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UPDATE Government Claims 90 Percent UK Superfast Broadband Cover

Thursday, March 10th, 2016 (9:50 am) - Score 1,704

Blink and you’ll miss it. Without any fanfare the Government’s Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, appears to have officially confirmed that 90% of the United Kingdom can now access a “superfast broadband” service, thanks partly to Phase 1 of their Broadband Delivery UK programme with BT.

Readers with a long enough memory may recall that the original BDUK target envisaged the first 90% goal as being achieved by the end of the previous Government’s parliament (around May 2015), but after a few administrative delays this was put back to the end of 2015 and then revised again to “by 2016” (the use of “by” in political speak usually means “end of”).

So admittedly it’s running a little behind the original aspiration, but that’s hardly surprising given that the first deployment phase had a lot of learning and new ground to cover before it could even get going. Equally it’s a huge build and in the grander scheme of Government project delays (just look at HS2) it’s actually made quite reasonable progress.

Aside from that we’ve long been expecting BDUK to achieve the original 90% target by spring 2016 and so in that sense yesterday’s remark from Ed Vaizey came as no surprise, except for the fact that it was made in passing and without any official press release or fanfare to accompany it.

Ed Vaizey MP said (Westminster Debate):

“There has been only one failure in the superfast broadband roll-out programme that I have supervised and that was in South Yorkshire, where we inherited a useless Labour contract [Digital Region] and had to write off £50 million of taxpayers’ money. Everything else has been an unadulterated success.

We now have 93% of the country able to receive fibre, 90% of the country able to get superfast speeds of 24 megabits and above, and 50% of the country able to get ultrafast broadband speeds of 100 megabits and above [ISPr Ed: The “ultrafast” figure is mostly thanks to Virgin Media’s commercial cable network].”

Just to be clear, we do expect the Government to make some PR capital out of this at some point. More to the point we still think they’re actually a smidgen shy of a nice round 90% (maybe that’s why the PR machine isn’t yet rolling into action), albeit perhaps not enough for it to be worth quibbling over.

Mind you there must be a caveat added to this, which is that such figures are only ever estimates of availability and the real-world experiences won’t always match up. Likewise that 90% will be an overall national (UK) figure, thanks largely to progress in the more populous England area. By comparison N.Ireland sits at around 80%, Scotland is on 84% and Wales has about 87%.

If we take Ed Vaizey at his word then then it means that Phase 1 of the BDUK project, which was supported by £530m in public funding from the Government (local authorities and BT were asked to match this), should now have put the new “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) connectivity within reach of an additional 4 million premises (homes and businesses) or thereabouts. Not bad considering that the main roll-out only really started in 2013, with most contracts getting under-way in 2014.

At this point it’s worth reminding readers that the first 70% or so of “superfast broadband” coverage was largely achieved via purely commercial investment, mostly thanks to BT and Virgin Media’s efforts. As such BDUK’s focus has been on the final 30% where the commercial operators have struggled to invest.

The next Phase 2 (Superfast Extension Programme) target, which is supported by £250m from BDUK + more funding from ISPs (not just BT this time) and public authorities, aims to close the gap further and hit 95-96% coverage by 2017/18. However we are still awaiting a firm strategy for closing the final 3-4% gap after that by 2020, which is somewhat dependent upon a new EU State Aid agreement (details here – expected by around May 2016).

Even after all is said and done then there will still be around 0.5-1% of the UK that cannot easily be served by a fixed line solution and unless there is a stronger commitment to solve that problem then they’re likely to be stuck with the Satellite subsidy (here). Mind you there might also be some future benefit from the 10Mbps USO (here), depending upon its approach.

PS – Just to be sure we did ask Ed Vaizey directly to confirm whether the 90% figure was for the UK and not merely England and he has confirmed that it is indeed for the UK.

UPDATE 3:15pm

We’ve had an official comment from BT.

Bill Murphy, BT’s Managing Director of NGA, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We delighted to hear the minister confirm this important milestone. Our engineers are making high-speed fibre broadband available to an extra 40,000 premises every week.

Co-operation between councils, government and BT is making a real difference and helping to keep the UK ahead of other large EU countries.

BT is investing more than any other company to increase broadband speeds and coverage across the country, and we’re determined to fill the gaps that still exist.”

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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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19 Responses
  1. Patrick Cosgrove says:

    ““There has been only one failure in the superfast broadband roll-out programme that I have supervised and that was in South Yorkshire …….”

    How about Shropshire, Herefordshire and Devon and Somerset where large amounts if Phase 2 money have yetvto be spent and access to a superfast service is well below 90%?

    1. MikeW says:

      You answer that yourself: “has yet to be spent”.

      The projects are ongoing. There are things yet to be done; these things are known about and achievable. Even if things take more time than expected (especially with EU negotiations).

      Once the projects stick their hands up, and say nothing more can be achieved, and are still short of the target … then you can complain. When your statement is about money that cannot be spent, rather than money waiting to be spent.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      I think you’ll find there’s a huge difference between the results of the Digital Region project in South Yorkshire and any shortcomings in the BDUK one. The Digital Region project had to close having attracted a derisory number of customers and requiring the writing off of several tens of millions of pounds. In other words it never came remotely close to its stated aims.

      BDUK has its shortcomings. The initial timescale was unworkable, the impression was given by politicians that it would resolve rural BB issues. A bit of work with a calculator and some common sense would have shown that 90% or even 95% would leave a lot of dissatisfied householders and, given the priorities set out, there would be major concentrations. However, when all is said and done, the speed of roll-out of SF is pretty well what was in the contracts, it is coming in under budget and with greater take-up than expected and coverage will be be higher if the clawback money is invested in new infrastructure. The 2mbps USC issue was fudged (along with the satellite issue), but on balance it’s nothing like the Yorkshire fiasco.

      If you want a fiasco, try looking at Network Rail work, such as the electrification of the GWR mainline about 200 metres from my front door, which is woefully late and over budget.

    3. Patrick Cosgrove says:

      Mike W – I disagree. When impressions were given at grand launches and expectations raised, and then everyone else is connected, then you complain. How’s your connection? I had to post this a second time because the connection failed.

    4. Ignition says:

      What does MikeW’s own connection, or yours, have to do with the picture at a county or national level?

  2. Al says:

    Superfast Lancashire’s target was 97% coverage by end of 2015 according to thinkbroadband.com they are at 95.6% today. Not exactly my definition of an unadulterated success, being generous you could call it a success.

    At the end of the day really no matter how successful the Government wants to call it until we have near total coverage complaints from those left towards the end in many cases the ones that most needed the BDUK intervention will voice their complaints about the “success” of the rollout. Perhaps they should you words like progress instead of success.

    Half the problem the me is a distict lack of information about the rollout in my area, only recently did the when and where OR site satrt to give where in the FTTC journey your cabinet. It should have been there from the start.

    But even discouting that the site is still utterly useless for me as it says exploring solutions which is a lie as they aren’t exploring solutions as they are installing FTTP. But I know what to look for when it comes to FTTP others might get that message think they aren’t getting anything but are actually getting FTTP.

    Superfast Lancashire closed it offices stopped updating facebook etcc. in May of last year.

    1. DTMark says:

      From what I can ascertain and I’m very happy to be corrected, Think Broadband’s figures, described as ‘calculations’, are simply estimates based off radial distances to the nearest cabinet (not necessarily the one a place is connected to).

      Therefore, this means that they are ‘estimates’ and to my mind would be far more credible were two figures to be published – best and worst case – clearly stating what length/radial distance was used to achieve those figures, which would be quite a way apart.


      distance used = 450m *, availability of superfast = 60%
      distance used = 900m *, availability of superfast = 90%

      .. with the “real” number falling somewhere in between the two.

      * Does anyone know what lengths are used for the estimates now?

      What’s then missing is line quality, line metal, line gauge, the vagaries of line length and the effect of crosstalk, so perhaps then subtract another 15% to get a figure to work with?

    2. @DTMark Who has ever said thinkbroadbands work is based on the nearest cabinet?

      As for the rest suffice to say when we have looked at speed test results and Openreach estimates for whole cabinet areas we are in line with test results and generally at the lower end of the Openreach A-B range.

    3. MikeW says:

      “What’s then missing is line quality, line metal, line gauge, the vagaries of line length and the effect of crosstalk, so perhaps then subtract another 15% to get a figure to work with?”

      My experience of the BTW figures is that they take account all of the static aspects of the line – joints, material, gauge, length – in the basic estimate. And take account of the impact of crosstalk in giving a range. And take account of the impact of the quality by having a B range separate from an A range.

      If Andrew is correct that TBB’s figures fall out at the low end of BTW’s A-B estimate ranges, then TBB’s figures already take account of almost all of the “in service” vagaries of our copper line plant. It also means the length is actual copper length, rather than a crow’s flight plan.

      “* Does anyone know what lengths are used for the estimates now?”

      For Openreach’s estimates?

      As I understand it, they don’t use distances for most of it. Instead, they use measurements of the attenuation between the DP and the PCP for the bulk of the estimate – which takes account of length, material, gauge and the insertion loss of the working joints (but not any failing joints).

      They don’t have a record of the length of your drop wire (or lead in wire) from DP to the home, so they add a standard length for this – which can send the estimate haywire if you have an excessive drop wire. I think the average length is 35m, but I don’t know what they use in the estimates.

    4. gerarda says:

      @Mikew I do not think BTW can take all the vagaries into account. I have an office line in my house(an ex-ISDN line that has been capable of getting a very basic ADSL service, but the residential and those of my immediate neighbours have never been able to get any sort of service. However BTW still give the same (hugely optimistic) up to 1Mbps estimate for all the lines.

      Even on the office line when I switched from Talk Talk to Plusnet the speed halved, the Openreach engineer suggesting this was because they had changed the pair at the exchange.

    5. DTMark says:

      I know the layout of the network around here, and even I’d struggle to point to where the cables run the other way to the other cabinet on a map. So if the estimates do take this into account correctly it implies some information sharing by BT.

      “generally at the lower end of the Openreach A-B range”

      Here we have A – high = 32.3, B – low = 11.7. These have dropped from 36/16, I think when a neighbour ordered.

      So BT isn’t confident of being able to deliver more than 11.7Mbps, which is quite a bit less than 3G delivers. Actually BT has little to no idea what the line might deliver.

      And yet on the TBB website, with no speed test above 30Mbps, it says “likely to be above 30Mbps”.

      Radial distance to cab = 800m. Line length = 1380m. Previous ADSL performance = 42% of theoretical line rate for line length which compares with an average of 55% for the lines for which I have data.

      It’s *not* likely to be above 30Mbps, is it. Even BT don’t think so..

      Which is what makes me wonder how the various relevant factors are taken into account and the radial distance on which the TBB claims are based. 800m+ is quite optimistic.

      Don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge mapping exercise, but perhaps the results could more correctly be described as “the best case scenario if the line plant was only installed yesterday and the lines took perfectly straight minimal distance routes”.

  3. Rory McCune says:

    Shows how much of a variance there can be region to region. Whilst it may be 90% overall in the UK, in Argyll and Bute it’s not even cracked 50% yet.

  4. George Lloyd says:

    It’s no where near 90% where I live where a whole lot of houses are on exchange lines. There is no sign of cabinets being installed, in fact a couple have been taken away.

    1. Graham Turnbull says:

      You might be lucky and get FTTP as they are trialling in some areas right now eg. Haydon Wick.


    2. fastman says:

      George so where are you then ?

  5. gerarda says:

    It very easy to achieve an “unadulterated” success when you set low targets to start with and then revise them downwards and backwards every time the “success” is in jeopardy

  6. Dave says:

    What a waste of money. Same old thing.
    Lets give people who already have broadband even faster broadband and those with sub 1mbs can wait to 2020 and then be forced to pay £60/month for a inferior satellite system.(which I could have had 10 year ago)
    I don’t want Superfast Broadband I just want a usable BROADBAND. You would not think it would be so difficult to achieve in year 2016.
    Thanks Ed Vaizey what a wonderful job you are doing!

  7. Al says:

    If I was sat on an ADSL2+ line with speeds in the region of 10-16Mbps, I might not upgrade to fibre, but alas I only get ADSLMax upto 8Mbps. So as soon as fibre is live for me I’ll be ordering it.

  8. mark klinger says:

    BT has largely failed to tackle exchange only lines, being only interested if there is a subsidy. Those that cannot get superfast broadband pay significantly more for broadband. Satellite and fixed wireless are even more expensive. Pressure should be put on BT to tackle more exchange only lines. eg fttrn

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