Posts Tagged ‘broadband’
The current system of business rates is not fit for purpose and needs to be fundamentally reformed, say MPs.
The call could open the way for a reassessment of the so-called fibre tax that makes BT’s competitors pay 20 times more to operate fibre networks. It could also kill efforts by civil servants to tax Wi-Fi hot-spots, which areincreasingly important to backhaul data on mobile broadband networks.
A spokesman for the business, innovation and skills committee said that while its study focused purely on the effect of the tax on the retail sector, it was possible a full review would examine the effect and desirability of the fibre tax.
Normal network operators must pay the tax whether or not they make a profit and in advance of sales. However BT pays the tax in arrears and on profits, while Virgin Media pays based on the number of homes passed by its network.
The committee called for a “wholesale review” to examine whether non-domestic property taxes aka business rates should be based on sales rather than the rateable value of a property and how frequently revaluations should take place, among other things.
The call for the review was prompted by the growing success of e-commerce and consequent slackening in demand for high street premises as a sales channel.
Chairman Adrian Bailey said business rates are one of the highest forms of local property tax in the European Union, adding, “Business rates are the single biggest threat to the survival of retail businesses on the high street. Since the system was created (in the 1600s) the retail environment has changed beyond all recognition. A system of business taxation based on physical property is simply no longer appropriate in an increasingly online retail world.
“This is a time for wholesale review and fundamental reform, not for tinkering around the edges. Business rates are not fit for purpose and minor administrative changes will not alter that.
“The government’s retail strategies are full of warm words that fail to address the most debilitating levy on existing businesses and the most crucial deterrent to new businesses appearing on the high street – business rates. Fewer strategies are required; simple, decisive action is needed.”
The government must respond by 4 May.
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.
BrokenTelephone doesn’t normally publicise paid-for events, but we’re making an exception in this case. We have long argued that the UK has ignored alternatives to the gap-funded model beloved by BT to finance investment in broadband networks. At last someone has heard us and is taking he message seriously.
Adrian Wooster, late of BDUK and now with Broadway Partners, is putting together an event for 12 March to look at the non-engineering aspects of getting next generation broadband into the Final 10% – funding, investment, business models, social inclusion, and the dreaded state aid. It is aimed at the public sector, financiers and communities.
The timing is perfect because DCMS has just announced how the £250m of the £300m promised years ago will be divvied up: England £184.34m; Wales £12.1m; Scotland £20.99m and Northern Ireland £7.24m.
The official reply to BrokenTelephone’s questions about the terms and conditions tied to the allocation was, “Procurement will be a local decision – we’re not dictating who the supplier should be. Where contracts are already in place with BT, local bodies can decide to extend them (within contractual limits); or to undertake a new procurement either using the national framework or not.”
Reading between the lines, there is a desire for local authorities not to simply give it all to BT but to conduct genuine fresh procurements in an attempt to get better value for taxpayers. INCA has shown that LAs can likely get better value for their taxpayers’ money if they go with altnets rather than BT. INCA executive director Malcolm Corbett is on record saying that procurements that pick BT find they contribute up to 90% of funds to what is meant to be a match-funded process; altnet solutions could come in at 30%, thanks to the willingness of private investors.
BT is already trying to “white ant” altnet coverage areas, making it difficult for altnets to provide coverage without overbuilding BT’s subsidised coverage areas. It is also spending £50m to fill in city not-spots and hook up multi-tenanted buildings to stop Hyperoptic and CityFibre from having a free run. BT claims that serving 150-home villages like Lancashire’s Dolphinholme is commercially viable. That might be true, but only because BT is running a fibre to a nearby radio mast; Arqiva or a mobile network operator is picking up most of the capital cost, and the village (or rather homes along the road) is covered en passant at marginal cost.
The other big win for LAs is that many would-be altnets offer fibre to the home; BT’s fibre stops at the street cabinet. So even if the altnet fails, the fibre is in the ground; LAs could get BT or another big operator to take it over at a fraction of the cost than if they picked BT at the start.
Wooster says the event will present funding options that don’t depend on gap-funded grants. “The UK is largely alone in gap-funding. There are very good, tested models that we should be learning from. These have a bigger economic impact and are better value for the stakeholders including, not least, the public sector,” he says.
Wooster says delegates will learn to how create more options and choices for broadband delivery; how to maximise their SEP allocation; how to love state aid; how to get new funding streams without spending a penny; how to de-risk their projects; how others abroad have done/are doing it; and how to make your area a contender for ‘Best Broadband in Britain’.
The event will be at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, so reasonably central. Fees are £99 each for civil servants, and £50 each for communities. Book via https://broadwayworkshop1.eventbrite.co.uk.
The price for communities has dropped to £25, and Wooster says, “We will listen to cries of poverty.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
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.
For the past week BrokenTelephone has been conducting a private correspondence with Peter Barrington who goes by the internet handle of Somerset.
Barrington has been a prolific commentator on BrokenTelephone, as noted here. His comments have been partial, and biased towards fulfilling BT’s agenda with respect to next generation broadband. Although often invited to debate issues, he refuses to reply when the answer may be unfavourable to BT.
BrokenTelephone has tolerated Barrington’s comments, whose volume amounts to spam, in the interests of free speech. However, one of his private letters in the correspondence noted above gave pause for thought.
In response to the earlier story about a business park in the Bovey Tracey exchange area, Barrington sought help establishing how one could work out how many businesses there might be in a post case area. We published his email address so that people could help Barrington directly as the issue was peripheral to the story. As it turned out, a reader simply replied in a comment.
Even before that, Barrington asked that his email address be removed. I demurred. Barrington then wrote, more politely, “Would you please remove my email details from your website. We contribute to these sites on the basis that email details will not be published, particularly due to the possibility of spam and disclosure of personal information.”
Why “We”? Why “sites”?
As anyone who has an interest in how the government is spending £1.4bn of taxpayers’ money with BT knows, this subject area is full of commentators who push the BT line exclusively, who will not acknowledge contrary evidence, safe in the knowledge that “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.
This is known as “Astroturfing”. According to Wikipedia, this is “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message (e.g. political, advertising, or public relations) to give the appearance of it coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant. Astroturfing is intended to give the statements the credibility of an independent entity by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.”
Barrington claims BT doesn’t pay him. However, he also claims to be a former BT engineer, so as a BT pensioner he has a pecuniary if indirect interest in BT’s fortunes.
Wikipedia goes on, “Some studies suggest astroturfing can alter public viewpoints and create enough doubt to inhibit action.”
It adds astroturfing threatens the legitimacy of genuine grassroots movements.
The authors of an article in the Journal of Business Ethics, quoted by Wikipedia, argue that astroturfing that is “purposefully designed to fulfil corporate agendas, manipulate public opinion and harm scientific research represents a serious lapse in ethical conduct.”
If BT has to resort to astroturfing to make its case, how strong can its case really be?
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.