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Government Pledge to Help Tackle Huge Broadband USO Costs UPDATE

Friday, October 9th, 2020 (7:57 am) - Score 5,736
10Mbps UK Broadband USO

The UK Government’s Digital Minister, Matt Warman, has called on Ofcom and BT to find a “resolution” to the situation with the new Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband, which results in some homes being quoted tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a 10Mbps+ capable ISP connection.

The USO is supposed to mean that those who live in an area where download speeds of at least 10Mbps (1Mbps upload) aren’t achievable now have the “legal right” to “request” a 10Mbps+ capable connection from BT (or KCOM if you live in the Hull area), excluding areas that are due to benefit from a “publicly funded broadband rollout plan within the next 12 months”.

NOTE: See our March 2020 Summary of the 10Mbps Broadband USO for more.

A cost threshold of £3,400 per premises applies to the USO. In other words, if the cost of building or upgrading your share of the network connection is £3,400 or less, then you won’t have to pay for this work to be done. However, if it costs more than that to connect your home, and you still want a connection, then you can optionally choose to pay the proposed excess costs or forget it.

The USO’s design has always recognised the reality that some areas, reflecting tens of thousands of UK premises, will be massively expensive to upgrade and thus unlikely to ever be covered by the USO. Back in August 2020 we wrote an extensive article on this problem (high USO costs examined), which saw one home being quoted as much as £1.1m for an upgrade (most in this group will get quotes in the tens of thousands).

The fact that such “eye-watering” costs exists is no surprise and reflects the reality of trying to build a new fibre network to cater for an area where not even mobile signals can reach (the focus on full fibre means these quotes are usually for FTTP). Nevertheless, our previous article found some significant inconsistencies in BT’s USO quotes (based on Openreach’s data) and their processes, as well as plenty of mixed messaging. The good news is that these issues have now caught the attention of parliament.

Matt Warman, UK Digital Infrastructure Minister, said:

“I’d now like to turn specifically to the issue of high quotes that have been received by some customers from one the Universal Service Providers.

Many people who have been waiting patiently for the eventual launch of the USO have written to me to express their disappointment and a feeling of unfairness about the way that quotes have been calculated.

They are rightly surprised as to why one household is to be expected to foot the bill for a piece of infrastructure that may well benefit many of their neighbours as well. I will elaborate on some of their concerns for the benefit of the house.

It would appear that initially USO applicants were routinely being asked verbally for six figure sums without further information or context, which created great confusion. I understand that more information is now being provided, after discussion with Ofcom.

In some cases – such as one correspondent from the constituency of Burton – contributions for costs in excess of £50,000 were requested, when the neighbouring community was already connected to fibre.

Some of the quotations are eye-watering, in many cases beyond local average incomes and in the case of one quotation in the constituency of Copeland, substantially more than the average house price in the area.

Another correspondent from the Staffordshire Moorlands constituency was unable to understand why her quote under the USO was essentially the same as a previous quotation from Openreach under a community partnership scheme, to cover the entire community.

When this issue was brought to my attention, I was equally as surprised. While I cannot promise that every quote received by customers will be lower than the cost threshold, I believe every quote should be calculated in a fair and transparent manner.

When we legislated in 2018 to introduce the USO, we included provisions that require Ofcom to ensure that, when calculating the cost of providing a broadband connection to a particular location, due account is taken of the extent to which the cost may be shared between multiple locations.

Whilst some of the premises eligible for the USO are extremely remote – I’m aware of an initial quote of over million pounds for an island community with no subsea cable – and constructing new networks to reach them will always be expensive, many of the eligible premises are close to other neighbours who are also eligible, and as my honourable friend’s constituents have likely indicated, would reasonably expect costs to be shared and fairly distributed.”

In response Warman has written to Ofcom’s CEO, Dame Melanie Dawes, to outline his concerns and called on them to find a “resolution” with BT. “I have been assured that Ofcom and BT remain in discussions about the most appropriate way to move forward, but I want to reassure members that customers who either get a quote from BT or proceed on the basis of a quote that has been provided, will not be at a disadvantage should a resolution be found as a result of these discussions,” added the MP.

The regulator itself is currently understood to be “seriously considering enforcement action” against BT, although it’s important to understand that there are some very real cost barriers here that cannot simply be swept aside by good intentions. Many of the problems tend to stem from the difficulty of accurately estimating the cost of deployment in such remote locations, but even if you improve that side then the cost itself remains a key obstacle.

The USO is an industry funded scheme and, unless the USO rules are changed and significantly more funding found, then there will still be areas where the cost of delivery is going to be unaffordable for some homes (i.e. those who live in some of the remotest parts of the UK). The Government’s future £5bn programme may help to resolve some of this, but that too will no doubt have its “value for money” focused limitations to consider.

A BT Spokesperson said:

“We recognise that expensive USO quotes have come as a shock and we want to improve how we communicate costs to customers. We’ve listened and are working hard to enable communities to be able to share the costs of an USO connection. We will launch this as soon as possible as we know it will help drive down costs for individuals.

For some communities, even if they share the costs, the price will remain out of reach. The USO scheme will deliver for the vast majority without decent connectivity and we can connect 400,000 of these properties using 4G. For properties we can’t reach over 4G we are already in the process of building connections to 4000 premises through the USO scheme. However, it does not overcome the challenges of connecting the most difficult places which represent 0.5% of the country.

We strongly believe this needs to change – alongside the existing USO programme, we need a new plan for the hardest to reach. This has to be a shared endeavour, across industry and with Government and Ofcom. We’d like to see a task force set up, with cross-party support and use our experience and expertise to find a new solution. Options could include alternative technologies, such as satellite (including exploration of the potential role of OneWeb) as well as clarity on the Government’s £5bn funding for rural full fibre.”

At this point some people often like to point towards the many alternative network ISPs that could help deliver the USO, such as by using more cost-effective technologies in rural areas (e.g. fixed wireless networks). But it’s important to remember that so far none of those have been willing to take on the significant legal and financial burden of delivering such an obligation.

Going forward it’s possible that the new generation of low latency LEO based satellite broadband networks, such as from SpaceX (Starlink) or OneWeb, might be able to help plug the gap, but so far neither has announced any solid packages or solutions for tackling rural homes in the UK.

In the meantime, Matt Warman said he “hopes to see progress on this important issue in the near future.”

UPDATE 12:08pm

We’ve added a comment from BT above.

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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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45 Responses
  1. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    None of the telco’s want anything to do with USO, you can tell their heart isn’t in it. They just want to maximise large area usage, they couldn’t be less interested in providing a service to those who live out in the sticks or are difficult to connect up to. Thus the ridiculous quotes.

    Personally I’d ditch the USO completely and pour government funding into a complete UK 4g restart project with minimum industry standard requirements, thus allowing the bandwidth to actually be available across core networks when 5g goes online.

    This would benefit far more hard to reach area’s and require no hard wiring of homes.

  2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Looking at the quotes from the minister, it’s almost as if politicians have not understood the basic premise of the USO is that it is a right to request a quote based on the cost of provision of a 10/1 Mbps broadband connection to a given location. That this results in some high costs in hardly surprising, it’s hugely inefficient to build any infrastructure using a demand-led approach to individual premises.

    Meanwhile progress with the government’s own £5bn initiative to cover the last 10% (?) of premises is lamentable – has *anything* happened yet?

    1. Avatar joe says:

      You didn’t RTA properly. Everyone accepts the costs but the problem has been too often the costs quoted are either inexplicable or plainly irrational/wrong.

  3. Avatar Meadmodj says:

    My frustration is that all this is known. The USO does not have a clear agreed funding model, it is based on individuals “requesting”, the specification is toop low and BT are forced to spend time/effort providing worst case costings on a first on the block pays basis. Generic quotations will be based centrally on varying data and locations they have never heard of so two neighbours could quite conceivably receive different amounts. Currently we have a situation where different people can request in a village or street but there appears to be no consolidation of their needs and any cost distribution.

    We know what premises have an underperforming broadband capability (ADSL only, OR Sync, TBB etc) so we should be able to consolidate them, plan to cover them with FTTP and fund appropriately. That includes areas where BDUK is supposed to be doing this.

    My view is that Ofcom have simply implemented the USO based on Government policy which is to promise funding but not actually provide it. If the BDUK, WG and SG were given the funding they could tender/complete their objectives instead of continued limited phases and if BT was given proper USO funding they could consolidate isolated USO clusters elsewhere and minimise those being recommended the 4G broadband lottery.

    Boris has said £5Bn so let us have £1Bn a year to address USO with FTTP properly so a minimum broadband for all the UK can be achieved by 2022 which meets the future Giga capable criteria.

    1. Avatar joe says:

      1bn could never fund USO via fttp.

    2. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      Meant two years of £1Bn 2021 and 2022. Many restricted BDUK/WG phases are still 2023. I may not be accurate but its the principle I am wishing to highlight.

      600,000 premises x £3000 = £1.8Bn. That with a commercial contribution ought to be enough.

  4. Avatar JTScotland says:

    Looks like the minister is only promising more information and not committing to solve the problem

    As the recipient of the £1.1m quote (with an existing fibre cable in place for the local mast and I live on the mainland), I still dont understand why I could get FTTP for £535k via CFP but I’d have to pay £1.1.m via USO. That shows the irrelevance of the scheme and ‘back of fag packet’ calculations on USO

    We’ve recently got a 4g connection which is giving us a 24mb connection so things have improved significantly in the local area. But neighbours are now looking at cancelling their BT lines due to the futility of schemes which is a shame as R100 should deliver within the next 5 years 🙂

    1. Avatar John says:

      That fibre that feeds your local mast isn’t the same fibre OpenReach would use for FTTP.
      They would pull new fibre in for that, probably from many miles away.

      The reason your CFP quote is lower is that OpenReach pay half of that.

      With the USO you get £3,500 contribution from BT and you pay the rest.

      Double the cost minus £3.5k is right, I’m afraid to say.

      The main issue with the USO appears to be that they are quoting for a single property and not sharing the cost amongst users.

      The fact you’ve had a CFP quote (which is definitely shared) at half a million suggests you’re an extremely rural property and the USO is never going to help you.

    2. Avatar Gary says:

      I’m in a similar situation as you with dire adsl but now fortunately a viable 4G alternative.

      I’ve cancelled the fixed line broadband but retained the landline for the moment, While i do realise i’m likely to be at the back end of any commercial or Gov backed FTTP, My worry is that by not having an active sub USO/Sub R100 fixed line the property will basically drop off the radar and not be included in any plans whatsoever. The 4G was a welcome improvement but it’s not really a long term solution.

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Under the USO, BT are required to take due account of the extent to which costs may be shared by multiple locations (i.e. demand aggregation). However, as we’ve seen before, the quotes don’t always seem to make much sense.

      Ofcom told us recently that “while each quote has to be sent to – and paid for by – an individual rather than a collective, BT’s costs (whether above or below £3,400) should be calculated and shared according to the demand aggregation model (which effectively assumes that sharing will take place), rather than lumping all shared costs into individual quotes.”

      One issue here is that the USO process isn’t really setup to do all of this in the most efficient way, so that’s one aspect that may be changed. BT of course will desire a system that doesn’t result in them incurring unfair costs that cannot be recovered.

    4. Avatar sthen says:

      JTScotland: any idea who provided fibre for the mast? It’s unlikely to have affected costs for FTTP but it’s possible it may have made it cheaper to get a leased line installed with an ISP that uses the same provider. (Most ISPs providing leased lines have access to connections via a number of providers – SSE, Vodafone, Openreach, Sky, Virgin Media and others).

    5. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      “My worry is that by not having an active sub USO/Sub R100 fixed line the property will basically drop off the radar and not be included in any plans whatsoever.”
      I had the same concern before I cancelled my land line, but I figured that if I continued to pay line rental they are making money without any investment, but without a land line they would have to invest to get my business back (and at least I save money). I don’t really expect it will make any difference to plans either way.

    6. Avatar Colin Brooks says:

      s the recipient of the £1.1m quote (with an existing fibre cable in place for the local mast and I live on the mainland), I still dont understand why I could get FTTP for £535k via CFP but I’d have to pay £1.1.m via USO. That shows the irrelevance of the scheme and ‘back of fag packet’ calculations on USO

      no

      that because you dont understand there are fundamental different models at place – one is and ask to an operator for a gap fund determined by infrastructure build and the nuber of premises irrespecrive of provider (of which Openreach make a contribution for each premise) and one is programme where the ask is to USO provider where there is a a commercial model – they are not the same and do not have the same commercials – so why would you expect the pricing to be the same

  5. Avatar Tom says:

    The problem is with the legislation that was passed, legally costs cannot be shared across multiple properties. Was set up for failure from the start

  6. Avatar chris conder says:

    all part of the superfarce. Would love to know what an average family’s costs are for a 4G or satellite connection. Through the roof I would think. Mobile is for people who are mobile, not those at home with high data usage for work, business, tvs or gaming.

    1. Avatar Adam says:

      I’d have to disagree here. I’m paying £17 a month (I’d pay more but that’s the deal i got) for a b535 with unlimited data with Three and get an average of 50 down and a constant 30 up. ADSL/VDSL 4/8 down 1/1 up. I do get that not everyone is so lucky when it comes mobile alternatives but they do work for some, even those with terrible fixed line options that live in the middle of nowhere. If i was allowed to throw that £3400 towards EE/3 mast that serves me i would. 4g is definitely an alternative for some. It’s been somewhat reliable for me and am i glad that 4g is an option. Me and my family can game with it, video call, download large updates, watch netflix in 4k, easily use 1tb+ a month with it. I could go with EE for £30ish a month which i wouldn’t consider bad either.

    2. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      4G isn’t ideal for serious gaming (latency is too high and variable), but can be OK for everything else. I work from home (and run servers) and use a lot of data using EE for £32.40pm with a business tariff – which is about the same as I used to pay for ADSL2+ inc line rental so it isn’t expensive.

    3. Avatar Fastman says:

      do you get a click for every time you mention superfarce

    4. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      @ chris conder

      No, not through the roof. I have two live 4G connections to my family home which is also since Covid the office for two people and we do B&B too. Both effectively giving unlimited data, Vodafone is costing £33 a month and the backup from Three is £18 a month. We are currently putting around 500GB of traffic through the Voda connection without issue.

      4G has been a lifesaver while waiting for FTTP which is due early next year.

  7. Avatar JTScotland says:

    @gary – you are not correct about not being able to share the fibre cable

    I checked that with a senior guy at OpenReach when discussing the CFP
    Yes, it wont be the same virtual circuit but there’s plenty of capacity in the physical fibre to allow additional circuits to be added
    Also, I note the comments from within the S4Gi project who have said on numerous occasions that a fibre laid for S4Gi will be able to be used for R100

    1. Avatar JTScotland says:

      apologies I meant @John 🙂

    2. Avatar John says:

      The OpenReach engineer doesn’t have a clue what he’s on about.

      The high probability is it isn’t even their links providing the backhaul for this mast.

      The NGA (FTTP) network is separate, fed from an Aggregation Node.
      It must link back to the OLT in the exchange which this mast won’t do, even if OpenReach are doing the backhaul for it.

      If it’s OpenReach links to the mast (which it probably isn’t) then some of the ducting could be used but none of the fibre.

    3. Avatar A_Builder says:

      I think the guy at OR was right about capacity but wrong about bring able to access it in this way.

      **If** it was an OR or BTT fibre then it is **possible** that they could use a sub-tended headend at the mast site. I very much doubt it is. But it is also **possible** that OR might do a deal with SSE, or whoever, to share the backhaul.

      The whole reason the sub-tended headend thing is so interesting is that it opens up the possibilities of multi functional fibre and gaining more value from long backhaul fibres that are already in the ground.

    4. Avatar John says:

      A Subtended Head-End stills connected back to the OLT that the fibre for the mast doesn’t.

      A Subtended Head-End gets its power and fibre from the existing FTTC cabinet.
      There is none here, hence the £1,000,000+ quote and the £500,000+ CFP quote (that’s with OpenReach paying half so another £1,000,000+ quote).

      There’s a thorough survey done for a CFP, and a further survey for the USO quote.
      They aren’t pulling that number from think air.
      The NGA network is some distance away and that’s the cost to build it to them.

      What you would like to think is possible can’t happen in these circumstances or dozens of similar circumstances.
      People have fibre running by them all the time, leased lines, dark fibre, metro networks.
      Often these belong to OpenReach with plenty spare fibres and plenty capacity.
      It won’t make a jot of difference to an FTTP quote though.

      I’m pretty sure the mast in question is using WHP Telecoms for its backhaul, not OpenReach. It’s irrelevant though.

    5. Avatar John says:

      Don’t get me wrong… it’s technical possible, easy even.
      Miles of fibre possibly going back to the exact same exchange… but they aren’t going to alter how they build their network for your quote or my quote or anyone else’s quote.
      Every man and his dog will be demanding a splitter be built of the fibre from the business next doors leased line.

      When the government pays then many millions of £ under R100 you might see it being repurposed, Aggregation Nodes installed.
      The NGA build model being built.
      Until then that fibre isn’t there.
      They aren’t changing their build model on the fly, nor should they.

      Even if they did, it’s not exactly pennies to install Aggregation Nodes and dig miles and miles of fibre to rural properties.
      The final mile is often the most expensive.

  8. Avatar Fastman says:

    most unlikely you will be able to use the same cable – dis information i think – you will need to get back to a suitable agg node which may be nowhere near the communty

    1. Avatar Whatzisface says:

      I agree with @JTScotland. We also have an S4GI mast being built. It is not live yet, but 30 miles of fibre cable has been laid to connect it to the main fibre network.
      Both S4GI and R100 are funded by the Scottish Government, and we have been assured, more than once, that the fibre being laid for the mast would have the capacity to handle the R100 upgrade also.
      The fibre cable is a BT Openreach 36 Fibre cable, which I understand can handle more than 4,500 connections. There is a maximum of around 650 premises due to receive the R100 upgrade in the same area. There are to be eleven aggregation nodes along the route.

  9. Avatar Rural Fermanagh says:

    USO team quoted me £60,000.
    This seems excessive considering I have read you can deploy 5km in a day on poles.
    My current line it comes from a village 2 1/2 miles (4km) away, also fibre and poles 90% of the way and I dont know why they actually put some of it underground as there are distribution poles but the line goes into the ground and back up again. When BT replaced most of the copper cable, it was done at about 1/2 mile at a time in half a day. The fibre looks much more managable than the copper cables.
    Let us say 2 engineers for 1 week to install it.
    Glass door say the average salary = £35509 per annum, or £71018 for both engineers. That is £1365 in wages, and £58635 for the fibre + machinery.
    So £15,000 per kilometer or £15 per meter, which seems like a lot for unravelling a cable and attaching it to a pole.
    The Openreach FTTP pricelist shows up to 1999m being £3500 to £6125, which would be £12250 for 4km, I guess I am not including or missing the £46000 rural third class citizen charge.

    1. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      That’s interesting, my FTTPoD quote and the CFP quote we finally accepted were both about £22k. This was to run a new fibre 5.5km distance, the first 2 km through existing duct and the final 3.5 km along existing poles. £4 per meter seemed reasonable. Your quote seems very high!

  10. Avatar Vax says:

    I’ve been grappling with the USO since applying on the morning of 20 March for service at a property in a Somerset hamlet. Situation: VDSL line – 1.8 km from the cabinet, no 4G coverage.

    GETTING THE QUOTE:

    On 25 March BT agreed to progress the USO request as an ‘exception’ since no 4G coverage was shown as available and Openreach had just cleared a fault on the line but this still failed to raise the speed (predicted 6-12 Mbps) above 10 Mbps.

    First up, BT failed to return the estimate within 30 days. Openreach had bounced the quote request back to BT, disagreeing with their assessment of eligibility and asserting that a 4G solution was available in the area. I had to chase BT several times over a period of weeks before anyone passed this message on to me.

    So, over the summer BT required us to go through the futile exercise of ordering, testing and returning a 4G hub before they would accept the unsuitability of 4G as an Alternative Broadband Service. In tests the best speeds we were able to achieve were 2.56 Mbps down and 0.58 Mbps up. Latency was observed at up to 810ms, which does not meet the USO standard of “latency which is capable of allowing the End-user to make and receive voice calls over the connection effectively” and the connection was highly intermittent.

    This looks to me like a tactic to reduce demand by wearing customers down with an assault course of hoops and hurdles. Particularly so, since BT Mobile’s technical team later confirmed to me over the telephone that the 4G mast serving the area is incapable of meeting the USO technical specification, even in lab conditions with a 4G modem situated next to the mast! This is because the allocated spectrum or backhaul connection speed is too low to sustain a 10 Mbps connection. They were not willing to put this in writing, only to convey it to me and USO helpdesk verbally.

    BT again kicked off the estimate process, eventually coming back with an estimate of £60-70k and then a quote of £79k, but for a network serving just one address!

    CHALLENGING THE QUOTE:

    When I queried it on the phone BT flip flopped between saying the network would serve one property and two (but at exactly the same price as one). So much for demand aggregation! In writing BT say only one property is covered.

    BT remain tight lipped about the network solution, but they did reveal that it was essentially a 4km long point-to-point fibre connection to a fibre port at an undisclosed location. They seem not to have considered a cheaper subtended head end solution served from the PCP which is just 1.8km away. They hide behind commercial confidentiality and say they have no control over Openreach, which makes impossible to have confidence that the solution quoted for is the most economic one to serve the area.

    In their response to me BT say “Openreach decide this on an individual basis dependant on the simplest way to deliver the infrastructure to each property”. I do not believe that the USO requires BT to deploy in “the simplest way”. It requires an intelligent network design based on demand aggregation to ensure maximum efficiency and least cost per property.

    The headline price while steep is perhaps credible, but the number of homes passed certainly is not. Although the USO scheme is indeed based on individual requests for individual premises the status of other premises in the neighbourhood (i.e. whether they are eligible for the USO or not) has a very material impact on quoted costs.

    There are 21 premises in our hamlet. One property has a predicted speed that is below the USO specification of 10 Mbps, the other 20 have speed predictions that straddle 10 Mbps (source: BT DSL checker). By this I mean at the lower end of the predicted speed range they would be USO eligible, but at the upper end they would not.

    BT’s approach seems to be to use the highest predicted speed in all cases. They then assert that these properties already have access to an Alternative Broadband Service and so are not USO eligible. Let us take four properties as examples:

    Property A: BT VDSL line. BT say it is not eligible for the USO because it receives predicted speeds of up to 13.9 Mbps. Their own DSL checker confirms that the highest sync speed ever recorded at this address is 8.13 Mbps download.

    Property B: BT say it is not eligible for the USO because it receives predicted speeds of up to 13.1 Mbps. Their own DSL checker confirms that the highest sync speed ever recorded at this address is 5.07 Mbps download.

    Property C: BT VDSL line. BT say it is not eligible for the USO because it receives predicted speeds of up to 13.1 Mbps. Their own DSL checker confirms that the highest sync speed ever recorded at this address is 3.36 Mbps download.

    Property D: BT VDSL line. BT say it is not eligible for the USO because it receives predicted speeds of up to 12.5 Mbps. Their own DSL checker confirms that the highest sync speed ever recorded at this address is 9.13 Mbps download.

    BT themselves know that the local 4G mast capacity lacks the capacity to support a 10 Mbps service but they continue to equate any 4G coverage to a viable Alternative Broadband Service without making any reference to the specific capabilities of the network in the area (information which they already hold).

    How can one “relevant property” be the right answer when Ofcom’s 2019 Connected Nations data indicates 15 of 18 premises in our postcode area fail to achieve a 10 Mbps download speed (median speed is 5.7 Mbps)? I also see a further 10 properties in a neighbouring postcode, served by the same FTTC cabinet that also fail to meet the spec. Yet still BT quote for a network running 4km to serve just a single property?

    Unfortunately, Ofcom’s USO Service Conditions and Regulations fail to define the terms “Potentially Eligible Premises” and “Relevant Premises” used in Condition B.8. BT are taking advantage of this to apply their own definitions and minimise the number of eligible properties.

    CHALLENGING THE ASSUMED INELIGIBILITY OF THIRD-PARTY ADDRESSES

    The eligibility or otherwise of neighbouring third-party properties is crucial to accurately calculating a quote. Using the formula set out in Ofcom’s condition B.8, a network quoted at £79k when it is assumed to serve just one eligible property drops to as little as £11k if it serves 21, a reduction of 86%.

    It is extremely tedious, but the only way to challenge eligibility assumptions about third-party properties seems to be to make individual USO requests against them and then navigate the “USO Proofs” process to demonstrate the unavailability of an Alternative Broadband Service.

    However, BT have taken steps to close off this avenue. They say I “cannot make USO requests on behalf of other addresses within the area” and point-blank refuse to accept such requests from me, to the extent of labelling me a nuisance caller and hanging up on my inbound calls.

    As far as I can see there is nothing in the USO that stops me from doing this. On the contrary, as a “prospective end-user” under Schedule 1 2(b) of the 2018 Order I believe it is my legal right to make these requests.

    BT block the requests by erecting an arbitrary barrier in the form of their own terms and conditions (para 3.1 of https://www.bt.com/broadband/usoterms). I believe this is unlawful and has, for example, the effect of stopping tenants from accessing the USO scheme. This looks like a breach of USO condition A.3 and surely cannot have been Ofcom’s intention?

    BT’s record keeping seems poor too. Even having established the eligibility of our own property in March and again in July a check at https://www.bt.com/broadband/USO in October says we are not eligible. This does not inspire confidence that we are getting the right price based on the right inputs. It also goes against Ofcom guidance issued in June 2019 (ref para 8.31in ‘Delivering the Broadband Universal Service’).

    WAY FORWARD:

    BT suggest a Community Fibre Partnership as an alternative, but it looks to me as though this should be more expensive than a properly costed USO scheme because the Government subsidy is so much less. As such, it is in no way a remedy or excuse for BT’s failure to properly deliver the USO.

    The USO seems poorly designed and poorly policed. I am raising the matter with the Ombudsman and Ofcom.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Vax – where are you? I helped a community in Powys convert a £300k quote to a zero cost, by showing the monies still owed by BT to Wales. There is still hundreds of millions within the BDUK process and BT’s accounts, which is why the USO fund has not been established. Industry will not agree an actual B-USO fund until the existing BDUK programmes are fully reconciled. If you give me your patch postcode it is easy to provide an estimate of the monies stuck in the process.

      Northern Ireland Project Stratom funding was one large request to deal with this matter for ~78k customers. Lots of refusals until request squeezed into election agreement in 2017, and it still takes more than three years to get a contract let.

      Getting a further 600k premises in England under BDUK contract, perhaps on a regional basis would seem the easiest way to go about using all the Capital Deferral available.

    2. Avatar CarlT says:

      Kudos to the Welsh for agreeing to spend the £300k on that community.

      It should be mentioned, of course, that the funding for the rest has to come from somewhere. While the cash might be available Openreach aren’t going to build in the hope that the money will be spent – it was allocated to that purpose and comes off the deferral with the permission of the local authority.

      I was concerned people would get the impression you were able to talk Openreach out of £300k like that. It’s not their money to spend so needs approval from local authorities.

      It’s an argument that could be made in many places and indeed has been in some, but made to local authorities rather than the telco. Not their call.

    3. Avatar NGA for all says:

      CarlT ..The record shows Council saying yes, BT then saying no, then maybe, then no, and then the MP got involved and so there was a complex interaction until Welsh Gov and BT said yes again, but the underlying availability of the funds and monies owed was never in question. The installation is scheduled but folk will not quite believe it until they see it.

      BT v Wales Gov, from the customer perspective because they came to know a bit more they got what they expected, while upgrades are being denied those with less information.

      BT behaviour at a local level is a factor in these matters. The ‘relationship directors’ are not there to maximise the rollout but maximise cash flow.

    4. Avatar CarlT says:

      I hope it is a lot of premises as we are all about value for money here.

    5. Avatar CarlT says:

      ‘BT remain tight lipped about the network solution, but they did reveal that it was essentially a 4km long point-to-point fibre connection to a fibre port at an undisclosed location. They seem not to have considered a cheaper subtended head end solution served from the PCP which is just 1.8km away. They hide behind commercial confidentiality and say they have no control over Openreach, which makes impossible to have confidence that the solution quoted for is the most economic one to serve the area.’

      To backhaul a subtended headend requires fibre from that 4km away port to the subtended headend.

      That subtended headend is intended to serve hundreds of premises. A single port on an existing OLT is more efficient use of capital.

      Existing duct may be used for fibre to within 1.8km making it more efficient than purchase and install of the new subtended OLT, installation of the required fibre backhaul and the 10Gb port required on the headend OLT.

      BT do indeed have no control over Openreach and no visibility of the specifics of Openreach build: an Ofcom requirement.

    6. Avatar Vax says:

      @Somerset – The map on the Connecting Deveon and Somerset website shows the nearest properties in scope for the Exmoor Airband project are about 2km distant. Their detailed checker returns:

      “Unfortunately, at the moment there are no private plans to connect your property to superfast broadband, and our funding won’t stretch to fill the gap just yet, but we’re working on it.

      We’re pursuing other funding options and solutions to support homes and businesses which cannot yet access superfast broadband, including the launch of a new ongoing procurement, for which the successful supplier is expected to be announced in late 2020”.

  11. Avatar Vax says:

    Hi NGA – This sounds really interesting. In West Somerset, postcode area TA4.

    1. Avatar Jim Weir says:

      @Vax

      Where in TA4? There is a larger fibre build taking place across TA4 2… you maybe able to be added to that project

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Somerset (CDS) are re-tendering but the budget available to them is large. Clawback from Phase 1 by BT will be ~£42m and there is a ~£26m capital contribution from BT to be reconciled from the initial work.

      The issue is human resource and process not money. It might be your being quoted a big cost to force you to wait the tender to take place. It is worth exchanging with CDS team and your local counsellor to try and get your post codes on a future schedule of work.

      CDS had contracted £70m for phase 1 in subsidies and it is not even clear all of this could be spent yet. They have delivered ~1400 cabinets and a tiny bit of FTTP so they have room and funds to do a whole lot more. Gigaclear have done a bit but have now withdrawn.

      BT have already capitalised the money they owe and so asking you to pay again when the monies owed are capitalised and being recovered in a cost recovery process is a bit naughty.
      The is no B-USO industry fund and unlikely to be one as industry will not agree anything until the monies owed have been invested in the network. The B-USO legal framework is there but that is useless unless the funding mechanism is functioning. It does not yet exist and will be consulted upon again once BT decide to make the first claim which I think they avoid as it draws attention to the monies outstanding in the BDUK process.

    3. Avatar Vax says:

      @Jim – In the TA4 4 postcode sector and about 6km from the nearest part of TA4 2.

      @NGA – Appreciate the background info and advice, thank you. Will contact CDS about this as suggested as there doesn’t seem to be any downside to pursuing that and an Ombudsman complaint about the USO in parallel.

    4. Avatar Somerset says:

      @Vax – not covered by Airband?

    5. Avatar Vax says:

      @Somerset – The map on the Connecting Deveon and Somerset website shows the nearest properties in scope for the Exmoor Airband project are about 2km distant. Their detailed checker returns:

      “Unfortunately, at the moment there are no private plans to connect your property to superfast broadband, and our funding won’t stretch to fill the gap just yet, but we’re working on it.

      We’re pursuing other funding options and solutions to support homes and businesses which cannot yet access superfast broadband, including the launch of a new ongoing procurement, for which the successful supplier is expected to be announced in late 2020”.

  12. Avatar Will says:

    SLightly off topic.

    I am in the position of getting 5mbs on ADSL but get slower than this via the village FTTC. However I can get reasonable 4g. 20mbs via the installed external EE router. Happy-ish days. The useless USO can’t improve this for me.

    However I can get 100mbs from my iphone 4g in the garden. I would love that 100mbs in my home wifi.

    Is there a definitive guide out there for sighting, specifying and installing a 4g antenna in your garden?

    I am thinking I’ll need a small mast, better directional antenna, better router, POE or mains supply etc etc.

    I suspect there are many in my position and many people could improve their 4g connection but don’t know how. I know I don’t have the knowledge….

    Any clues?

    1. Avatar Mark says:

      That’s more a question for the forum. Post there, and you should get some good general pointers. It would help to give a bit more detail. What is the speed on the phone indoors near the router? What does the router give in the garden? Have you tried a simple pair of “rabbit ears” antenna on the router? These alone can make a significant difference for little cost (<£10).

    2. Avatar JK says:

      I’m not sure you can call the USO useless in your case. You’re getting higher than the minimum so the USO don’t need to do anything for you.

      A better setup is the way to go and like Mark says, there is plenty of help in the forum’s.

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