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Devon Council Criticised for Secrecy of Broadband Project’s Scrutiny Meetings

Monday, October 2nd, 2017 (11:53 am) - Score 1,069
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The Upottery Parish Councillor and Chairman of the B4RDS (Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset) campaign, Graham Long, has criticised Devon Council for conducting scrutiny of the regional broadband roll-out project (Connecting Devon and Somerset) in private, with “press and public excluded“.

The CDS scheme is the largest of all the state aid fuelled Broadband Delivery UK programmes in England, although at the same time it also reflects one of the country’s most rural and thus challenging regions in terms of deploying new broadband infrastructure.

The Devon and Somerset project is split up into two phases. The original £94m Phase One project involved working with BT (Openreach) to roll-out their FTTC/P “fibre broadband” (any speed) network to cover around 95% of premises by 2017 (Airband also won a smaller wireless contract), although the estimated figure in terms of premises that can order a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable service today is around 87% for both counties combined (this is blamed on the “under-performance of the commercial sector’s private investment plans“).

By comparison the £69m Phase Two project suffered a huge delay after failing to reach an agreement with BT in 2015 (here), although they have this year signed several related contracts with Gigaclear and Airband for a mix of ultrafast FTTP and fixed wireless broadband to cover 60,000+ extra premises across the region by December 2019 (the aim here appears to be to deliver 95% coverage of “superfast broadband“).

However Graham Long told a meeting of Devon Council’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee on 26th September 2017 (Tuesday) that he fears the standing task group of four (now five) councillors, which was setup to scrutinise the CDS project, is failing the public by conducting its work behind closed doors (see the agenda and webcast – Graham Long’s first section is at 3 mins 18 secs).

Graham Long told the meeting:

“[The task group] takes evidence in private, behind closed doors, with press and public excluded, with witnessed prohibited from recording proceedings and no formal minutes taken. This is contrary to the county council’s articles of constitution and the Nolan principles. It is also contrary to the secretary of state for local government, as expressed at the 2017 local government association conference.”

The Nolan principles say that “information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so,” although while there may be occasions where confidential data could be discussed it is not clear why all of the related meetings should still be held in private.

Graham also noted that the terms of reference for the task group say it will be on-going until the broadband roll-out is complete, which could take a very long time.

Graham Long told ISPreview.co.uk:

“The irony of all this of course is that whilst full Scrutiny Committee meetings are public and webcast for all to see, the “Standing Action Group” they have now set up meets with witnesses behind closed doors, with press and public not allowed to be present and no formal minutes taken. I was a witness in front of the Standing action Group on Sept 14 and we met in the same room where the webcast was made on Tuesday, but the meeting was private and the webcast system was not used.

Making it a Standing Task Group taking evidence from witnesses in camera allows for any subject, not just broadband, to be scrutinised without witnesses being heard by the public and press. The Task Group terms of reference say on timescale, that delegation of witness scrutiny will continue “until roll out is complete or the Task Group is fully satisfied with progress” which at the earliest is 2019 or even 2023, if you include the Phase 1 BT clawback period when BT pay monies back to CDS under the terms of their contract.

CDS could therefore still be running broadband roll-out until then and scrutiny of CDS could therefore be going on behind closed doors for another 7 years.”

However the committee chairman, Cllr Alistair Dewhirst (note: he is a member of the aforementioned task group), disagrees with Graham’s view and claims the council’s approach will enable the task group to make faster progress that involves more witnesses. The councillor added that feedback from the witnesses would also be reflected in a report to the public scrutiny meeting on 28th November 2017.

In response Graham was quick to point out that this means only the task group will hear what the witnesses (including CDS) have to say, while the public have to make do with the report that the task group write (i.e. “the press and public do not hear it from the ‘horses mouth!’“, said Graham).

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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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42 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Jones

    “and I suspect a quarterly platitude from yourself, much as it might be delivered in wonderful tones, may not quite satisfy Mr. Cashman or his hordes of placard waving protesters”.

    Ouch.

    • Avatar Roger Cashmore

      @ Steve Jones Never met you before and am not certain what point you are trying to make. But as you appear to be a regular “first responder” on the ISP forums review therefore I surmise that you may be another one of those BT employees or pensioners who do not seem to have much better things to do than trawl the forums in a vain attempt to defend the indefensible ?? If am wrong do let me know. If I am right then I ask, why do you feel the need to even respond to this post about scrutiny of local government? Your company is not even mentioned! Interested to understand your thinking. The reason I am posting to ISPReview for the first time is because of your comment about placard waving. This phrase was used right at the end of the meeting by a councillor in regard to myself. Is this your reference? If it was then for your information my name is Roger Cashmore, not Cashman. I have no agenda other than seeing good local authority governance. Not certain if you were just attempting to be sarcastic or were in fact referring to Lord Cashman the Labour MP?

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      @Roger Cashmore

      All I was doing was taking a quote from that video cast where it was clear that councillor Paul Crabb had made something of a pointed remark aimed at Councillor Alistair Dewhirst (suggesting somebody is just making platitudinous statements is not normally considered complimentary).

      The only word I added was “ouch”. I wasn’t defending anything at all.

    • Avatar Roger Cashmore

      Oh thats all right then. Really no need to go all defensive. While i am grateful to ISPreview for the right to reply I feel you may be confusing me with someone who spends a lot of time on these forums. Good luck!

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Good luck with the effort to get more transparent information on progress. Unfortunately the communication on BDUK projects is often patchy and inconsistent. In many ways TBB have got by far the best handle on the situation due to Andrew’s hard work. Unfortunately that does not, of course, extend to whatever the detailed plans are. That requires local projects.

  2. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    The situation in some parts of Devon is far worse than the ‘5%’ picture this article paints. According to the postcode analysis done by the House of Commons library using the last available OFCOM Connected Nations data, in the constituency of Torridge and West Devon (MP Geoffrey Cox, Con) a staggering 23.5% of connections are unable to deliver 10 Mbps ‘basic’ Broadband. Although the data in the report is now out of date, due to the contractual failure in 2015 mentioned above, this figure is still accurate. It’s a dismal situation for those of us living here.

    • due to the contractual failure in 2015 mentioned above, this figure is still accurate

      The failure in 2015 to secure a new deal did not stop Openreach from continuing with their roll-out of Phase One through 2015, 2016 and some of 2017 in order to complete the original contract. Generally most Phase Two contracts tend to start as the Phase One efforts have completed, so I wouldn’t call Ofcom’s data from 2015 “still accurate” for today’s position.

      The data used in the article above is from June or July 2017 at the last press release, although I suspect if you ask Thinkbroadband politely then they may be able to check what the coverage figures are for that specific area today.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      Openreach haven’t done any phase 2 work in this constituency, they didn’t even bid for it. This area of Devon has almost exclusively exchange lines, the BT phase 1 work installing FTTC cabinets outside the doors of telephone exchanges only succeeded in giving Superfast to customers who already had 10 Mbps+ ADSL. We will have to wait until the next report is published, however I will eat my hat if this figure has changed by any significant amount.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Guy
      Coverage in Devon and Somerset will lag the national position due to the ridiculous delay caused by the joint county councils before awarding the second contract. Coverage in Torridge and West Devon isn’t quite as bad as you suggest though – if you use the much more up to date information from Think Broadband, just over 11% of properties can’t get download speeds of 10Mbps or higher.

      The county councils and their joint project team have held progress back badly, have a lot to answer for!

    • https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/torridge-and-west-devon,E14001000

      The said constituency, and the History graphs are informative and observations like the 2.12% of FTTP appeared in speed tests in Q2/2017 after roll-out earlier in 2017.

      On the 10 Mbps if we roll clock back to May 2016 (latest Ofcom data i.e. what is in House of Commons) it is 23% on our system and this has since dropped to 11.1%.

      Hopefully the CDS committees are working with a more up to date analysis than HoC Library. Always happy to present evidence too, just need expenses paid to get there, or meet concerned MPs in London.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @mark,
      You write of phase one having a target of “95% by 2017”.

      Are you talking about fibre coverage? Or superfast speed coverage? If the latter, then surely CDS were following the standard phase one government target (90% by 2015), although their specific contract was for 90% by 2016, and achieved around 2-3 months late.

      @guy
      BT tends to only have done infill cabinets as part of later phases, so it isn’t a surprise that you won’t have seen many/any in the CDS area. Infill, or cabs for longer lines, aren’t really needed to hit 90%-level targets.

      Thinkbroadband’s “local” site shows that the Torridge constituency is currently at 77% having 24Mbps+ (up from 66% in June 2016, the date of Ofcom’s report), whilst 11% have 10Mbps or less.
      http://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/torridge-and-west-devon,E14001000

    • Hi MikeW,

      If you look closely the article says ““fibre broadband” (any speed) network.” I put “any speed” there because on many occasions the local politicians have used “fibre” and “superfast” terminology to reference the same coverage goal (a common problem), although so far as I understand it the earlier Phase 1 reference to 95% is just raw fibre coverage at any speed (inc. sub-24Mbps).

    • Avatar NGA for all

      MikeW – If there is no difficulty in reaching 90% then most of those funds will be returned. State aid is needed for the difficult bits not the easy.

      New-Londoner – Blaming those paying huge amounts to BT is a little odd. Keeping CDS in the dark regarding BT’s actual contributions, re-drawing the commercial footprint and a preference for gaming costs and capital as opposed to resourcing the project, while sitting on huge Capital Deferrals, all protected under confidentiality agreements suggests the matter is not just a CDS matter. This approach has cost BT shareholders, BT Customers and the rural economy. Contracts are supposed to define a relationship based on trust. Little evidence to suggest BT has the trust of CDS.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @mark
      Yeah. Had to check, as my (brief) notes of the original announcements had CDS pegged as one announcing 90% targets rather than a higher but fluffier target (like Wales)

      @nga
      WTF?

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @NGA
      We both know that I think your dodgy dossier lacks substance, is based on a poor understanding of both technology and accounting practices, uses guesswork and extrapolation to reach very dubious conclusions. In terms of the project team in Devon and Somerset, I believe it has done a major disservice to both counties, needlessly delaying decisions and falling behind as a result.

  3. Avatar GNewton

    The lack of public scrutiny and the fact too many BDUK projects refuse disclosure of details upon Freedom of Information requests, hiding behind commercial confidentiality clauses, has been a hindrance to a number of alternative network rollouts.

  4. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    [admin edit: removed double post]

  5. Avatar Somerset

    CDS might like to note their inability to keep the website accurate and up to date.

    Also the failed ‘Digital Champions’ scheme and the amazing idea of asking the locals to tell them the locations of BT cabinets.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      They do seem to be pretty clueless!

    • Avatar Ultraspeedy

      The B4RDS website is no better…
      http://www.b4rds.org
      with 3 of the 5 main sections on the home page either unclickable or direct to a page with no info.

      I find it all quite pathetic to be honest and rather than actually caring about something or even arguing who is right and wrong its became what everything involving bureaucrats becomes. Nothing more than about money, or to be more accurate who gets the most money and who can cry its not fair when they wanted money and did not get it. In this case it seems to be about who will get phase 2.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @US – b4rds.org was setup by a private individual. Probably overtaken by events involving Gigaclear.

    • Avatar Ultraspeedy

      Understandable, still does not alter things though.

  6. Avatar Graham Long

    Answering “The Facts”, B4RDS and the B4RDS website gets no funding whatsoever and whilst the B4RDS website provides some basic information we have found that our Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/fast.rural.broadband/ provides a more effective and immediate vehicle for information about what is going on in Devon & Somerset. On the other hand CDS has been funded with over £100M of public money.
    Whilst it is great that 5 of the 6 CDS Phase 2 contracts have gone to Gigaclear who will connect over 40,000 properties with pure fibre able to deliver 1,000Mbps, that will still leave the “final 5%” of properties, primarily rural for whom there is yet no solution. The vast majority of the “final 5%” of properties are in rural areas where 20% of the UK poulation live. This means that in rural areas approx 25% of all rural properties have no offering from to CDS to help improve their broadband. The CDS voucher scheme closed to new entrants in Nov 2016 and vouchers issued under that scheme expired Sept 30 2017. CDS are claiming they cannot restart the voucher scheme until all Phase 2 properties have been identified which it is believed will not happen until some time in 2018. B4RDS will continue to champion the broadband needs of the final 5% in Devon & Somerset.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Graham
      Let’s see how many neighbours agree with you regarding Gigaclear when they find out how much they have to pay to connect on top of the public subsidy. And then how much more Gigaclear is for its service than comparable mainstream ISPs.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Of course, as a nation, we’re no longer talking about the final 5%.

      The clawback money, and other ongoing funding, are going to keep projects going beyond the 95% mark, onward to 97 or 98%.

      Phase 2 properties not identified until 2018? Didn’t Gigaclear/CDS say this would happen by the middle of 2017? Gleefully said to council, if I might add. How long before Gigaclear becomes the crucifee?

      Even CDS knows they will go further than 95%. They said they’ll spend BT’s clawback just as soon as they know where phase 2 is going … oh.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Incidentally, when we were talking about the final 5%, BDUK had it subdivided into 1% urban, 3% “ordinary” rural, 1% remote or lonesome rural.

      I haven’t seen any analysis about how these areas fare individually after clawback gets included. I’d tend to assume that the third category, the remote rural, is least likely to get included.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      New Londoner: All Gigaclear’s prices are quoted on their website for services up to 1,000Mbps symetrical and whether you are in their commercial roll out area in Devon or their CDS subsidised roll out, the price is the same. My neighbours are already signing up no problem!
      Mike W: I quoted what CDS are saying about the voucher scheme not being re-introduced until 2018 precisely because all Phase 2 properties will be identified this year when Gigaclear publish the roll out schedule on their website…so why are CDS saying the voucher scheme will not be relaunched until 2018?

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Graham
      I agree that the prices are published and the same as those for commercial areas. The connection costs can be considerable however, and the monthly costs are higher than for mainstream providers at comparable speed, presumably due to lack of competition.

      The regular “planned maintenance” periods are causing some problems too, nobody liking downtime.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @New_Londoner: Nobody forces you to use Gigaclear if you don’t like them.

      For everyone else in Gigaclear’s coverage area: The page at https://www.gigaclear.com/our-broadband-products/for-home/home-broadband-packages/ lists the various installation options which are reasonably priced. You can’t compare them with other mainstream providers like BT because BT has no similar products to offer.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @gnewton
      Of course you can compare Gigaclear prices with BT. With both providers, as with any others, you just have to find the package that meets your needs in both upstream & downstream directions.

      Some will care that Gigaclear supply higher upstream, relatively. Most won’t.

      @graham
      Perhaps CDS are waiting to get locations from Gigaclear and then from BT’s clawback before activating vouchers again. I assume both companies can deploy in parallel.

    • Avatar Ultraspeedy

      “@Graham
      Let’s see how many neighbours agree with you regarding Gigaclear when they find out how much they have to pay to connect on top of the public subsidy. And then how much more Gigaclear is for its service than comparable mainstream ISPs.”

      Gigaclears install charges for a new connection seem to be perfectly reasonable.

      The £129.99 install charge is the same as what BT charge for a new phone line install.

      The £100 activation fee is also from what i recall the same as what BT charge for a new FTTP connection.

      No idea why you would think that is terrible when BT have also been subsidised in this part of the country.

      Prices fair from both and as good as equal from both from what i can see.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @us
      I guess the question is how many subscribers actually pay those installation & activation charges to BT. The competing offers that CPs put out tend to knock away those fees.

      I’ve now had FTTC installed in 3 locations, two of which would have classed as new lines. On none of those occasions have I paid anything as an installation or activation fee.

      Gigaclear’s installation fee is only a “from” value, covering up to 10m from the chamber at the edge of your property. £200 for up to 35m, and £300 for up to 100m.

    • Avatar PaulM

      “I guess the question is how many subscribers actually pay those installation & activation charges to BT. The competing offers that CPs put out tend to knock away those fees.”

      Everyone for a NEW phone line install from BT retail pays £130, unless BT are liars…
      http://bt.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/8311/~/how-much-does-it-cost-to-install-a-new-bt-phone-line-or-reconnect-an-old-one%3F

      If you look on Openreaches pages the cost is also similar.

      From that the only time it does not cost £130 is if you are reactivating an existing line, so no different to Gigaclears install charge of £130 unless you are saying once a property is connected if that person then moves the next owner has to pay £130 again?

      What offers other ISPs/suppliers are flogging to customers is irrelevant, somebody be it the customer or the provider will have to pay install charges, unless BT/Openreach now put up phone lines from poles to properties out of the kindness of their heart?

      “I’ve now had FTTC installed in 3 locations……….”
      Nobody is talking about FTTC

      “Gigaclear’s installation fee is only a “from” value, covering up to 10m from the chamber at the edge of your property. £200 for up to 35m, and £300 for up to 100m.”

      BTs FTTH/P charges vary, although i can find nothing relating to the exact £100 UltraS mentions, this Openreach page shows FTTP connection costs. Again as he stated about the same as Gigaclear.

      https://www.openreach.co.uk/orpg/home/products/pricing/loadProductPriceDetails.do?data=SjLGnN8O1mzybN7g39pZiNKvrleClYZjBLZ4w%2FibaalZ6rNZujnCs99NbIKJZPD9hXYmiijxH6wrCQm97GZMyQ%3D%3D

      Again what “OFFERS” others have available are irrelevant. Gigaclear have previous ran “OFFERS” for reduced monthly charge and free activation.

      The standard charges for Gigaclears offerings and BT/Openreaches offerings with regards to install and activations are very similar. In fact even if they were not the equivalent monthly costs on gigaclears products compared to the nearest FTTH/P product from BT are cheaper (Example gigaclear 200Mb is £54.30 i doubt anyone is offering a FTTH/P product via Openreach IE the 160Mb product for anything close to that).

    • Avatar GNewton

      @MikeW: As I said, BT/Openreach has no equivalent symmetric fibre broadband products, hence you can’t compare Gigaclear’s products withnthose from BT/Openreach.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @GN – comparing similar lower speed products, which many buy, is OK.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @gnewton
      As I said, symmetric is irrelevant. It is just another fixed proportion that might, or might not, be a match to what the subscriber wants.

      What any one subscriber needs is pretty unique.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @PaulM
      When you quote my words, try not to leave out the significant part.

      I have had FTTC 3 times *where two would class as new lines*.

      That’s two experiences where an installation and activation fee ought to have happened, and one where just an activation fee ought to have happened. Yet none happened.

      Why? Because competition at retail level means that such charges, whilst on the books at full level, are often dispensed with in special offers.

      Yes, it might mean the ISP covers the wholesale cost, but the wholesalers do offers at times too.

      When offers change from being a 1 week special into a 51 week ever-present, then you do have to take them into account. When they are perpetually available as a retention deal, they become the norm – irrespective of what the sticker says.

      I didn’t have to chase these. Nor time it well. They were readily available.

      These low prices caused by competition are what Ofcom is proud to have achieved. Trying to deny they exist is, err, odd.

    • Avatar PaulM

      So you want to compare copper lines and slow FTTC services to FTTH lines. LOL i wonder why.

      Perhaps you could be as forth coming to provide info on where people can get a BT based FTTH product with no activation charges? You know an as near as like for like product.

      Then we can talk about first year total costs including any install fees and also compare BT based FTTH to Gigaclears pricing. That should get to the bottom of whos more expensive entirely eh?

      Oh and while we are on the subject of overpriced things, whats the current pricing BT are trying to get for FTTPOD installs?

      To even suggest Gigaclear is overpriced and BT products are cheaper when it comes to install, setup and activation never mind first year cost to a customer for as near as possible like for like products is wishful thinking at best and pure deluded must promote BT dross at worse.

      Comparing some copper tat to fibre LOL

    • Avatar Ultraspeedy

      Lets also not forget Gigaclear wholesale their products where costs also vary.

    • Avatar GNewton

      If a user wanted to choose a Gigabit-capable symmetric FTTP product and the only telecoms servicing the local area were Gigaclear and BT there won’t be any comparison, simply because BT does not offer such products. Different products from different providers. Also, BT usually usually doesn’t offer any FTTP products at all in areas served by Gigaclear.

  7. Avatar Somerset

    Truespeed has interesting plans for its rollout, needs 30% signups.

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