Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘BDUK

MPs, lords to face anger over failing UK broadband roll-out

with 15 comments

Sweating the physical network assets since 1997. Source: ONS

Sweating the physical network assets since 1997. Source: ONS

Parliamentarians will meet tomorrow to discuss broadband policy amid growing anger and concern among businesses that almost £2bn in taxpayers’ subsidy will leave the UK in a worsening competitive position.

Digital Policy Alliance chairman Lord Erroll will chair the meeting (see below for details) that will hear from two recent papers that show that large parts of the UK will end up with broadband access one-fortieth of that of South Korea, and far behind France, Brazil and China by 2017, the deadline for the government’s current broadband spending plans.

The report from Digital Business First (DBF) flatly contradicts Ofcom’s recent finding that the UK leads Europe in high speed broadband. In an open letter to Ofcom CEO Ed Richardson, the DBF said, “When ranked against all 27 EU states (not just the five Ofcom conveniently chose for the sake of a headline) the UK ranks tenth, behind countries like Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, Lithuania and Latvia.

“Secondly, there are large areas of the UK (approximately 10 million homes and businesses according to the government’s own figures) that are to be supported with public funding to deliver ‘target’ broadband speeds of just 2Mbps and 24Mbps (via the BT network). These speeds are well below even Ofcom’s low threshold of ‘superfast’ broadband. These ‘have nots’, which include some of our most productive business premises in rural locations, are being left to languish in the slow connectivity lane indefinitely.”

The forum’s assertions are supported by a study of the effect of line lengths on broadband speeds by researchers at Edinburgh University. The researchers found that one in eight Scottish homes is unlikely to be able to get more than 24Mbps, and 40% of rural homes and businesses will struggle to get more than 2Mbps.

The average line length of Openreach's network is around 3.4km. The average length from street cabinet to a premises is around 420m. This is enough for 40Mbps download speed provided BT implements vectoring on its VDSL lines. Not every line in every cabinet is being so enabled in its next generation roll-out, and at least 10% of cabinets are unlikely to be enabled.

The average line length of Openreach’s network is around 3.4km. The average length from street cabinet to a premises is around 420m. This is enough for 40Mbps download speed provided BT implements vectoring on its VDSL lines. Not every line in every cabinet is being so enabled in its next generation roll-out, and at least 10% of cabinets are unlikely to be enabled.

Openreach, BT’s network infrastructure division, redacts its line length information in recent public documents. However, in a 2011 report on line lengths and line costs to Ofcom, Analysys Mason said that BT had confirmed (in 2004) that its average line length (between the exchange and the premises) was 3.47km (including the dropwire length). “This provides a reasonably good reconciliation with the (2008) Sagentia analysis (3.34km average line length). The same presentation also confirmed the distribution of lengths between the cabinet and the customer, with a typical 420m length and a small proportion of lines (10%) with a very long length,” it said. Analysys Mason later calculated the average Openreach line length at 1.704km – a figure hotly disputed by Openreach.

A 2011 White Paper by Alcatel-Lucent on the use of vector technology with VDSL2, the technology chosen by BT for its next generation broadband roll-out, found that at 420m, the average download speed would be about 40Mbps, while at 1.2km, it would drop to about 24Mbps (see graph).

How broadband peters out. Source: Alcatel-Lucent http://bit.ly/OO9Ovy

How broadband peters out. Source: Alcatel-Lucent http://bit.ly/OO9Ovy

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show a declining trend in the construction of communications infrastructure (see graph). The ONS figures include post office buildings and sorting offices, but also exchanges and cables. This suggests that few new cables have been laid in the past 15 years, so Sagentia’s figures are likely to be reasonably accurate.

(Unfortunately, the ONS bundles sales figures for telecommunications equipment with those of computers. This makes it impossible to establish accurately what UK network operators have invested in network hardware and software.)

As noted earlier, Openreach’s capex has been steady at around £1bn for several years. But it is starting to decline as it comes to the end of its “commercial” broadband roll-out to cover two-thirds of the population, but only one-third of physical UK.

BT's capex spend shows a gentle but steady decline.

BT’s capex spend shows a gentle but steady decline.

In BT’s case, Alcatel-Lucent appears to have made a convincing argument to go for vectoring over VDSL2. It said, “Reusing existing infrastructure reduces investment costs and risks. It also helps with eco-sustainability targets. With VDSL2 Vectoring, you can deliver higher speeds at about 1/3 the cost of deploying fibre. And any fibre investments to support VDSL2 Vectoring lower costs for future fibre deployments.”

But as its own figures show, this is true only where line lengths are short, and it does not appear to include any offset for reclaiming the copper and reusing the ducts.

DBF members Alex Pratt and Frank Nigrello, who represent local enterprise partnerships in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire respectively, accuse Ofcom of painting an “unduly rosy picture” that serves the UK badly. “It amounts to institutional denial of the need for a significant change in policy towards investment in digital infrastructure. It is leading to an unnecessary rapid regional and national decline in our relative productivity and competitiveness. It is akin to adding extra weight to handicap our businesses in what the prime minister has called ‘The Global Economic Race’.”

The DBF is highly critical of what it sees as the government’s casual approach to broadband. “Current government policy and funding has failed to bridge the superfast broadband infrastructure deficit for 35% of the UK,” it says. It attributes this to a lack of consultation with user communities; adopting the “least ambitious targets and technological means” to deliver them, and to a lack genuine incentives for investment in future-proof high speed broadband networks.

Quoting from the National Audit Office report on the rural broadband roll-out, the DBF said, “The department (of culture media and sport said) its aim was to achieve the most possible with the given funding, not to lever the maximum amount of private investment.”

It added, “The current argument between Ofcom and mobile networks on spectrum fees, with the latter threatening to reduce 4G coverage unless fees are lowered, points to a far less investment friendly approach in the UK.”

The DBF report also criticises the lack of ambition in making high speed broadband a universal service. Again quoting the NAO report it said, “The effect of designing a programme which only reaches 90% of the target area will make it more expensive at a later stage to cover the final 10%. It will also make it less commercially viable for anyone other than BT to bid, as no-one else will have existing infrastructure to bolt it on to.

“Matters are made worse by the fact that BT is preventing local authorities from publishing plans showing which areas will not be covered, which would enable other, often community-based consumers, from filling the gap and ensuring 100% coverage.

“Witnesses from the broadband industry told us that potential investment by competitors had been lost. For example, UK Broadband has spent none of the £150m it had allocated for the programme. Fujitsu had also stated an intention to invest £1.5bn which has not been invested. In total, INCA estimated that the investment that had been foregone was at least £2.7bn.”

The DBF calls for a national broadband plan and responsibility for its delivery to be moved the department responsible for business and enterprise.

“Any incoming government in 2015 should be specifying a target of at least 100Mbps for the UK ‘have nots’ within two years,” it says.

It called for the UK to re-establish its world lead in mobile communications by “adopting an ambitious ‘can do’ approach to 5G technology”. 5G networks offer the prospect of universal ultrafast (1Gbps) broadband across the UK, it said.

It also called for changes to the terms of the 4G mobile licences to ensure that the coverage obligations include a signal strong enough to deliver 10Mbps inside a home for 98% of the UK population, a voice service, and for more than one 4G mobile network to have the above coverage obligation.

The meeting takes place on 24 March at 15.10-17.00 in Committee Room 4A, House of Lords, Westminster.

The agenda is:

* Welcome and introduction by Lord Erroll, DPA chairman

* Presentation of European Internet Foundation’s (EIF) report ‘The Digital World in 2030: What Place for Europe?’ by Peter Linton, advisor to EIF board of governors and co-author of the report

* Presentation of Digital Business First’s report “The UK’s enduring broadband deficit: A divided nation – Time for an effective plan” by Alex Pratt, chairman Buckinghamshire Business First and Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

* Comments by Stephen McGibbon, EMEA regional technical officer, Microsoft; Peter Olson, president of Digitaleurope and head of European Affairs, Ericsson; Alexandra Birtles, head of external communications, TalkTalk Group; and parliamentary contributions with closing remarks by James Elles, MEP and EIF co-founder.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/23 at 18:17

Show us the money, PAC’s Hodge warns contractors

leave a comment »

PAC chairman Hodge - 'There is a lack of transparency and openness around government’s contracts with private providers'.

PAC chairman Hodge – ‘There is a lack of transparency and openness around government’s contracts with private providers’.

A government report into private contractors who deliver public services has suggested the government is to blame for the lack of transparency that has led to serious shortcomings in value for money for taxpayers.

“These failures have exposed serious weaknesses in the government’s ability to negotiate and manage contracts with private companies on our behalf,” public accounts committee chairman Margaret Hodge said at the release of the PAC’s report on private contractors and public spending. The report may have implications for contracts worth £1.4bn BT has signed with county councils to deliver next generation broadband.

The PAC report looked at contracts with G4S, Atos, Serco and Capita. Some, such as the G4S and Serco contracts to tag prisoners electronically, and G4S to supply security to the 2012 Olympics, have become notorious for their abuse of the spirit of partnership, in particular for over-charging.

“There is a lack of transparency and openness around government’s contracts with private providers, with ‘commercial confidentiality’ frequently invoked as an excuse to withhold information,” Hodge said.

The PAC earlier identified these traits in the BT contracts, all of which are subject to non-disclosure clauses and restrictions on speed and coverage details and financial information.

“These failures have also exposed serious weaknesses in the government’s ability to negotiate and manage contracts with private companies on our behalf,” Hodge said.

“It is vital that parliament and the public are able to follow the taxpayers’ pound to ensure value for money. So, today we are calling for three basic transparency measures:

  • the extension of Freedom of Information to public contracts with private providers;
  • access rights for the National Audit Office; and
  • a requirement for contractors to open their books up to scrutiny by officials

“The four private contractors we met – G4S, Atos, Serco and Capita – all told us they were prepared to accept these measures. It therefore appears that the main barriers to greater transparency lie within government itself.”
Hodge said an absence of real competition had led to privately-owned public monopolies that had become “too big to fail”.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) had been crowded out by the complexity of the contracting process, excessive bureaucracy and high bidding costs.

Contracting had led to the evolution of privately-owned public monopolies, who largely, or in some cases wholly, relied on taxpayers’ money for their income. “The state is then constrained in finding alternatives where a big private company fails,” she said.

“We intend to return to this issue. Government is clearly failing to manage performance across the board, and to achieve the best for citizens out of the contracts into which they have entered. Government needs a far more professional and skilled approach to managing contracts and contractors, and contractors need to demonstrate the high standards of ethics expected in the conduct of public business, and be more transparent about their performance and costs,” Hodge said.
“With the government choosing to contract out more and more public services to the private sector, these issues become ever more important. This report is intended as a recipe for better services, better governance and greater openness. We hope the government will take heed of our recommendations.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/20 at 06:50

What does BT’s bikini broadband budget reveal?

with 14 comments

It’s always interesting to play with numbers, and few are as interesting to this blog’s readership as BT’s. As someone once said of bikinis, the figures they reveal are interesting; what they conceal is vital.

BT's capex spend shows a gentle but steady decline.

BT’s capex spend shows a gentle but steady decline.

Of special interest at present is BT’s capital spending plans. As we can see from the graph, which is compiled from BT’s annual reports and analysts’ estimates, BT spends around £2.5bn a year on capital goods. Of this, Openreach is responsible for around £1bn a year, so we can assume that’s what BT spends on its network infrastructure.

To put that into perspective, Vodafone plans to spend £900m this year to bring its network up to speed with 4G/LTE technology and 98% national indoor coverage. Mobile rival EE spent £606m in 2012 and another £583m in 2013.

Back to BT. On page 76 of a presentation to shareholders in May last year, which accompanied BT’s 2013 annual report, BT sketched the scenario shown at right.

Openreach believes superfast broadband take-up will reach at least15% in 3-4 years. It's already 11%.

Openreach believes superfast broadband take-up will reach at least 15% in 3-4 years. It’s already 11%.

This suggests that of the billion quid a year that Openreach spends, some £300m to £400m will go on General Ethernet Access, which we all know as Next Generation Broadband. Keep that up for four years and BT will have invested some £1.4bn getting its fibre network to “pass” more than 90% of the population. After that, its ongoing GEA capex drops to “tens of millions” a year, but its revenue rises to £350m to £400m a year. Which looks like a nice little earner for BT from Year 4 on.

That’s very interesting, especially to shareholders and the government, which has at least two different reasons to be interested – the resulting contribution BT could make to BT pension deficit, and the £1.4 billion it is giving BT to roll out next generation broadband in those areas that BT deems uneconomic.

Hang on a sec. BT says it will invest £1.4bn to cover more than 90% of the population, and the government is giving BT £1.4bn to cover the one-third of the population that BT claims it can’t afford to cover. Now that’s really interesting. It rather looks as if BT has managed to redefine matched funding as meaning it has matched the government’s supply of money with its demand for money. Alternatively, that taxpayers are paying for BT’s commercial roll-out as well the Final third.

And, lest we forget, what happened to the £2.5bn former CEO now trade minister Ian Livingston was keen to say BT was spending on its next generation broadband upgrade? Where’s that now? Did he mean BT’s commercial upgrade or the total upgrade?

This might offer a clue. BT has around 55,000 street cabinets to upgrade. If we assume that 50% of the £1.4bn is overhead, contingency and profit, that works out to capex of £12,727 per cabinet and its associated fibre “path”.

Which is not a million miles from  the £12,667 Iwade paid for its single cabinet and path, nor the £13,000 average it cost Northern Ireland in its BT-run NGA roll-out.

Iwade's cabinet cost £13k. Lucky them.

Iwade’s cabinet cost £13k. Lucky them.s single cabinet and path, nor the £13,000 average it cost Northern Ireland in its BT-run NGA roll-out.

The vital information that is still hidden are the numbers that persuaded the National Audit Office that BT has to spend an average of £28,900 per cabinet and path in England’s Final Third, likely to be the cheapest

Nevertheless, one can now start to see how BDUK can claim to be able to cut 30% out of BT’s invoices for non-hardware items in the few framework invoices it has seen.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/17 at 06:58

Real fibre broadband comes to 500 Northmoor homes

with 4 comments

In a rare bit of good news for the altnet community, Gigaclear announced it has won funding from the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to design, build, implement, and operate a fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband network to serve around 500 homes in Northmoor, Oxfordshire.

Just weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped a planned rollout in Dun Valley, Wiltshire after it discovered BT planned to use taxpayers’ money to provide a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service to the area.

Gigaclear won the contract in an open procurement by West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) after the parish secured an RCBF grant from the Department for the EnvironmentFood and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The value was not disclosed.

In a survey of residents’ needs, 14% of respondents said they could get no broadband service at all. A quarter of responses were either from business premises or from residential premises used by people to work from home and/or run their own businesses. Better broadband was high on their priority list.

Graham Shelton, chairman of the parish council and leader of the broadband group, said talks with Oxfordshire County Council revealed the parish would be likely to fall outside the area covered by Oxfordshire’s £4m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) subsidy. “That freed us to pursue other options. We were aware of Gigaclear’s work elsewhere, so were delighted they won on merit.

“The network will ensure that everyone can obtain equally superfast broadband and that it will be available to all properties in the parish – including a number of caravans.”

Gigaclear is expected to finish the network in September.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/04 at 00:26

WSCC/BT roll-out to duplicate wireless broadband coverage

with 14 comments

It’s becoming increasingly clear that BT is prioritising rural areas where it faces competition for its initial taxpayer-funded roll-out of next generation broadband.

The latest example comes from West Sussex, where BT has already upgraded the coastal belt in its commercial roll-out, and is now moving inland.

The official West Sussex County Council interactive map (which is not up to date in terms of its colour-coding; it still says the coast is “under evaluation”) does not reflect any choice of suppliers of high speed broadband.

BT's taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma's privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

BT’s taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma’s privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

However, BrokenTelephone has made a more up to date map which shows roughly how BT’s taxpayer-funded coverage maps onto the coverage provided by wireless internet service provider Kijoma (outlined in black).

Interestingly, the WSCC says that two of the exchange areas shown as pink are “partly in the commercial roll-out”.

“These are Billingshurst and Bosham. The rest are outside of the commercial roll-out and therefore in the area eligible for funding by the project.”

When the BDUK procurement framework was first mentioned, wireless was excluded as not being capable of meeting EU targets of 30Mbps for all, and 50% of the population on 100Mbps service. The European Commission later relaxed its stance on wireless, but BDUK and local councils appear to ignore the change in contracting for next generation broadband networks.

We have asked WSCC for clarification as to precisely which areas in Billinghurst and Bosham (bottom left of map, just south of Kijoma coverage) are in the commercial roll-out, and what the time-frame is for the roll-out to the non-commercial parts are. We’ll update this story if we get a reply.

This is not the first sign that BT is being allowed to use public money to overbuild privately-run networks. The most egregious so far is BT’s roll-out of a fibre through the

Lune Valley, Lancashire - site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle.

Lune Valley, Lancashire – site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle. (Click to open.)

Lancashire village of Dolphinholme, where residents have spent time, money and effort digging towards the B4RN network to ensure that their village doesn’t miss out.

While BT’s Dolphinholme roll-out looks good in terms of “homes passed”, the actual availability of a fibre connection to those homes not on the road appears slight. The more likely reason for the fibre link is that the road through Dolphinholme leads to a radio mast, and the fibre is there to backhaul mobile radio traffic, not to carry residential broadband traffic. But its presence is a threat to B4RN, which, try as it might, is unlikely to persuade mobile network operators to use its fibre, at least in the short term.

Tunstall, another Lancashire village in the B4RN coverage area in BT’s sights, is on the road to Kirkby Lonsdale and there is already fibre in that road. BT is also targetting Whittington, which is the hamlet after Arkholme and Docker on the way up to Kirkby on the opposite side of the Lune valley to Tunstall.

Two weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped plans to roll out a 1Gbps-capable FTTP network in the Dun Valley, Wiltshire, after the Wiltshire County Council said it would apply BDUK money to BT’s “up to 80Mbps” FTTC roll-out in the area. This followed months of discussions between residents, Gigaclear and the council as to their roll-out plans for the valley.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/20 at 07:01

SMEs short-changed in Belfast broadband scheme

with 6 comments

The department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), home to communications ministry and Broadband Delivery UK, has given Belfast city council £13.7m from its Superconnected Cities fund. This fund is designed to provide small and medium enterprises with a “step-change” in the speed of the broadband they use to connect to the  internet.

SMEs can apply for a voucher to the value of £3,000 towards the cost of installing faster internet connections.

The city council added another £3m to bring the total to £16.7m.

Why then does the city say “Over £9 million is going towards the voucher scheme…”? Why not all the money? What will the remaining £7m go on?

Could this provide a clue? “By 2015, the council aims to have improved wireless and wi-fi access across the city, via metro wireless in the city centre and wi-fi hotspots in more public buildings.”

Taxpayers have so far chipped in nearly £24m of the £56m spent so far to get next generation broadband into Northern Ireland, only for Ofcom to report NI still lags the rest of the country in take-up.

UPDATE

Belfast City Council replied: “The remaining portion of the investment package will provide a metro wireless concession to allow in-fill of the 3G/4G service  and an outdoor Wi-Fi for Belfast, as well as the provision of free to the public Wi-Fi in public buildings across the city.  The tender process for the Metro Wireless already has been advertised: http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/business/investinginbelfast/superconnected-belfast/superconnected-metrowireless.aspx.  BCC is still in negotiations with other public bodies which will allow us to design the free Wi-Fi in public buildings scheme;  details of this will be published in the coming months, depending on the progress we make in our negotiations.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Executive said on 7 February it would sponsor a further £23.5m investment with BT to fill in some broadband not spots and cover 45,000 more homes at an average cost of  £522/home.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is contributing £9.9m; the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) £5m; BDUK £4.4million, and BT  £4.2m to the project, which puts state aid intensity at 82%.

This brings the total spent on next generation broadband in Ireland with BT to £93.6m. The 2011 census found 703,300 households in Northern Ireland, which makes the average cost per home passed so far £133.

In July 2011 we were told the NI roll-out was “complete”. Further down in the story BT said “at least 89%” of phone lines would be connected to a fibre-enabled cabinet. The present investment will take that to 95%.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/16 at 20:53

Devon refuses public vote on competing broadband projects

with 11 comments

The proposed South Hams coverage area, just west of Dartmouth, Devon.

The proposed South Hams coverage area, just west of Dartmouth, Devon.

Devon residents were refused a vote on which next generation broadband plan they prefer – their own or BT’s – at a public meeting hosted by the leader of the county council.

Local newspaper the Kingsbridge and Salcombe Gazette reports that residents who attended a public meeting on 22 January heard details of a fibre to the home (FTTP) project by would-be community network operator South Hams Broadband and a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) alternative by BT and the county council-run Connecting Devon & Somerset.

The paper reported that Bill Murphy, MD for BT’s Next Generation Access roll-out, told the meeting they “had an important choice to make”.

County council leader John Hart, who hosted the meeting, refused to allow a vote on the two proposals.

Click the pic to enlarge.

Click the pic to enlarge.

Chris White, who spoke for the South Hams Broadband project, which plans to run fibre to all the premises in three coastal parishes west of Dartmouth, was reported saying it was now “unclear” how residents would be able to make this choice.

“Perhaps a vote could have been taken then and there to give Councillor Hart a flavour of what the audience had made of the two options presented. Unfortunately, he was having none of it, and refused to have a vote of any sort.”

White went on to say, “Although the mood of the meeting was in fact unmistakeable, it became clear that (Hart) and his select committee would make the decision on ‘commercial’ grounds, based on a written report from the CD&S broadband team that would remain confidential as it would contain ‘commercially sensitive information’.”

Shortly before Christmas BrokenTelephone reported that Lancashire’s B4RN and Devon’s Thurlestone (aka South Hams) community-based next generation broadband projects had passed the BDUK hurdles to qualify for money from the £20m Rural Broadband Development Fund. The next step is have their county council exclude their planned coverage areas from BT’s taxpayer-subsidised fibre to the cabinet roll-outs.

As reported here earlier, BT has an effective veto over such exclusions.

A 2012 analysis of the South Hams project by rural broadband consultant Adrian Wooster (whose subsequent contract with BDUK has just finished) revealed the area has 4,610 homes. Seventy per cent are main residences and 260 are social housing properties; a quarter are second homes or holiday lets. South Hams now plans to cover about a quarter of the original area.

Wooster reported the average predicted speed in the project area was just 3.1Mbps, (at the time half the national average), with ADSL2+, VDSL and Docsis services all unavailable.

There were 13 BT telephone exchanges. None was “unregulated”, and only in Kingsbridge did BT have competition in the form of TalkTalk.

“The existence of additional operators in a telephone exchange can be a useful indicator of the markets general interest in the area, and the existence of backbone connectivity; some operators offer wholesale access to their core networks as well as retail services,” Wooster wrote.

“That only Kingsbridge has additional operators is perhaps an indicator that the whole of the South Hams area is not considered attractive to broadband operators and that backhaul connectivity may be scarce and expensive.

“Should the community decide to progress a FTTP project in the Thurlestone area, the budget is likely to be in the realm of £3-5m.”

White said the South Hams plan is to make a 100Mbps symmetric service available to all premises in the parishes of Thurleston, South Milton and South Huish. He expects to issue a tender in March, select a supplier in June, and start work in July, provided the county agrees to “descope” the three parishes.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/04 at 06:57

Broadband talk sparks questions over BSG lobby role

with 12 comments

Richard Brown, who last week gave a presentation on “superfast broadband in Wales” to the Mid-Wales branch of the British Computer Society, was invited to provide a report-back on the meeting. He writes:

A little while ago, one of the Chartered Institute of IT (BCS) members got in touch, after he had spotted some of my comments in your blog. He got in touch to ask whether I would consider doing a presentation to members, about broadband in the UK and more particularly expand on the area of superfast broadband and public funding to deliver it.

Obviously I was pleased to be invited, but talking for around an hour about any subject is rarely easy – particularly when the audience is likely to be far more knowledgeable about how the tech works than I could hope to be. The thing is – they (the institute) didn’t want to increase their knowledge about the tech – they wanted to understand why the relatively large sums of money didn’t seem to be making any difference to the outcome.Wales is still wholly underserved for broadband, and mobile communications.

I took the BSG report as my inspiration for two reasons:

  1. I think that the assertion that the median requirement for broadband in 2023 at 19Mbps is more a self serving announcement for the members of Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) than a true reflection of the likely growth and potential for fast communications
  2. 19Mbps as a median suggest many need much less, but the report clearly states that only 1% would require 35Mbps-49Mbps in the same year

BDUK was originally set up to fund the ‘gap’ between the commercial rollout of the major ISPs (primarily BT) and those that would appear to never be able to receive superfast (24Mbps+) broadband.

I think that BDUK is failing, and BSG being a primary lobbyist to Westminster is part of the problem.

At the point that it became clear that my presentation had attracted the attention of (Public Accounts Committee chairman) Margaret Hodges’ office, (BT’s NGA MD) Bill Murphy’s interest was predictably high.  He seemed overly desperate to make sure that I ‘told’ Margaret Hodges that 100k premises in Wales could now benefit from superfast broadband because of the BT/Welsh ministers’ contract.

I’ve made my opinion of that quite clear in the presentation – and trust that both Bill and Margaret have been able to hear me clearly state the same.

1250 views of the presentation have accumulated since I added audio (BCS tech failed to record the presentation on the night), which is around the same number of views that the 25 most recent presentation BCS have on their YouTube feed have accumulated in total.  I think this demonstrates how important this issue is, and just how serious a sage institution such as the Chartered Institute of IT take this issue.

There were live examples of properties that had been passed by and are included in the premises passed figures (probably as bad a measure as Up To for broadband download speeds), and utter confusion (and a little irritation) that the Welsh ministers refused to be open about what the contract they have signed is likely to deliver.

The focus on the Welsh government failing to deliver on public promises was to be expected, as most of the attendees are Welsh residents – but, I did make an effort to point out that Wales is not unique in it’s failings.

I have been asked outright if I would consider setting up a public broadband interest group, along similar a vein to the NRA for gun users in the US.  I am not sure that the two are necessarily analogous in anything other than the potential threat to a group of the public who have no collective voice.

I am not even sure how I would go about funding something like that. I am seriously considering it though – we desperately need a counter lobby to BSG, which is  not serving the public well.

Do I think the future of broadband communications in the UK is bright? Not particularly – that is why I think that it might be time to bring the public together with a single voice.

Richard

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/03 at 10:04

BT to broadband councils: Ask yourself – do I feel lucky?

with 4 comments

PAC chairman Margaret Hodge: seeking direction

PAC chairman Margaret Hodge: seeking direction

So, what did we learn from Round 2 of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) v BT/BDUK (rural broadband division)?

Hopefully not as much as we shall learn in the promised Round 3, but it had better come soon before we all lose interest and find better things to do with our lives, like learning macramé.

What did emerge were clearer reasons for BT’s secrecy. Former Ofcom official Sean Williams, who spoke for BT, said that the equipment BT is installing in the BDUK intervention areas is exactly the same as that which it is installing in its commercial roll-out. Therefore revealing the price it pays for equipment in the BDUK areas would help its competitors in the rest of the country.

This is disingenuous, perhaps delusional. No-one wants to duplicate BT’s copper network, so the price of a DSLAM and its path is irrelevant to competitors. The few firms that do want to provide connectivity in rural areas want to run fibre to the home or to a distribution point (call it a digital village pump if you will), and from there use high speed wireless to the home.

They would find it helpful if they could use BT’s ducts and poles and cabinets to do some of it, but as they would be able to offer faster speeds than BT’s copper, BT wants to keep them off its passive infrastructure at all costs.

Most would also like BT to backhaul their local traffic, but few can afford to pay the charges BT is asking to build (or light) the connecting fibres.

Someone should be checking these costs, because Ofcom has allowed BT to set its own prices for wholesale fibre access. In consequence Ofcom is now having to investigate a TalkTalk complaint that BT has run a margin squeeze on the product.

More to the point, in many cases BT fibre already goes to rural villages and towns, but only to schools and other public sector enterprises like hospitals and clinics. It would have been extraordinarily short-sighted of BT to run only a single fibre pair to each of these places, so there are likely to be spare unlit fibres in the neighbourhood. These could be put into service in short order at marginal cost. If someone was paying attention.

Even if BT was that myopic, there is likely to be spare capacity on the fibre pair due to different peak times for business and recreational traffic. Even if this got congested, well, BT now knows how to make ordinary fibre carry 1.4Tbps over distances of more than 400km. That should be enough for most rural communities, at least in the short term.

The other thing we discovered is BT’s employment of Catch-22 with respect to post codes. Williams said BT’s policy is that local councils are free to publish maps that contain BT’s proposed speed and coverage data down to seven-digit post code level. This is precise enough to say what upload and download speeds each and every premises in the country will be able to get. Two, Northamptonshire and Dorset have apparently done so. But it’s up to councils to decide.

Most other councils have published speed and coverage maps down to five-digit post code granularity. This is because, Williams said, the finer details revealed in the seven-digit post cost templates are secret and covered by the non-disclosure covenants in the contracts councils have signed with BT. Publishing them would break the contract and theoretically open them to legal action from BT.

Catch-22, or as Dirty Harry said, “You have to ask yourself a question – Do I feel lucky? Well, do you?”

Unfortunately none of the MPs on the PAC sought an assurance from Williams that BT will not exercise its rights if councils publish the speed and coverage details at the seven-digit resolution. Hopefully they will do so in Round 3.

One bit of good news that almost got lost in the noise is that BDUK’s analysis of early roll-out invoices suggest that BT has over-estimated by about one-third the associated management overhead costs.

It’s early days yet, and as the BT installation teams gain experience, those savings should grow. One hopes that they will not be used to finance the new £50m expansion of BT’s city fibre networks.

See the Round 2 video here starting at 16.53.20.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/31 at 06:54

The BT (Bovey Tracey) broadband mystery

with 9 comments

A lonely cabinet waits in vain for its fibre friend outside a Devon business park. Picture from Google Streetview.

A lonely cabinet waits in vain for its fibre friend outside a Devon business park. Picture from Google Streetview.

A reader has objected to some elements of the previous story and asked for an explanation of how the figures were derived, particularly with respect to the Devon postcode mentioned.

This is the explanation.

If you simply put the postcode in (SamKnows) you are told FTTC is available on the exchange, which is true, but not the whole story. Bovey Tracey exchange, or at least parts of it, are or will be enabled, which means Sam doesn’t really Know the crucially important fine detail.

BT doesn’t commit to enable all cabinets on an exchange, and the evidence suggests that while some decisions are undoubtedly made for good engineering reasons, the overall impact of not enabling cabinets sits heaviest on business areas.

Using Google Maps it’s easy enough to find some businesses in the business park and get their phone numbers – putting these into the BT broadband checker shows FTTC is not available locally in the park.

Waveguide Solutions – 01626 835255 – FTTC is not yet available in your area

RB Engineering – 01626 835951 -FTTC is not yet available in your area

Country Bus – 01626 833664 – FTTC is not yet available in your area

Intertruck – 01626 834688 – FTTC is not yet available in your area

Some parts of the Bovey Tracey exchange area have been enabled – the nearby residential area appears to be enabled – but the cabinet that appears to serve only that end of the business park hasn’t.

Looking on Connecting Devon & Somerset’s website, it’s difficult to elicit anything. Its interactive map explains almost nothing other than that Bovey Tracey is partly enabled commercially and that part of it will be enabled with public funds. However, the final coverage map tells a different story if you are prepared to analyse it. There is a small but definable hole in coverage which corresponds to the business park.

To answer one of the other points – the information is scanned from the maps provided by councils, so any gaps are where no commercial builder has declared an interest and where public subsidy is not planned either.

The maps typically show a combination of commercial footprint, which includes Virgin Media, and publicly subsidised footprint. In Devon’s case, the map depicts the expected coverage once their programme is finished, so any holes in coverage are what is left once BT, Virgin, AN Other and the public investments are completed.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/22 at 23:18

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 929 other followers