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UK Digital Minister Ed Vaizey Pledges Clarity on Broadband Coverage

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 (2:52 pm) - Score 1,178

The Government’s Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, has promised to make it “absolutely clear” where superfast broadband will be delivered during the coming autumn and he will publish a firm plan for reaching the final 5% “before the end of the year“. But he also asked colleagues to stop their “long whinge” against the project.

At present the Broadband Delivery UK programme aims to extend the coverage of fixed “superfast broadband” services to 95% of homes by 2017 (we predict that this might slip into 2018), which is predominantly being conducted through contracts signed with BT. A few alternative network operators, such as Gigaclear and Airband, are also involved.

Never the less the programme, which appears to be making reasonable progress towards its goal(s), has suffered from a few notable problems along the way and some of those can create frustration. A number of these were raised in yesterday’s Parliament debate, which focused on Suffolk (here) and also contained a lot of more general remarks.

A Quick Summary of Key BDUK Gripes (13th July 2015 Debate)

* BT having a tendency to renege on promises, such as when it originally planned to roll out to a village and then later chooses not to do so.

* The lack of superfast broadband deployment for business parks.

* BT “being tardy” with installing additional capacity to street cabinets where demand is high.

* The lack of a firm plan and funding for reaching the final 5% of premises.

The first issue, reneging on a promise to cover certain areas, harks back to last year’s dilemma over the lack of detail in related local authority coverage maps. At the time both BT and councils were fearful of releasing too much data about the planned roll-out because they were subject to change and nobody wanted to dash local hopes later on (i.e. you can’t always tell what problems will arise until the physical construction work begins).

As a result the roll-out data was marked as tentative, with new areas being added in and others taken out as the programme progressed. Unfortunately this also presented a problem for altnet ISPs, which struggled to secure public funding from the £20m RCBF fund because officially BT wouldn’t confirm which areas they could exclude for altnets to tackle. In the end many altnets stopped trying.

Ed Vaizey said:

When BT gets on the ground and does the mapping exercises, it might find that getting to a particular village is more complicated than it had thought, so it revises its plan. There is no doubt that that causes great consternation to villagers who were expecting broadband to be delivered.

It is my intention in the autumn to update all relevant Members of the House on the progress of broadband in their constituencies to make it absolutely clear where broadband will be delivered. It is important to warn those who might be at the tail end of the programme that they might have to wait some time. We cannot deliver it overnight.”

However we have our doubts about whether Ed Vaizey can truly expect to make “it absolutely clear where broadband will be delivered” because the same problem of planning (subject to change) may continue to exist as BDUK Phase 2 contracts begin their deployment phases.

Vaizey also touched on the issue of business parks by suggesting that BT “has some problems with customer service“, although he also expressed “surprise” as to why some business parks were unable to get better connectivity when there are “600 registered suppliers all over the country” for the Connection Voucher scheme (i.e. grants worth up to £3,000 to help SME’s get superfast broadband installed).

Sadly Vaizey’s comments overlook how most of those suppliers are tied to the existing restrictions of BTOpenreach’s infrastructure. On top of that if you’re a small business and Openreach can only provide either slow ADSL or an expensive Leased Line into an area then your affordable options for upgrade may feel somewhat limited (grants aren’t useful for all situations).

The issue of street cabinet capacity also cropped up and we have seen some areas where BTOpenreach has appeared to be slow in upgrading areas, particularly when demand is so strong that it fills up all the available FTTC lines in a short space of time. But this also happens to locations that exist outside of the BDUK project too (example) and Vaizey said, “I suspect that it is more to do with BT customer service than any sinister plot to deny broadband to customers who are waiting.

Finally, Vaizey came to the issue of tackling the final 5%, which will come under the last Phase 3 of the Broadband Delivery UK programme for the period post 2017/18. At present BDUK is testing a number of different fibre optic, hybrid fibre, fixed wireless and or Satellite solutions for reaching these areas and we now know when the final strategy might surface.

Ed Vaizey said:

Finally, I hear what my hon. Friend says about the final 5% and I am keen to announce plans as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of the year, about how we intend to reach that final 5%. It is certainly our intention to leave no one behind and we think that there are two or three different ways in which we can secure a timely roll-out for the final 5% so that by the end of this Parliament virtually everyone in this country will have access to very fast superfast broadband speeds.”

It’s notable that Vaizey plays it safe with his prediction, which uses the wording “virtually everyone” to imply that 100% coverage of “very fast superfast broadband speeds” (very fast superfast? 🙂 ) might not actually be achieved; although they’ve already indicated that Satellite should make it possible, if not an ideal connectivity solution. Managing expectations. Vaizey also said he was “certain that BT will be able to exceed its contracted plans“.

At this point it should be noted that Europe’s Digital Agenda target hopes that the UK and other EU states make 30Mbps+ services available to 100% of homes by 2020, which includes having 50% of consumers subscribed to a 100Mbps+ service. The last 100Mbps target might actually be achievable between BT’s commercial G.fast and Virgin Media’s cable network expansion.

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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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37 Responses
  1. Steve Jones says:

    Does Europe’s Digital Agenda target really “require” that member states hit that 30mbps x 100% coverage for 2020? As I read it, it’s an aspiration and not a legal requirement. Perhaps this could be clarified; they are very different things. It also has enormous financial implications, and in the light of financial problems in some Eurozone countries it is, perhaps, not the highest priority.

    In any event, there’s not a chance that 100% coverage at 30mbps will be achieved for 2020.

    1. MikeW says:

      I always read it as being less than a requirement too, but more than an aspiration.

      To me, the existence of the digital agenda target is what allows governments to provide state aid, and allows the EC to approve this use – at least for the social-inclusion target of 30Mbps.

      I think we can read the lack of requirement from the fact the EC chopped the multi-billion budget. Was it £8bn?

    2. NGA for all says:

      From an engineering perspective (and I am not an engineer) the only place I found any substantive engineering reference to 30Mbps was in the EU’s Radio engineering and spectrum group, where you use 4g/5g and 20Mhz blocks of spectrum on > 15m tall masts, with the required power to create the necessary link budget. There is no other reference point, so it is politicised. The German 4G auction had a rural first elememt to it to force the issue. UK has a 2Mbps indoor, 98% of premises (95% by nation)by 2017 but I have not seen an enforcement/measurement plan from Ofcom.
      Nevertheless, and this is nothing to do with the Minister, BT did choose to portray their investment and costs in a particular way, which means when they have done 30,000+ BDUK cabinets, they will big holes and a not far off a £1bn sitting back in an illusive BT investment fund (clawback of capital, see Rutland) with BT having no plan or resource to go further when it could be nigh on be fully subsidised.
      The Minister should not be taking flack for this, but he needs insitutional support from Ofcom and little more backbone from the civil servants involved. We could also benefit with some leadership from BT and step outside the cloak of confidentiality agreements and contractual peculiarities.
      Pushing fibre access out as far as possible is important, the market then needs to slice and dice the availability bandwidth and sell the capability to whoever will pay for it.

    3. NGA for all says:

      Sorry my lack of typing, it is a BDUK/LA/devolved administration investment fund.

      To finish, Government, Parliament, Local Authroities and Devolved Administrations have put the money on the table.

      While the 200 cabinets a week and 40,000 premises passed must be saluted, it is about £5m of weekly effort, when the budget available over 18 quarters including BT’s very illusive capital of £353m is closer to £8.5m a week.

      So there is a gap in what is expected and budgetted to achieve ‘best in Europe’ and what BT is deciding to turn up and deliver.

    4. TheFacts says:

      @NGA – Why are BDUK and the LAs not on the case if you are correct?

    5. NGA for all says:

      @The Facts, 1) They are trying to get the job done.
      2) They are entangled in commercial confidentiality agreements.
      3) They have a defence of ‘necessity’ in being reliant on the information provided by BT as being truthful.
      They can prepare their options.

  2. Walter G M Willcox says:

    1. Tardy is probably an understatement for the appalling delays in FTTCabinets where 192 ports remain idle simply because BT wouldn’t sanction the expense of the second duct to go in the trench paid for by the BDUK subsidy. E.g Albury PCP 4 off the THSE Shere exchange was unavailable for FIVE MONTHS and PCP 5 in Shere itself has been AWOL since December last year and has just missed its re-re-repostponed roadworks date.


    2. The unavailability iceberg is far far higher than might be expected with all those “Having Access” and “Passing Properties” BUT unable to obtain a VDSL service. Many lines are exchange only without a new “All In One” or PCP / FTTCabinet pair as BT won’t rewire the UK. E.g. the Forton Lancashire exchange (and the neighbouring Galgate exchange) used to be all EO lines. Forton has had 4 PCPs fitted, with only two FTTCs as part of the original Superfast Lancashire project. Forton’s PCP 1 in Cockerham is only a small FTTCabinet as dozens of lines remain EO from Galgate. Yet part of the original publicity presentation by BT’s MD to Superfast Lancashire specifically mentioned “Advanced engagement pilots” for Forton as well as Yealand Conyers. The latter hasn’t got a single Superfast service as their PCP 6 off the Carnforth exchange doesn’t even have a FTTC and it would be useless as it’s around 2 km away. By great good fortune the residents of that area saw through the BT Weasel words and took matters into their own hands with their superlative B4YS scheme. Nothing less that a symmetric 1 Gbps service is now acceptable for them.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      Quote “The unavailability iceberg is far far higher than might be expected”

      Do you have any real evidence for this or just a couple of examples? You know average take up across the UK is running at 20% from 22 million or so premises?

      The approach you previously espoused in Ewhurst was hugely expensive, would have delivered very little coverage for the available budget if adopted for the BDUK project. Fair enough to criticise but your suggested alternative was far less practical for use in the real world.

  3. Craski says:

    Living in an area currently identified only as “Exploring Solutions” I would very much welcome some clarity and a “firm plan”.

  4. Pete Woods says:

    BT wants 14.4k from the residents of our estate to get us FTTC, as apparently we’re not on their rollout plans. This, despite their being currently over 100 houses on the cabinet, and planned to be closer to 400. This money will apparently get us an expedited install of 10 months, versus seemingly never..

    1. Malcolm says:

      If there are going to be 400 houses then it might be worth contacting Gigaclear.

    2. Chris Conder says:

      Bring in an altnet. All of a sudden BT will appear and do it for you for nothing. They are currently overbuilding in all our areas. Using public money, against state aid rules. Everyone thinks it’s very funny. Who would want FTTC when they can have fibre? Especially when fibre is cheaper and delivers speeds that are the highest in the world. http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest/857910

    3. TheFacts says:

      Did B4RN declare its locations to prevent overbuild?

    4. TheFacts says:

      @Pete – Is the developer talking to a supplier?

    5. New_Londoner says:

      In reality B4RN is overbuilding as it failed to respond correctly to the Open Market Review when it had the opportunity to do so. You cannot blame the county council from basing its requirements on information received in the correct format and within the prescribed timescales, as this is what it is required to do. Nor can you blame BT for responding to those requirements when it secured the contract.

      Even Altnets have to observe certain rules or face the consequences when failing to do so.

    6. FibreFred says:

      We all know B4RN didn’t declare its locations through the correct channels, there’s no overbuild if nothing was lodged

    7. David Cooper says:

      @ BT FUDers
      Overbuild by a small community project without any state subsidy! How can you be serious? If BT had responded correctly to the OMR then more areas would have had an early opportunity to make their own alternative plans and BT would not have been able to respond to all such competitive threats. As it is Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is the tactic used by BT to try and retain its monopoly with an inferior broadband solution, especially in rural areas. Ed Vaizey should follow the money and then he will see how much he and his officials have lost through lack of proper due diligence.

    8. fastman says:

      Peter if there are going to be 400 suggest you speak to developer — to sort out the infrastructure as the developer will have only asked for Voice as part of the discussions — FYI operators pay developers to install infrastructure on their land – assume you have a green box at entrance of the development

      its amazing what a bit of resident power can achieve

    9. Pete Woods says:

      The developer apparently didn’t know that Openreach would have done FTTP for them for free, and just dug conduits and expected magic to happen. We’re within a couple of miles of B4RN, but would need to cross the M6. There’s blame for both Openreach and the developer for sure. BT didn’t even have our cabinet on the infrastructure maps, and didn’t know there was a fibre node within 5 metres of our cabinet. General incompetence all round.

    10. fastman says:

      hmmm developer will only get what they ask for — that’s part of the problem (as not mandated to provide SFBB at New sites Yet — buts its coming !!!

      the 14,4k will be the gap not the cost (cost will be much more !!!!) — assume you not in the BDUK roll out as we in the intervention are was drawn you did not have a postcode

  5. Al says:

    Well as a poor tax player, I fully expect my local MP to question the rollout. My village has 3 cabinets in it 2 of which have been enabled, mine despite showing as Coming Soon (and I’ll count from Aug 2014 when the checker was upgraded to telephone level) now shows as Under Review. It’s likely the second closest cabinet to the exchange and if the ducting follows the roads, it’s likely to be the second closest. And the superfast Broadband signs appeared around the existing cabinet in Nov 2014 and a new concrete block appeared which I assume is the foundation for the new cabinet.

    All I want and I suspect most people is want is some communication around what’s going on. In the case of Lancashire they’ve stopped giving updates to their facebook/twitter and web pages in May due to the fact that they claimed the Phase 1 rollout would be completed by end of Jun 2015. I know of another cabinet where superfast lancashire signs appeared followed by a concrete slab in Jan 15 yet no new cabinet there either. So how many other areas had work seemingly start then had their cabinet status moved from coming soon to Under review.

    BT will blame ducting issues, power provisions etc…

    The rural areas should have been done first or rather ASDLMax areas should have been done first, as these had the slowest maximum speed which could be achieved.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      Quote “The rural areas should have been done first or rather ASDLMax areas should have been done first, as these had the slowest maximum speed which could be achieved.”

      A lot of people say something along these lines, ignoring simple practicalities about logistics as well as requirements to show value for money when our taxpayers funds are involved. In reality, if your approach was followed very little coverage would be delivered before the money ran out.

      In my view it is far better to require suppliers to deliver as much as possible for the available budget, as has happened with the BDUK programme.

    2. gerarda says:

      @new londoner

      On the same logic the NHS would give better value for money if it only treated people with easily curable minor ailments and not those with critical illnesses.

    3. Roberto says:

      LOL logic has nothing to do with anything he has to say.

    4. Al says:

      Yes but many ASDLMax areas have been/are being covered by the BDUK rollout so the funds where there to do them, it’s just a simply case of moving them more towards the front of the queue. And remember with ASDLMax it’s only upto 8Mbps, haven’t recent reports suggest a minimum speed of 10Mbps is recommended?

      But I think most complaints are around the lack of communication about the rollout/ rollout plans. Why certain cabinets have been delayed, what is being done to resolve these issues etc.. There is no reason why this information couldn’t be released. Which is more frustrating to be told nothing, or to be told “That we’ve encountered a blockage in the duct and hope to clear this by X date and enable your cabinet by Y Date (Dates are subject to change should any further problems be encountered)

  6. gerarda says:

    The question Ed Vaizey avoided answering was whether the 2Mbps USC would be completed by the end of this year.

  7. gerarda says:

    The first issue, reneging on a promise to cover certain areas, does not in the context of the debate hark back to last year’s dilemma over the lack of detail in related local authority coverage maps, but to BT repeated assurances that they would supply superfast to areas that in the OMR they deemed to be commercial which were, as was pointed out to them at the time, simply lies.

  8. Graham Long says:

    I don’t know what world Vaizey is living in when he says “certain that BT will exceed it’s contractual plans”, when according to the Devon Council lead on the CDS Phase 2 contract negotiations with BT, which fell apart on June 26th, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, CDS Board Member, is on record as stating that in Devon & Somerset BT were not prepared to even start work under the contract until 2017….for a contract that CDS were expected to sign before Jun 30, 2015. BT don’t exceed contractual plans – they simply don’t deliver contractual plans that their customers want. Clearly that is the way they manage to make record profits of £3.17Billion when handed £1.7Billion of public broadband subsidy which they deliver on when it suits them. The incompetent CDS Board failed to stand up to BT’s bullying tactics after putting all their eggs in the BT basket last November with the consequence that Devon & Somerset are now the only counties in the UK without a Phase 2 contract in place. If you wrote this up a a script for Yes, Minister, the BBC would reject it as being too far fetched!

    1. fastman says:

      the 30th June 2015 was to ensure the contract could be covered by existing state aid that expired on 30th June 2015 — so now you no state aid so you cant procure probably take 2 years to get state aid (assuming you can and at what cost because there will no framework contract) then year to procure (then a year to get anything in the ground assuming you can get someone to bid for what you want (or think you want)- probably 2018/2019 before you get anything Started !!!!

    2. MikeW says:

      Plenty of counties have gone for an OJEU approach to state aid. Lack of a complete approval doesn’t stop the contract work from going ahead: Both Lancashire and Rutland had signed contracts with BT in phase 1 before their individual state aid approval was given.

      It does stop any spending from happening, and tends to mean no actual work will be done on the ground. However, BT wouldn’t have started any of that work until the start of 2017 anyway (not because they’re being obtuse, but because the phase 1 project runs until the end of 2016).

      That means there is a lot of time to get this sorted out.

      Devon & Somerset aren’t the only county to not have a proper SEP project running. North Yorkshire put their commitment on hold last November, when the same issues became clear: FTTRN couldn’t be used, so any coverage in the contract would have to be met by FTTP: too slow to deploy, and too expensive. They would hit the same problems that CDS did: a late finish, and not considered value for money … so it is no wonder SFNY are considering wireless.

      Note too that CDS perhaps built the rod for their own back: They chose to specify that the 5% of the county to be covered was to be the hardest 5%, not the easiest 5%. Common-sense should tell you to expect it to be a slow, expensive option.

  9. fastman says:

    Country pans are based on X overall county coverage (X% is determined by County) for Y money (how much can you put in to be matched and Z at greater than 24 m/bps

  10. Matt D says:

    The situation with regards to roll out data has not improved here in the Black Country. Our BDUK Phase Two project was signed with BT last September with the first premises due to be connected later this year. In the last week I have noticed two fibre cabinets being installed in the Oldbury area but our project map and postcode checker is still shown as coming soon. I thought all phase two projects had to release detailed maps and postcode information prior to the commencement of the project. There is little sign this will happen here.

  11. Coger says:

    I am a complete newbie to this site. and do not normally comment. But I must ask a simple question. Reading this and other similar posts am I right to assume that there in fact 2 camps here? Camp 1.Those who are trying to expose the truth, and, Camp 2. Those who work for BT?? It is striking to see the appalling number of hoops camp 2 are willing to jump through in their endeavours to defend the completely indefensible BT.

    1. FibreFred says:

      “I am a complete newbie to this site.” = BS Alarm bells. 🙂

    2. FibreFred says:

      A nice welcome you gave yourself, hope you feel well received 🙂

  12. fastman says:

    or your in camp 3 and are devoid of any sense of commercial reality / reason

    1. GNewton says:

      Like TheFacts who in the past said he wouldn’t mind a government-funded nationwide FTTP rollout?

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