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Broadband Funding is for People who Live with “badgers and rabbits”

Friday, November 13th, 2015 (3:28 pm) - Score 749
worcestershire uk broadband

Politics in Worcestershire (England) can sometimes be messy, although one local councillor has now taken it to another level by saying that the use of state aid funding to improve broadband connectivity would only help people who choose to “live out in the sticks with the badgers and rabbits“.

As a quick recap, Superfast Worcestershire is currently working with BTOpenreach to expand the reach of “high-speed fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services to 90% of local premises by June 2016 (55,000 additional premises) and a second contract will later push this out to 95% by “autumn 2017” (note: 94% should be able to receive “superfast” 24Mbps+ speeds).

Meanwhile the perhaps mildly derogatory comments, which seem to overlook the fact that such animals can also be found living happily in urban areas and that the local scheme has so far used up most of its funding on upgrades in more populous semi-urban locations, came from the mouth of local Councillor and Labour group leader Peter McDonald.

McDonald has form in this area after having previously criticised the project for spending public money on broadband while “people are homeless, struggling on benefits and relying on foodbanks” (here), which somewhat overlooks the economic and social benefits of such connectivity, not to mention how that can feed back into growing the local economy and thus aiding public services.

The latest outburst appears to reflect McDonald’s frustration at news that another £3m+ has now been confirmed to help with the future expansion of faster broadband services into more rural areas, much of which is being returned by BT for reinvestment as part of the clawback (gain share) mechanism in Broadband Delivery UK contracts (here).

Councillor Peter McDonald said:

What really annoys me, and many others in this room, is not getting our priorities right. Since when has it been this chamber’s priority to throw millions after millions at a private company?

Meanwhile another Labour Councillor, Paul Denham, said: “There was an expectation that when we got this £3 million it’d be given back to the taxpayer but all we’re doing, in effect, is giving it straight back to the [BT].”

Indeed many have previously expressed a fair concern at the fact that BT has won so many of the contracts, often without any other bidders being involved. On the other hand BDUK’s framework hasn’t always been very inviting to alternative networks and councils can also be apprehensive about investing in smaller players where the risk of failure is more pronounced.

Sadly the only alternative being offered above is simply not to spend any public money at all on broadband and to instead hope that BT or other operators will feel generous enough to lash out millions on areas where they see no real prospect of a feasible economic return, which rarely happens except in some areas and then only very slowly (e.g. B4RN, Gigaclear).

At this point it’s worth considering that some of those areas still deemed to be “rural” can be quite large and may also include a number of urban trouble-spots, thus the picture is usually a lot more complex than suggested by the above councillors.

Naturally Labour’s local Conservative rivals have been quick to attack the comments, with Councillor Marc Bayliss saying, “I will not vote for prejudice against people who live in rural areas, this is a good investment in a vital public service and we should support it.”

As it stands the local authority has now voted to continue with the future funding allocation and it’s hoped that this will be put to good use in a future deployment, although we’re unlikely to see a phase three contract being signed until sometime later next year.

Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. Avatar AndrewH

    What a muppet.
    As you say the knock on economic and social benefits of fast connectivity will be vast.
    Some people are so short sighted. Absolutely no idea whatsoever.
    I live in the stick not because I chose to, I was born here and worked on the Family farm for 20 years.
    What id he suggesting, that everyone in the countryside moves to the urban areas? yeah, that would go down well.
    Sounds a bit like jealousy actually.
    Mind you, it is lovely here, there are Badgers, Rabbits, babbling brooks, rolling hills and it’s completely devoid of Labour councillors and politicians.
    Perfect.
    Just need the superfast now!!!
    🙂

    • Avatar tonyp

      Presumably you need SuperFastBroadband to fill in the mass of DeFRA forms that have to be filed online. Animal records, ordering feed, seed etc. and so-on (you don’t say whether your farm is stock, arable or mixed). I wonder if the Rabbits and Badgers like the taste of Fibre cable?

      A lot of farms, around me at least, seem to have business units on their land. They would also need SFB I suggest.

      Isn’t Worcestershire a predominantly rural county? If so, it is a typical urbanite comment from someone who should have more sense.

    • Avatar AndrewH

      @tonyp

      We don’t farm anymore although kept the buildings. I run my own IT business now (on a 1.7meg connection). Getting more and more difficult by the day.
      I was simply making the point that it’s not like I moved to a rural area and then started complaining about the broadband. the family farmed here for nearly 100 years.
      Yes, as you say, around here there are loads of farms with business units. It’s the only way farmers can survive these days. Diversify or go bust basically.
      They desperately need fast connectivity. Already we are seeing houses being easier to sell at a higher price in villages that have superfast.
      I have a customer who rents holiday cottages. trying to share 1 meg to three cottages and trying to use it yourself is not funny. They now have 22 meg FTTC (over 2KM of copper believe it or not) and it’s made such a difference when they are advertising.

  2. Avatar GNewton

    Councillor Peter McDonald had one valid point though when he said:

    “Since when has it been this chamber’s priority to throw millions after millions at a private company?”

    Although I have to disagree with statements asking to not to support superfast broadband which clearly has to be of a priority, to be sorted out. However, the BDUK in its current format has been a farce, because BT has no need for this public money. At the very least the public funding agencies should get a share in the new broadband infrastructure and revenues, maybe in the form of shares.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Did he have a valid point?

      The whole point of the council is to purchase services for the council & residents. They disperse hundreds of millions to private companies for this purpose. The chamber’s priority is indeed to purchase services that residents need, though councillors obviously differ over what needs are worthy.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Clearly the council ought to run broadband access as that seems to be the alternative to “giving the money to a private company”. What a brainless comment. Isn’t public money used all the time to purchase and subsidise services using private companies? Like care homes, rubbish collection, bus services and any number of other things? Priorities are one thing, but to characterise these as gifts is ridiculous. They are contracts for services.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @SteveJones: You can’t compare apples with oranges. The BDUK process has been a failure, most remote rural areas have been neglected so far. What’s so wrong with the idea of when there is a public funding of broadband infrastructures to have a share in the revenues so as to not to burden the taxpayers in the long run? I know for you as a BT shareholder this won’t be a favourable idea, but remember, BT is a commercial company, though it doesn’t always act as a one, and also has a lot of well-documented issues, so wouldn’t always be the best choice to entrust it with important network infrastructures.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      @GNewton

      If the public body was to take a share of the revenue that would just have put the bid price up. After all, this was gap funding which was meant to cover the difference between the costs of provision (over the contract period) and the revenues. Take out more revenue and pass it to the public body and that gap just increases by the same amount. Net effect is zero. As it happens there is, of course, a way of funds being returned to the public body and it’s called claw-back so there are safeguards in place (as the NAO noted).

      As it happens, BT aren’t allowed to make a return on grant money as it doesn’t count as capex (the same applies to excess construction charges).

      So what is certainly true is that BT have been able to use public money to mitigate risk (and in some areas they would have probably enabled later anyway). But the government wanted to accelerate the process and cover areas which would otherwise not have been provided for.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @GNewton
      With coverage approaching 90% it is quite clear that the BDUK process hasn’t been a complete failure, far from it.
      But the massive oversight has been the failure to make a provision for the final 5%. There doesn’t even seem to be a coordinated plan in place to provide superfast broadband for those of us unlucky enough to be more than 2km from a cabinet.
      Clearly satellite is useless but we can use Fixed Wireless. Why not use the voucher scheme to kick start fixed wireless networks?

    • Avatar MikeW

      Councils had a choice of whether to use the gap-funded model or not – and revenue sharing was an option they could have gone for.

      However, revenue-sharing also means risk-sharing. And the South Yorkshire councils can tell you what happens when those risks send the project down the pan, and requires good money to be sent after bad, even just to shut things down.

      Pilot projects included revenue-sharing quite late into procurement, but chose gap-funding anyway. The Digital Region – a real failure, rather than the opinion you try to ascribe to BDUK – was too close in councillor’s memories to let it go any other way.

      If DR had worked, it would have paved the way to more risk-taking, and likely a considerable heterogeneity to the supplier landscape.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @PeterM
      We should see far more about the final 5% in next week’s budget statement.

      Hopefully that’ll have funds for wireless coverage that is separate from the satellite voucher scheme.

  3. Avatar Captain.Cretin

    BTs rural business plan is to let someone else prove the area is viable by spending millions on getting high speed internet access, then undercutting them, forcing them out of business and taking all the lovely new customers.

    The only reason Malvern got high speed internet was because the various GOVERNMENT defence contractors wanted it (now privatised).

    The Fibre cabinets around here are suspiciously clustered around the hi-tech industrial estates and their connecting roads (which is why I get nearly 80Mbps). The other side of town – where there are a lot more residential areas – the cabinets are few and far between, so most people can only get upto 40Mbps.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      All but 2 cabinets in Malvern have FTTC live or planned.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      So those cunning folk who planned PCPs for the phone system anticipated that, decades later, they would be used as interconnect points for FTTC cabinets and were able to carry through their dastardly plan to discriminate against residential areas for the yet-to-be invented World Wide Web.

    • Avatar fastman

      captain !!! the commercial programme was primarilry around residential and certaintly not directed as business parks – actually the exact opposite —

  4. Avatar Al

    I’ve got a radical idea for politicans who have this view, their speed should be capped to match the slowest speed one of the electorate has in that area, after all if that speed is good enough for that member of the electorate it’s good enough for the politcian.

  5. Avatar Captain.Cretin

    Good idea, I have been suggesting MPs only get paid the National Average Wage for years; it might buck their ideas up.

  6. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    Although he’s a Worcestershire county councillor, Peter MacDonald’s
    ward is Birmingham fringe, which may partly explain his witless comment about badgers and bunnies.

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