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MPs Setup Rural Broadband All-Party Parliamentary Group to Tackle BT

Saturday, June 20th, 2015 (7:41 am) - Score 2,051
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A group of MPs, primarily from Devon and Somerset in England’s South West, have established a new All-Party Parliamentary Group that will investigate the roll-out of superfast broadband (24Mbps+) services. The group also intends to “put pressure” on BT to stop the operators alleged “delaying antics” and be more transparent with their coverage plans.

It’s understood that the group’s formation was sparked last week after 50 MPs from the South West gathered to moan about progress in the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, which aims to make fixed line superfast broadband services available to 95% of the UK by 2017/18.

The new group will be chaired by Ian Liddell-Grainger MP and has support from Rebecca Pow MP and Neil Parish MP among others. Unfortunately the Government’s register of APPG’s hasn’t been updated since March 2015 (here) and as such the details are still a bit thin on the ground.

Ian Liddell-Grainger MP said:

I am ashamed to tell you that in some parts of the constituency it is almost quicker to send a letter by post than expect an email to arrive safely. High speed broadband remains a pipe dream if you live out in the sticks. This dismal state of affairs has got to change.

I have joined together with Parliamentary colleagues from all parties to form a new Broadband and Mobile Telecoms Committee which can bring pressure to bear on Government and industry to get some action. Such a Committee has never existed at Westminster before. Today I was appointed Chairman. At last there is a united voice at Westminster pressing for big changes.”

Separately Neil Parish has indicated to another newspaper (here) that a lot of the problems rest with BT: “BT are delivering in places, but there are still too many villages like Upottery in the Blackdown hills where they don’t know when they’re going to get connected. I think BT and BDUK do have the capability to deliver, but they must do it faster and must be more transparent about it. We want to make sure that enough pressure – the expression feet to the fire comes to mind – is being put on BT to make sure they do better.”

In fairness BDUK’s progress currently appears to be reasonably on-target for a Government supported programme (at least it is for the first 90% coverage target). Meanwhile one reason for some villages being unable to learn when they will be covered is because a clear strategy to fill the final 5% has yet to be finalised and funded, which needs to come from the Government (most likely before the 2016 Budget).

At the same time Local Authorities and BDUK alike need to ensure that they are not reliant upon BT for a solution to connecting the final 5% because the operator may not always decide that it is in their interest to bid for such contracts, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on alternative network operators that can do some of the jobs.

Unfortunately over the past few years some councils have been so swift to dismiss altnets that a few of those same operators may no longer wish to work with them either. A bit of fence mending would go a long way towards resolving that.

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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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39 Responses
  1. Avatar TheFacts

    It would help the discussion if ILG could explain more about these lost emails.

  2. Avatar Phil Coates

    In fairness BDUK’s progress currently appears to be reasonably on-target for a Government supported programme

    And there is the rub. For the average punter, the concepts of 90%, 95%, 97% coverage and the definitions of ‘superfast’ or ‘rural’ are unclear.

    The project was flagged initially with an emphasis on improving rural broadband but in practice has involved building out rather than building in.

    Accepting that some urban areas have poor connections, many rural communities continue to do so after Phase 1. Getting detail of how these communities will be served after this point is very difficult and because the projects are at county level, equally rural communities in different counties will get different solutions.

    Some may get ‘superfast’ future proof solutions and some may get (ugh) satellite.

    My guess is that most people want the same thing i.e. fast, reliable Broadband but the funding ain’t going to provide it.

    Better communication (as usual) is the key.

    • Avatar PhilT

      Agreed, the lack of understanding that 99% coverage means 1% uncovered which is about 300,000 properties is a large part of the problem.

      So 95% coverage is 1.5 million not covered. If you think you are one of them you can engage with the alternatives or make a noise. Sadly the latter seems to be the preference.

      Face it people, nobody has ever offerred to cover every single property with Superfast Broadband. Repeat after me.

    • Avatar Craski

      @PhilT

      The problem I’ve seen in my local area is that as long as BT/Openreach/BDUK sit on the fence “Exploring Solutions” it is very hard to gain local support to seek alternatives as they see “Exploring Solutions” as a positive indicator that BDUK is actually going to help them at some point.

      I have started to make noises within my local community because until such time as BT/Openreach/BDUK get off the fence and actually tell us who wont benefit under BDUK, it is very difficult to move forward with alternatives without the support of the community who are mostly all sitting waiting for these people “Exploring Solutions” to find a solution because they believe as tax payers they are entitled to that.

    • Avatar MikeW

      The problem is that, in reality, every village that is not upgraded will stay in an “exploring solutions” state until it is properly surveyed *and* compared against all other properly-surveyed villages *and* the budget for such villages has not yet run out *and* they haven’t made any technologies that are cheaper to deploy.

      An exception occurs when the village is surveyed, and the average cost is above the “Do not touch with a bargepole” threshold; I’ve seen some projects set this threshold at £1,700 subsidy per property.

      The surveying is a process that goes on throughout the life of each phase 1 project, which means the first two conditions don’t get fulfilled until the end. Surveying, of smaller places, will continue in phase 2 … so this process just goes on and on.

      Even as phase 1 draws to a close, and the budget becomes spent, the phase 2 money kicks in. Villages that would have been left out of phase 1 now stand a chance again. So this process just carries on and on.

      Trials of equipment that are cheaper to deploy (FTTRN and FTTdp) mean that there is *always* a possibility, at any point through a project, where villages that were impossible to include suddenly become cheap. “Exploring solutions” covers this on an ongoing basis.

      The true state of affairs is that every village is going to be caught at this. To find out more, you will need to engage (as a community, rather than a member of public) with your council to discover just how near the village is to being included, or how far away.

  3. Let us hope the MPs see through the snake oil salesman. Let us hope this superfarce is exposed (again) and let us hope we get some fibre. Moral and Optic. Before this country is too far behind to ever catch up. We cannot keep patching up an old phone network forever. It has served us well, but its day is over. Te benefit from the digital revolution we need a fit for purpose connection for everyone, and copper and satellites cannot provide this. And it’s no good whining about what it will cost. A fast train for a few commuters is going to waste far more money. The question that should be asked is ‘what will it cost if we don’t do it?’

    • Avatar TheFacts

      There is nothing to expose, it is well understood by many. You may not like a less than 100% solution for the money available but if you have a better way then please tell us.

      Why not say the government should fund 100% FTTP if that is what you propose.

    • Avatar MikeW

      “Let us hope the MPs see through the snake oil salesman. Let us hope this superfarce is exposed (again) and let us hope we get some fibre. Moral and Optic.”

      Chris, you’re right when you keep your focus on the last 5% of the country, and their needs.

      But you’re wrong for 90%. For them, it isn’t a superfarce. For them, they are getting precisely what it says on the tin.

      For the 5% inbetween, we’ll have to reserve judgement.

      Luckily my MP can understand the nuances involved, rather than believing sloganistic name-calling.

      “Before this country is too far behind to ever catch up.”

      Strangely, the European scorecard doesn’t say we’re behind, except in one area: We might have NGA deployed heavily, but we don’t have that many NGA subscriptions compared to others.

      Is there a sign that people aren’t really that bothered? Or that they aren’t willing to pay for it? Or that there isn’t a compelling use for it yet?

      I don’t see that the use of glass instead of copper is going to change any of those factors one iota.

      “We cannot keep patching up an old phone network forever.”

      Hmmm. It looks like we can (*) for some proportion of the country (probably more than 50%, but probably not 100%) – just like FTTC is a good solution for some, but not all.

      (*) – at least to meet the EU-DA speed predictions for 2025.

      “Te benefit from the digital revolution we need a fit for purpose connection for everyone, and copper and satellites cannot provide this.”

      I agree with the principle – a fit-for-purpose connection for everyone.

      Copper can’t provide it for *everyone*, but it can certainly do a good proportion. And that proportion is enough to make it worth including in the mix.

      “And it’s no good whining about what it will cost.”

      Easy to say that when you’re not the one who is parting with the money, or having to fund the interest payments afterwards.

      Money looks to be no issue when you can persuade people to hand over £1,000+ per property in advance, persuade volunteers to dig without immediate financial payments, and persuade landowners to forego wayleave payments.

      For the rest of us, budgets do matter.

      “A fast train for a few commuters is going to waste far more money.”

      Fast fibre that no-one bothers to buy a subscription for is far more of a waste of money.

      Why not focus on where it is *needed* to make a difference? Where it *will* be subscribed to?

      “The question that should be asked is ‘what will it cost if we don’t do it?’

      Very good question.

      Now that 80%+ of the country has access to speeds that are in excess of what they need or are willing to pay for, it looks like the answer for them, right now, is “£0”.

      There’s still that sticky 5% that needs money spending on them, though. Well worth concentrating on that part…

  4. Avatar PeterM

    To me I think that it is becoming increasingly obvious that when all the useful cabinets are upgraded under BDUK 1 we are going to get very little more from Openreach to improve the broadband speeds for those of us beyond the reach of FTTC.
    BDUK seems intent to use satellite as a fall back. This is obviously a cop out but FTTP is the only other fixed line option and that is very expensive and very time consuming to install.
    It is imperative that BDUK look at other options. Fixed Wireless is the obvious choice. With pilot trials like the one in North Linconshire ongoing we can only hope that BDUK look at options other than Satellite.

    • Avatar Phil Coates

      I remain perplexed as to why there are so many ‘trials’ of technology going on. There are several fixed wireless ISPs in business already. We know 4G can deliver superfast speeds.

      I am told repeatedly that the solution will require ‘other technologies’. Assuming this is not FTTP, it must be 4G or Fixed wireless.

      If this is the case then why not just get on with it now?

      It is one of the disadvantages of having a single provider for BDUK. All ‘other technologies’ will only be used when the current contracts are completed.

      These processes could be run in parallel rather than in series. I would hope by now that BDUK would know where Phase 2 will reach and where it will not.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @Phil Coates
      I totally agree but remember you are dealing with bureaucrats and politicians here. The same sort of bureaucrats who worked out it would take 32 years and £57 billion to repair the Palace of Westminster.
      Our best bet is that a small army of Fixed Wireless providers see the gap in the market and start new COMMERCIAL networks.

    • Avatar MikeW

      It depends on the county.

      The most rural counties will likely run out of cabinets somewhere around the 90% coverage, and a swap to FiWi seems likely around that point.

      LA’s with a more urban feel will likely reach 95% before FiWi comes into play.

      @Phil Trials are ongoing because development of technology is ongoing; the aspect of the trials that is being investigated isn’t so much the speed it gives but the cost of deployment. For example, solving the power issues for FTTRN would give our local phase 2 deployment an extra 50% coverage for the same budget. FTTP isn’t the only other fixed-line option.

      For FiWi, those operators tend to complain that the main issue is the availability of backhaul. From the trials I have seen, one of the aspects being looked at is indeed the issue of backhaul; I *think* the essence is to be able to use a company who can provide wireless backhaul wholesale (on a regional/national basis) but still use local companies to provide the foreground FiWi, installation and ISP facilities.

      The question an LA needs to have answered, before they can start the parallel wireless deployment, is just where the boundary is for fixed-line deployment.

      @Peter You’re right that BDUK sees satellite as a fall-back, but you misread the intent. They aren’t aiming it to be used for the entire final 5%; they are aiming at the final 1%. The middle, missing, 4% is the part that needs their own solution – whether it comes from the incessant deployment of 4G, or LA-subsidised FiWi, or more-cheaply-deployable fixed-line equipment.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @Mike
      In West Sussex they seem to have plans to use it for more than the final 1%.
      On my exchange we have about 80% superfast coverage with all the cabinets FTTC. There are no plans for anything other than Satellite. Even the rearrangement of the copper has been discounted.
      In theory it is 1% but in practice it may be much higher. Up to 250 lines on this single exchange could be offered satellite.

    • Avatar MikeW

      I guess that’s the problem with trying to roll out solutions in parallel – you are complaining about the plans for satellite, while the county hasn’t even signed a contract for phase 2 – either with BT or with wireless in the mix.

      It means that anyone impatient enough can opt for satellite as an interim solution – but doing so makes for an overloaded and unpleasant experience for those who it is ultimately “intended” for.

  5. Avatar Craski

    It is well known that rural communities on long EO lines are a big challenge for BDUK.

    The lowest tier on the BT/Openreach superfast availability checker is “Exploring Solutions” . This could mean they are actually exploring solutions (albeit I have seen no evidence of that in my area) but equally it could also mean you are well and truly in the final 10% and BDUK isnt likely to help you at all but they dont want to tell you that as they want to maintain market share and delay communities seeking alternatives as long as possible in order to benefit BT/Openreach options in future.

    To claim they dont know the forward plan is crazy, no project the size of BDUK can get to where it has now without a forward plan . “Coming soon” has a timescale of 18 months, so if areas on the coverage map are still marked as “Exploring Solutions” then suggests they are not telling us everything.

    The local council claim they too have limited visibility of what is happening on the ground and this was obvious when mine informed me that no EO work was programmed in my area for first half of 2015 yet in the nearest town that houses our providing exchange, several new PCP and DSLAM cabinets have been installed to deal with all the EO lines within 2km of the exchange yet not even a hint of plan for those on long EO lines.

    • Avatar DanielM

      The independent community based broadband projects seem better than the likes of very slow FTTC, granted it may cost more but having fibre rather than BT’s fttc would be better and more reliable.

    • Avatar GNewton

      The only reason EO lines are such an issue (other than possibly line length) is the crosstalk problem, they can’t use exchange-based VDSL. This is one of many reasons why VDSL quite often is the wrong technology. BTs ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work everywhere, different circumstances require different technologies.

  6. Avatar FibreFred

    “I am ashamed to tell you that in some parts of the constituency it is almost quicker to send a letter by post than expect an email to arrive safely. High speed broadband remains a pipe dream if you live out in the sticks. This dismal state of affairs has got to change.

    Do you need high speed broadband for an email to arrive safely? Or even high speed broadband to send an email?

  7. Avatar themanstan

    Faster equals higher costs… which equals less coverage. Simple economics…

    Fixed wireless is the key for the final 10%, BTOR lacks the flexible approach needed for this part of the project.

  8. Avatar Liveinhope

    The big focus word for telecoms around the world is ‘Copper’.
    Fibre to or bonded copper to the Dp opens up countless possibilities.

  9. Avatar dragoneast

    Superfast broadband clearly comes in as one of those things it’s nice to have. Not sure, though, that I subscribe to this belief in modern politicians as some sort of Greek God, or magician, that are able to conjure up anything and mete out their divine justice to mere mortals.

    There’s one other thing that confuses me. I obtain software from individuals working in India, China, South America and even the US, and darned good it is too. But I often have to wait because their internet connections are pathetic. But I just take the view that patience is a virtue (I’m never lost for something to do in the meantime, and usually learn a lot more as a result), and the product is worth the wait. Quality matters, and it’s not a function of speed. But not in the UK where speed is, apparently, the only thing that matters. Clearly, I was born in the wrong country. But I suppose if you’re not very good, then at least being fast “makes up for it”.

    • Avatar Phil Coates

      I take your point, but there is slow and very slow. If you have the potential of a 384kbps ‘Broadband’ download speed it is VERY slow.

      Its not just about the raw speed bragging rights. I use OSX and have a Linux media server. Updates (particularly for OSX) are now gigabyte sizes. My music software or sample libraries are several gigabytes in size – they are no longer simply offered on DVDs.

      Can you imagine how long it takes to download a 20Gb sample library on 384kbps?

      I use Satellite as it happens but even overnight at ‘full speed’ of 20Mbps it takes ages and I have a 50Gb download limit per month (for £75).

      People say move to town. This is my home and has been in the family for 200 years.

      I recognise there are limits to what can be made available, but upfront communication would have made this so much easier to deal with and plan for in many rural areas.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Upfront communication is indeed a big part of the problem … though not entirely without a reasonable cause.

      However, if you wanted a rough judge of what would be included, you only needed to look at the ONS statistics for built up areas … and this could have been done back in 2012; The NomisWeb site will even draw maps of these areas for you.

      The 90th percentile (of England+Wales population) lives in villages of 1,900 people and 800-900 premises. Live somewhere vastly smaller, or more than 1km from it, and you aren’t going to be included in the phase 1 project, so you could have made alternative plans beyond 2015.

      The 95th percentile lives in villages of 300 people and 100-150 premises. Live somewhere smaller, and you can make alternative plans for beyond 2017.

      Upottery isn’t in the list of BUA’s at all.

    • Avatar gerarda

      @mike w

      The problem with the BDUK rollout is that its coverage is not predictable. Small place may be in reach of a cab when larger places, or psrts thereof are not. The typical Suffolk strip village is a case in point – you can be on the main road through the village but a mile or two from the cabinet so out of reach, or in an isolated house half a mile up a side roan and get a reasonable speed.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @dragoneast: “But I often have to wait because their internet connections are pathetic.”

      I won’t wait, I’d go elsewhere for doing business, sorry, but time is money.

      It is pathetic enough that in this country you have to set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group to tackle BT. BT could have been sidelined ages ago with some proper laws and a suitable regulatory framework. It should have never received taxpayer’s money for no ROI in the first place.

  10. Avatar MikeW

    Just in case anyone thought that this “all party parliamentary group” actually had any ability, right or privilege to tackle or investigate BT (or BDUK for that matter), this is what the parliament’s website has to say:

    As well as taking part in formal parliamentary business, MPs are active in other areas such as within their own political parties and constituencies. They may also take part in informal work at Westminster, such as working with All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).

    APPGs are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament.

    Sounds more like a talking shop that’s an excuse for a beer than any serious work. And perhaps as likely to have an impact on the rollout as the all-party parliamentary group for eggs and pigs (which can manage to roll for themselves).

    Still, expect to hear from Neil Parish more. He’s an ex-farmer, and has just become the chairman of the EFRA committee that provides oversight of DEFRA.

    I imagine he’ll take over from Anne McIntosh with gusto. And be no better acquainted with the mathematical and statistical knowledge to understand what a 90% or 95% target means for a village that isn’t below the the 95th percentile. But well versed with getting his face in the paper.

    Politicians. Don’t you just love ’em?

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      It’s a pressure group. It will seek to have influence on those who do have powers. Of course, if those MPs had cared to acquaint themselves with the BDUK priorities in the first place (which was to maximise NGA coverage for the money available, and not deal with hard-to-reach areas first), then they might be in a more informed position. As it is, I suspect they didn’t get much involved.

      However, it ought to be pointed out that many of these MPs from the SouthWest will not have been in the last parliament, especially as many of those seats will have changed from Libdem to Conservative in the recent general election.

      As far as the last 5% or even 10% is concerned, then inevitably it means that there will be locations where availability is much lower. I’ve seen MPs complain who seem to think that 5% unavailability ought to be spread evenly.

  11. Avatar TheFacts

    ‘Quicker to send a letter’. For many who post a letter at 10am it is not collected until some time after 7.30am the next day.

    • Avatar GNewton

      Where? What are your sources for this claim? Ours get collected several times a day.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      3 times a day for us , not quicker than email tho

    • Avatar X66yh

      Letters round here WERE collected once a day late in the afternoon at the fixed time stated on the individual posting box.

      Now they have swapped to a new system….as follows:
      The post will be collected by the same postman who does the delivery rounds and he will do it at a convenient time during the day. This means that we now have no idea when the post from any particular box will go – except that it will go once per day….it might be at the beginning of the round – or it might be at the end and of course there is equally no way of knowing when you post a letter whether or not the collection from that box for the day has gone or not.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      And these boxes get used less and then…

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: “And these boxes get used less and then…”

      You won’t mind sharing your sources or links for this, do you?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Use it or lose it.

  12. In my opinion . . . http://wp.me/p2oly0-7xk – West Country MPs, Blackburn, Niagara Falls, ICF, Toronto and Ten Eggs – go figure.

    • Your last line in cheaper and more valuable than we expect would provide a good call to arms for this group, and would build upon the work of PAC and NAO in finding excess costs in BT’s models.

      BDUK’s 30,000 funded FTTC cabinets should cost no more that £900k before BT’s capital contribution, so there is close to £1bn to be spent on non-FTTC solutions, if the cloak of secracy and hand of temptation can be lifted from the administration of the scheme, and BT can be made to part with not the £1bn promised but the £353m suggested in the first NAO report.

      We will see how well these MPs prepare for a debate in Westmiister Hall at 2.30 on Wednesday.

  13. Avatar John Watkins

    I am the broadband champion for a remote rural area of North Yorkshire and four years of lobbying anyone I could think have got me nowhere because we are a small community and therefore no one really cares. Dales like ours are dying because of lack of communications (we have no mobile phone signal and very poor broadband speeds.

    I have now involved the Yorkshire Local Councils Association and will be presenting a paper and resolution at the AGM next month. If the resolution is accepted then the YLCA will be lobbying this new committee, and the government to release money for non-fibre solutions ASAP. Yorkshire is a huge county and we hope that we will have an impact. However other regional bodies, perhaps the equivalents of the YLCA should take this on board and let’s have the whole nation shouting with one voice.

    • Avatar MikeW

      “will be presenting a paper and resolution at the AGM next month.”

      Can you provide a link to whatever you will present?

      Have you been watching what is happening with the Airwave trials in West Witton and Egton?

      “then the YLCA will be lobbying this new committee, and the government to release money for non-fibre solutions ASAP.”

      Yet according to the old boss of SFNY, money is not the problem. He could get hold of lots of the stuff (though matching it by the county might have been harder).

      The current problem is working out what to spend it on: getting a value-for-money solution, and getting it authorised by government.

      In April, the main stumbling block was the “pause” put in place while an election was held.

      Now, the phase 3 money needs to be decided by the government/treasury, but much more importantly – the phase 3 principles need to be established from the ongoing market trials. To me, the important aspects look like:
      – Can satellite cope with a target of 0.5 – 1%?
      – Can Wireless cope with a target of 4-5%?
      – Should we use a larger amount of money on fixed line stuff, or swap technologies?

      Meanwhile, BT is probably trying to figure out how its fixed-line network can get around the 95% mark cheaply enough, and whether it can go even deeper. Can it turn FTTRN into something workable for places like yours? Can it make something out of FTTdp fast enough to be deployed in the right timescale?

      There seem little doubt to me that we’ll be using both satellite and wireless for some people, for some time. But there will be something of a battle over the boundaries – and I guess the market trial timescales (another 9 months) mean that little will happen in public for a while.

  14. Avatar Mary Flint

    I live in the Village of Mickleham, half way between Dorking and Leather. Only 45 minutes from London by train. However, because we are too far from our updated Cabinet we are unable to access superfast Broadband. We have average speeds of .5-2 mg download speed. We have petitioned Surrey Superfast Broadband and have taken the matter up with our MP Sir Paul Beresford. But we are unable to get anyone to take responsibiity for this situation. Residents are unable to work from home and school children unable to upload/download homework. What can we do to get the right people to listen to us. This affects about 200 residents.

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