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UK Councils – Residents Need Access to Local Data on Broadband Speed

Tuesday, Sep 13th, 2016 (7:57 am) - Score 492

The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils across England and Wales, has called on the Government’s new Digital Economy Bill 2016-17 to nudge ISPs into sharing their broadband speed data so that consumers can more easily compare the performance of individual houses.

At present anybody who wants to see the potential broadband speed of a particularly property (e.g. house or office) either has to depend upon unreliable postcode-level information or conduct an address-level check with each ISP and or package (connection technology) that suits your interest, which is incredibly tedious.

Admittedly some availability checkers, such as the BT Wholesale Checker, are a bit more useful and can conduct address level checks, but they’re not perfect (i.e. they don’t work for every property and won’t show rival networks) and still don’t give you a full view of the market or its many potential options.

In keeping with that the LGA thinks that Ofcom should have the power to request address-level data from ISPs in order to “monitor the accuracy of speed predictions and for third parties to have access to live data on household speeds to present accurate comparisons to consumers“.

The new bill, which is due to have its Second Reading in the House of Commons today, already includes a proposal (Part 6) that would grant Ofcom new reporting powers to help them monitor the progress of new infrastructure or service deployments and extract useful data from ISPs. The rule may even force some ISPs to retain data that they might not usually collect.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the LGA, said:

“The quality of digital connectivity can be markedly different from area to area with some households being able to access superfast broadband speeds whilst others can only achieve substantially less.

We support the Government’s aims to allow Ofcom to demand providers open up their premises-level data on broadband so that residents can more easily compare who will provide the best service to their home – not just their postcode, which can often be inaccurate.

Our residents can only make the most informed choices if they have all the data at their fingertips in one place.”

In theory Ofcom could then use this data for monitoring speed prediction accuracy and for third-party intermediaries, such as news and information websites like ISPreview.co.uk, to present more useful ISP comparisons to consumers. All of this would be a big benefit to consumers, provided the information is distributed fairly and is of a useful form.

Mind you there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered, such as how access to the data will be distributed? Will comparison sites be required to pay a fee for access? Will the data reflect the different available connection types and past history for the address with different ISPs? Is the data only going to look at fixed line services (e.g. what about fixed wireless networks)? Do Ofcom expect to collect data from only the main players, or will smaller ISPs face similar pressure? Etc.

We suspect that some premises, such as new builds, would still have to rely on an estimate (hopefully the data would be marked to show this) until the service is live or they may not even appear in the data at all. Similarly real-world speed tests can sometimes still be misleading, such as if the property owner takes out a slower ADSL line when faster FTTC, FTTP or Cable (DOCSIS) might also have been available. Putting all of this information into the correct context will be very important.

LGA Briefing Statement

At present, broadband suppliers do not provide open access to their address-level data on broadband line speeds. This means there is no single place that consumers can compare side by side estimates of the broadband speeds that could be supplied to their home. Consumers can only get a true assessment of the speed their premise will achieve by conducting a line speed test on a broadband provider’s website. This makes it much harder to choose the best package as it does not provide a simple view of the market.

The LGA welcomes Government action which would promote competition in the telecommunications sector and provide consumers with the knowledge and power to easily switch providers and find the best deal. Ofcom should look to share all its data publicly by default and abide by appropriate open data standards to allow third parties utilise the data in new and innovative ways.

The potential commercially sensitive nature of some data sets, for example the planned roll out of mobile infrastructure, should not preclude local government – as the main representative of communities – from having access in some form. Councils are best placed to understand the digital needs of local areas and access to such data would help inform local digital strategies and interventions going forward.

Councils also remain concerned at the representative nature of Ofcom’s mobile data – often mobile connectivity data shared by Ofcom is not reflective of the situation in many rural areas on the ground. Any measures to improve the frequency of the data is shared, and the quality of mobile data sets, would be welcomed.

We should point out that the new bill also includes many of the other changes that we’ve recently been reporting on, such as the proposed 10Mbps USO, automatic compensation for broadband faults, improvements to consumer switching between providers and changes to make it easier for telecoms providers to build new infrastructure on private land (ECC).

UPDATE 2:13pm

Cityfibre has chimed in with a comment.

Mark Collins, Cityfibre’s co-founder and Director of Strategy, said:

“What has become abundantly clear is that access to fit for purpose digital connectivity is more vital than ever. Great broadband infrastructure is as essential to the home as it is to a business and the ability for consumers to truly understand what speeds they can access from different providers and over different infrastructures is vital to make informed decisions.

It must be remembered that all major consumer ISPs except Virgin Media use the same digital infrastructure provided by BT Openreach. This means it is unlikely for those with slow speeds to be able to access much faster services without costly upgrades. It is only through digital infrastructure competition and ISPs selling services over pure fibre infrastructure that a step change in speeds will occur.

We continue to believe that advertising guidelines could do much more to clarify the differences between gigabit capable pure fibre networks and the legacy copper-fibre hybrid networks we have become used to.”

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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