measure, there are statistical techniques to perform random, highly detailed audits which readily spot such things.

      As far as resources go, the BDUK projects assign part of the project’s funds to financial control, including independent auditing.

      Also, as stated above, claw-back is not based on invoices. It is based on takeup rates according to the particular BDUK contract’s terms. Short of BT under-reporting take-up, it’s pretty simple to calculate. It would hardly be in BT’s interests to do this as low take-up rates would not go down well with the city, or with the government either. It’s in both BT and the government’s interests to see the project as being successful.

    • Avatar MikeW

      LOL @GNewton

      There are two ways of performing oversight of BT’s charges – and only one of them requires the level of transparency that lets members of the public see the invoices.

      The other way merely requires the governments (local and central) to perform efficient auditing. If that happens, we get the right result without the public seeing an invoice – indeed, it happens whether individual members of the public trust the audit mechanism or not.

      With the details provided by the NAO and added by @Steve above, I have more faith in Ms Owens ability to oversee the auditing of BDUK transactions than I have in Mike’s (@VFMs). You’ll have noticed that I have called him to task on a large number of his calculations on here – so many that I grow bored of repeating the same comments on the same miscalculations over and over.

      Sometimes you have to decide whether to perform a job yourself, or delegate it to someone else. In this case, I feel comfortable to leave it to Ms Owens. Her own words: “I attach the utmost importance to securing value for money in the programme.”

      My comment on leaving it to @VFM to worry was entirely tongue-in-cheek.

    • Avatar No Clue

      “The other way merely requires the governments (local and central) to perform efficient auditing. If that happens……..”

      Which clearly it has not otherwise there would be no need to question the money involved.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @No Clue: There are cases in Essex where, given an eventual generous takeup of 20%, the costs per VDSL line is £2400 (this was not a rural location either!). We sent FoI requests on this to the CC, but they just want to hide behind behind commercial confidentiality clauses. Clearly the auditing process must have failed somewhere.

    • Avatar No Clue

      Not to mention most of BTs deployment there is overlap, so its an even worse situation in that area.

  2. Avatar dragoneast

    Politicians are interested in one thing. The illusion of power. Keeping their positions. And have they done enough to get re-elected? Probably. Somebody else has to deliver this fibre. And who is that exactly, apart from those who already are? The sooner we learn that politicians don’t make things happen, and don’t have a magic wand, the better. But they still manage to fool us, every time.

  3. Avatar Sledgehammer

    The Government has engineered this whole fiasco, dumping the responsibility on local authorities to sort out. Typical of politics in this country, blame others for your poor thinking.

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