Posts Tagged ‘broadband’
We don’t normally move away from broadband, but this is a worthy exception because it bears on the kind of society that access to broadband opens up.
Last April the European Court of Justice struck down the Data Retention Directive . This is the basic European legislation that allows governments to implement legislation that enables them to collect, store and share communications data. The ECJ said it was too broad and there were too few safeguards to protect against abuse of the privilege.
This meant that the UK’s mass surveillance of its citizens’ communications lacked a legal basis. The Home Office told ISPs (which ones is secret) to continue to collect, store and share this data on demand with up to tens of thousands of public sector workers under the RIPA law. Privacy groups started court proceedings against the ISPs.
The government last week introduced primary legislation it said would restore its powers, nothing more. Now legal academics have challenged that view.
Paul Bernal, a professor at East Anglia, has published an open letter to MPs and lords calling for considered debate of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) and a halt to the “emergency” rush to turn the bill into law tomorrow.
“In fact, the Bill proposes to extend investigatory powers considerably, increasing the British government’s capabilities to access both communications data and content. The legislation goes far beyond simply authorising data retention in the UK. In fact, DRIP attempts to extend the territorial reach of the British interception powers, expanding the UK’s ability to mandate the interception of communications content across the globe. It introduces powers that are not only completely novel in the United Kingdom, they are some of the first of their kind globally.”
If passed the bill will give legal cover to the mass surveillance activities of GCHQ and the NSA exposed by the Snowden revelations.
Most European countries have either not implemented the Data Retention Directive (Germany decided it breached their constitution) or have struck down their enabling legislation to comply with the ECJ’s decision.
Bell Labs, which more or less invented the communications network business, has just given a new lease of life to copper network. In theory.
Its researchers have achieved speeds of 10Gbps over a pair of twisted copper lines in the lab. They have also got them to deliver 1Gbps symmetrical broadband, again in the lab.
That sounds like BT (in fact pretty much all incumbent telcos) is justified in pursuing its fully-depreciated investment in copper wires instead of switching to cheaper to operate fibre.
But the good engineers at Bell Labs also published a number of caveats.This is short distance technology. “The XG-FAST technology can deliver 1Gbps symmetrical services over 70m (for the cable being tested). This was achieved using a frequency range of 350MHz. Signals at higher frequencies were completely attenuated after 70m.”
So that’s it; 70m is the distance limit for gigabit copper.
But there’s more. “In practical situations, other significant factors that can influence actual speeds (not taken into account during these tests but which have been studied extensively elsewhere) include the quality and thickness of the copper cable and cross-talk between adjacent cables (which can be removed by vectoring),” they say.
They also published this handy guide for operators who are trying to match the exponentiating demand for bandwidth against their budgets for switching to fibre. It makes a trenchant leave-behind when you discuss the provision of high speed broadband with your local councillors and MPs as we approach the upcoming elections.
During testing, Bell Labs showed that
Maximum aggregate speed
|G.fast phase 1*||
|G.fast phase 2*||
|Bell Labs XG-FAST**||
2Gbps (1Gbps symmetrical)
|Bell Labs XG-FAST with bonding***||
10Gbps (two pairs)
* Industry standard specifications. G.fast allows for upload and download speeds to be configured by the operator.
** In a laboratory, reproducing real-world conditions of distance and copper quality.
*** Laboratory conditions.
Ofcom is obliged to not disclose the costing information that it gets from BT, which can be different from that which BT discloses in its regulatory financial statements. The Value Office Agency, which sets business rates taxes, does not disclose its financial model, or disaggregate BT’s products, so an important component of BT’s regulated prices is opaque.
Besides, BT sometimes changes the basis of its costs, as in “A6.47 BT has moved from an absolute valuation to a methodology based on indexing capital expenditure by RPI.”
This leave plenty to argue about. Sky and TalkTalk in particular are fighting a running battle with Ofcom over its assessment of the effect of business rates on BT’s prices for unbundled local loop lines (LLU). The debate forms part of Ofcom’s consultation on the fixed access market, which goes into excruciating detail, complete with triple negatives, on the business rates issue in Annexure 26.
The result of the debate is material to the two ISPs, which are the biggest exploiters of local loop unbundling. According to the Office of Telecommunications Adjudicator, by the end of May there were 9.3 million unbundled lines, and 5.68 million lines on Wholesale Line Rental (WLR).
The ISPs contend that BT receives a rebate on business rates due to LLU that amounts to an estimated cash value of £23/y per line. The rebate covers BT’s loss of profits due to the alienation of the full earning potential of the lines. The VOA and Ofcom consider those putative profits to arise mainly from “downstream” products from Openreach.
BT still makes money from renting out the lines, and besides any “lost profit” is at best a guess. Further, the business rates tax is a tax on assets, not profits. The ISPs believe whole of the rebate should be applied to the price BT charges for the line. Instead only 15p is. They say this leaves BT with net income from the rebate of more than £20/y/ULL. Put another way, this means the ISPs are paying around £180m/y in unjustified costs, which BT can then apply to subsidise downstream products.
They allege that Ofcom ignores this income from the rebate in assessing Openreach’s assets to price LLU. They allege that the resultant prices for LLU are higher than they should be, and that BT’s downstream products benefit from an illegal subsidy. They argue that since BT’s rebate is based on profits, not assets; if Ofcom disagrees, it should get the VOA to change the basis of its rating of BT, and not simply pass the extra costs on to the LLU operators.
Another issue that confuses matters is that Ofcom uses a theoretical all-copper network model for its sums. This disregards the thousands of kilometres of fibre BT has installed in the past five years. Fibre is cheaper to run than copper. TalkTalk’s plea for Ofcom to simply consider the outcomes produced in the market fell on deaf ears.
Ofcom has dismissed the ISPs’ objections, but it did go back to BT for more data about its costs. “We have also carried out a PWNRC (profit weighted net replacement cost) calculation using data on BT’s assets which are more detailed than those published in the RFS…In the light of this, we do not now consider that BT’s 2011/12 allocation of cumulo [business rates] costs to MPF and WLR services is reasonable.
“An allocation which is in line… would result in a reduction in the cumulo costs attributed to WLR rentals from £3.31 to between £2.80 and £2.98 in 2012/13 and a reduction in the cumulo costs attributed to MPF rentals from £3.16 to between £2.68 and £2.85 in 2012/13. We have reflected this reduced allocation in our charge controls,” Ofcom said in the annex.
Ofcom has now published the new LLU charge control decision. It comes into effect on 1 July.
Sky and TalkTalk did not respond to requests for comment.
A decision by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to not release the test methodology and raw test data for the £425m Superfast Cymru broadband project has been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The complaint stems from a claim by a junior minister that the project had led to more than 100,000 premises being connected at an “average speed of 61Mbps”. It is part of long-running scepticism that the contract will deliver what the WAG has claimed it will, and now subject to audit.
The claim, by deputy minister for skills & technology Ken Skates, was challenged by broadband consultant Richard Brown. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Brown asked the WAG to supply the methodology and the raw test data on which Skates based the claim.
The WAG refused, saying the information would be published at a later date. Brown asked for a review of the WAG’s decision.
Rob Hunter, director of finance and performance in the department of economy science and transport, again refused Brown’s request. He referred to the earlier reason for non-disclosure and added that the information, together with an explanatory narrative, will be published, “probably in summer”, together with a ministerial announcement.
“I am of the opinion that publicly releasing the raw material at this time, without the explanatory narrative and accompanying explanatory ministerial announcement, would cause disruption to the Welsh government’s pre-set programme and the ministerial process in relation to this work in that the raw information, if released prematurely, may be misconstrued and re-published by some, or extracts of the information re-published, in such an ambiguous way as to cause confusion amongst the public and cause disruption to the effective conduct of public affairs.
“To that end, I do not think it is reasonable in all the circumstances or in the public interest to release this information prematurely. Rather, I believe the public interest would be best served if the information were released alongside the ministerial announcement and consultation participation report so that the public can review the information in context. I am satisfied therefore that the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding the information.”
In his complaint to the ICO, Brown said, “It does not serve the public interest that a junior minister can make claims in a press release (that is subsequently printed in the press), [but] that the information for testing those claims is withheld until a later date.
“I have been separately informed that the test data is not formed in the manner that has been described, in so much as that the 100,000 connections are not live connections (as described by the junior minister in his release), but are (in the majority) simply theoretical tests that have taken place to establish the possibility of these connections and their speeds.
“Such theoretical connections belies the claim made by the junior minister that the connections are ‘live’ with an average speed of 61Mbps. As such the public interest is in fact damaged due to the claim likely being both false and misleading. The determination to publish the data at a later date, simply moves the ‘proof’ to a later date in an effort to minimise its relevance in informing the public interest.”
Brown noted that WAG had waited until the last possible day to reply to him. “I am of the opinion that this is contrary to the spirit of the act, and is contrary to the commissioner’s guidance, and furthermore is a deliberate attempt to prevent access to information that would be appropriate to informing the public interest.”
In support of his complaint Brown claimed that Hunter’s statement that premature publication could confuse the public was “simply without merit”.
He said, “If this were indeed the case, then a programmed press release by the junior minister would not be possible for precisely the reasons given for not substantiating the claim made by the same junior minister. Further, had the junior minister not made such a wildly unsubstantiated claim in the press, the public interest would not need ‘early’ access to the data to test the claim made.”
Brown believes that Skates’ claims cannot be upheld using the withheld data. The denial on the grounds of future publishing and the unnecessary use of the total time allowance for responses were an attempt “to obfuscate the correct and appropriate informing of the public interest” rather than trying to preserve such public interest as Hunter claimed.
“The commissioner will be aware that such actions are contrary to the act and the deliberate attempt to prevent the legitimate release of information that informs the public interest remains an offence under the act,” Brown said.
Maps showing that the Welsh Assembly Government’s (WAG) publicly-funded Superfast Cymru project supplied by BT will overbuild an existing publicly-funded network have led to questions about the legality of the £425m next generation broadband project.
Using post code data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act with the help of the Information Commissioner’s Office, broadband consultant Richard Brown has identified post codes included in the Superfast Cymru roll-out that are already covered by the £30m Fibrespeed network. He has asked the European Commission to investigate whether there has been a breach of the regulations.
BrokenTelephone reported in November last year that the WAG was seeking ways to overbuild Fibrespeed. At the time business, science and transport minister Edwina Hart said a change in the guidelines governing state aid for broadband might allow the overbuild, and promised to report back to WAG members.
Fibrespeed is owned by the WAG but supplied and operated under a 15 year contract by independent dark fibre network operator Geo (sold last week to US-based Zayo). It was to service 14 business parks in north Wales with an optical fibre trunk network at prices equivalent to London and the UK South-East, according to assembly member Lesley Griffiths, speaking in 2008. Local ISPs tapped spare capacity in the network to provide local residents with wireless connections starting from 2Mbps, providing a service BT could not match.
Brown asked Hart a year ago if Superfast Cymru would overbuild Fibrespeed. “At that time I received a statement from the business minister that she was satisfied that there was no overbuild, and the EU Commission received a similar reassurance that there was no overbuild and so chose not to pursue the matter any further,” he wrote to the commission.
On receiving the post code data for Superfast Cymru coverage areas, he tested them against those covered by Fibrespeed (see table).
“The original statement issued to me by the business minister, and subsequently affirmed by the EU Commission, was that the Fibrespeed project was specifically targeted at business parks in the north of Wales and, whilst resellers of the Fibrespeed capacity may have extended this network using alternative connection methods (wireless appears to be prevalent), no business park was to be covered by Superfast Cymru, and so no overbuild of the original public funded project would take place,” he said.
“LL17 OLJ is St Asaph Business Park. It is where Fibrespeed have their principal office of operations.”
Brown said, “It is clear that a deliberate attempt appears to have been made to misrepresent both the Fibrespeed and Superfast Cymru projects to the EU Commission for the purposes of securing additional (duplicated in part) public funding.
“Whilst the declared outcome sought (increased access of citizens to superfast broadband speeds) is of course laudable, the Superfast Cymru project itself is under scrutiny as to whether it can indeed deliver on this.”
|Postcode||Served by Fibrespeed||Served by Superfast Cymru|
|LL77 7UR||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|LL65 4RW||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|LL12 0PG||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|LL13 9XT||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|CH5 2NR||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|CH7 6HB||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|LL57 4YH||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
|LL17 0LJ||Yes (case study)||Yes – released postcodes*|
*released postcodes refer to a document which is the 54k (approx) postcodes that the Information Commissioner compelled the Welsh Government department to release to Brown that detail the target intervention areas of the Superfast Cymru project.
Vodafone has called on European regulators to ensure that non-incumbent-owned mobile network operators have access to fibre backhaul on the same terms and conditions as their in-house operators or face a declining competitive ecosystem.
The call stems from a looming shortfall in microwave capacity and prohibitive pricing of incumbents’ fibre, poles and ducts to cope with the fast-rising volume of data traffic.
Research by Analysys Mason commissioned by Vodafone found that incumbent operators favour their in-house mobile operators when it comes to accessto a fibre-based backhaul. “These inputs are not always made available to competing operators as a wholesale or retail product with the desired interface, quality, speed or price.
“The fact that the required inputs are not available, or are extremely expensive, may dampen competition in the mobile market in some countries because the fixed incumbent operator is usually (with the exception of the UK) also a major mobile operator and can gain benefits as a result of this vertical integration – specifically the much greater capillarity of its fibre network,” it said.
The leased line market, in which the mobile operators are a large segment, contributed £2bn/y to BT’s £18bn turnover, the researcher found.
Ben Wreschner, who leads Vodafone’s regulatory economics section, said all Vodafone wants is access on equal terms and conditions as the in-house mobile operator. He said Vodafone accepted that there couldn’t be a single price across Europe, if only because labour prices differ. Instead he called for a harmonised approach to access to fibre for mobile backhaul.
He called on the European Commission to provide guidance to BEREC, the European telecoms arch-regulator, for directives that national regulatory agencies (NRAs) can implement to give effect to this.
The study showed that independent mobile operators use microwave extensively to backhaul their traffic. But they are running out of spectrum. The shift to small cells for LTE traffic is quickly eating up the available capacity. Vodafone’s preliminary report for 2014 revealed that 4G smartphone users use about twice as much data as 3G users, mainly to stream video. Smartphone penetration in Vodafone’s European markets is around 45%. Both factors are pushing mobile operators toward fibre, which has the required capacity to ensure an acceptable user experience.
The MNOs’ options are to switch to so-called E-band microwave in the 60-90MHz band, which due to rapid attenuation of signals, will require many more sites to be rented; to rent access to commercial fibre where available; to rent regulated fibre from the incumbent operators, or to build their own fibre networks.
Vodafone has bought some of its own fibre backhaul (eg Cable& Wireless), but it has cost billions and doesn’t always cover the cities where demand is greatest. Building new fibre would duplicate existing fibre networks, take a long time, and cost a lot more on top of their expensive mobile licences.
Last week Ofcom said it would give BT a further period of non-regulation of fibre prices for high speed (above 1Gbps), where it holds an effective monopoly outside London. It also promised to rule soon on a TalkTalk complaint that BT operates an illegal margin squeeze on fibre prices.
Wreschner said he was watching the margin squeeze decision with interest, but stressed that that is a different market (retail) to Vodafone’s concern (wholesale) about backhaul. “We think the wholesale market needs specific regulation,” he said.
This is why, although they face similar problems as altnets trying to provide fibre to rural homes and businesses, the mobile industry did not speak out when the BDUK process was being set up, he said.
The Dolphinholme high speed broadband roll-out teeters between farce and tragedy.
The question is, has Dolphinholme been cut out of BT’s proposed subsidised coverage area in Lancashire? Email correspondence this evening reveals some uncertainty.
On one hand, a correspondent writes, “LCC have agreed not to fund the BT rollout in Dolphinholme as B4RN is already active there. The Dolphinholme postcodes have been removed from the LCC SFBB contract. So if BT does continue then it will be at its own expense without any public subsidy.”
On the other, it elicited this reply: “That doesn’t seem to be true as the contractors have been working down here over the last week. There is a wonderful set of under-road tunnels…if only we could use them. Today, they gave up as most of the chambers are clogged with mud and they need to call in the suction guys to clear them out! They said it wouldn’t be live for ‘some months’.”
Another chimed in, “BT’s contractors (Battersby) are back in Lower Dolphinholme. They have been shoving piperods through different culverts to get into River View Fold, pulling blue rope in afterwards, ready to pull whatever fibre/cable when the time comes. I asked them about the chamber they failed to dig three months ago (hit gas mains etc), to which the response was, well if there is no chamber, that’s why we can’t get through. They also explained that they were coming all the way from the A6, and that lots of ducts were still blocked. XXX asked them some detailed questions about timing – and was told that they had been told by BT to do Dolphinholme as fast as possible – by the end of June. The two guys here clearly thought that unlikely.”
Another correspondent responded, “I didn’t realise they were BT. They had parked their van blocking the pavement by chapel, and both were fast asleep at 3:10pm. That was until I knocked on their window and frightened the life out of them before asking them to park on the road in future!”
The first correspondent notes BT “does of course have the right to self-fund its network build out. However having previously declared the area uneconomic without public subsidy then why would it suddenly change its mind and do it with its own money? I think there would be some questions asked about anti-competitive behaviour if it does.”
Despite a £56m investment and its status as the test bed for BT’s next generation broadband roll-out, Northern Ireland remains the laggard in terms of internet use, the Office of National Statistics reports.
This represents no change in 18 months from Ofcom’s findings then.
The ONS says London had the highest proportion of internet users, with 90% of adults reporting that they had used the internet. In contrast only 79% of adults in Northern Ireland reported that they had ever used the internet. Dumfries and Galloway contains the highest proportion of people (29%) who have never gone online.
More than 659,000 people went online for the first time in the past year, more than a quarter of a million in 1Q14. Some 99% of people with a weekly income above £500 are regular users.
There are a host of other figures and graphs in the ONS’s excellent report on internet use for 1Q14.Peruse them at your leisure.
In a welcome move, it has also made an animated map that shows how internet usage has spread since 2011.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what upload and download speeds they receive. Nor does it say whether users’s primary access is via fixed line or mobile. Hopefully these little omissions will be corrected in future reports.
Nice to see that Broadway Partners’ affiliate company Cotswolds Broadband has received funding commitments for £1.6m from West Oxfordshire District Council to make superfast broadband available to every home and business in the hardest to reach areas of West Oxfordshire, some 4,000 premises.
BT’s £25m county-wide project with the Oxfordshire County Council would have left 2,000 premises without access to high speed services. The new deal will address that shortfall.
The district council will supply a loan, BDUK is expected to chip in a grant, and private investors will match the funds so raised. Broadway Partners’ Adrian Wooster, late of BDUK, says this is the first time a a public private partnership has been set up for a UK rural broadband project.
The network will be mainly fibre to the premises (FTTP). It will offer open access to attract multiple ISPs and a richer choice of service offerings, and could backhaul 4G mobile in the area.
It’s an interesting approach, and one contrary to BT’s. BT’s approach has been to optimise the delivery of next generation broadband to rural area for its shareholders. Cotswold Broadband (and B4RN and all the other FTTP projects) are about optimising for the users.
According to a TED talk that I can no longer find, the maths insists that the optimal solution to a problem like delivering superfast broadband to rural areas optimises for one or the many. You can’t do both
So, as BT is beholden to its shareholders, it’s rational for it to do the least it can for the money it is given. In practical terms, that means making minimal investment in its network for as long as possible and persuading everyone that this is as good as it gets for the money, and besides they don’t need more.
In optimising for users Cotswold Broadband has to use a variety of technologies to connect the 4,000-odd premises to be cost-effective.
Assuming BDUK chips in £400k and the investors match the public sector money with their own £2m, what can Cotswold Broadband buy for £1000/premises? It’s already said most will get FTTP; if it can persuade a cellco or two, 4G mobile broadband is possibility. It could also consider microwave in E-band, Carrier Wi-Fi or and upcoming free to air WiGig wireless access, which is all becoming cheaper, and is more flexible to apply than fixed lines like copper and fibre. Over time it could use spare cash from wireless customers to extend the fibre where there is a demand.
Of course, these technology options are also available to BT, but the fact that Cotswold’s deal exists suggests BT has had no interest in supplying the area, presumably because of cost. Besides, using the new tech would involve it getting into new technologies. Going through the learning curve would sub-optimise its return on capital employed, so logically it won’t. The best it can do, logically, is to become an ISP on the Cotswold Broadband network.
Having behaved rationally so far, let’s see if BT’s common sense will prevail.
He has postponed a study of public sector broadband aggregation (PSBA) in favour of the value for money review, which is due out by the end of the year.
The study will try to answer three questions:
- Does the Welsh government have a coherent strategy for investing in high speed broadband infrastructure in Wales?
- Does the Welsh government have robust contractual arrangements for Superfast Cymru?
- Are the Welsh government’s high speed broadband programmes likely to achieve the intended benefits?
In scope is the effectiveness of the government’s strategy and targets; the programme’s financial planning and governance; the contractual arrangements with BT; the procurement processes, risk management arrangements, and the monitoring and evaluation of the contract.
Not in scope is the propriety of having BT staff represent the Welsh government’s fund-raising effort in Europe, says Rachel Moss, head of communications at the Auditor General’s office.
The question of a possible conflict of interest in having Ann Beynon, BT director of Wales, sit on the European Programmes Partnership Forum in the Welsh European Funding Office was questioned in March 2013. £90m of the money for Superfast Cymru comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF.)
At the time the Audit Office said, “We need to establish the risks arising from any real or perceived conflicts of interest, how they have been managed and the extent to which appropriate declarations of interest have been made.”
The value for money review follows the National Audit Office’s scathing review of the UK government’s next generation broadband programme overseen by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). The NAO said there was no clear way to assess whether taxpayers would see value for money, and the £1.2bn they were giving BT would strengthen BT’s monopoly.
The review also follows a damning critique of the Superfast Cymru contract with BT by broadband consultant Richard Brown. “BT will deliver exactly what it contracted for, which is 95% of homes passed,” he said.
BT’s local network subsidiary Openreach is expected to lay 17,500km optical fibre and install around 3,000 new fibre broadband cabinets in parts of the country not covered by BT’s commercial plans. The government hopes to cover 96 per cent of the population.
Asked why the study is being done now, despite criticism of the project and its process before the contract was awarded, Moss said, “It would have been premature to carry out a review of this nature before the contract was signed – this would be straying into policy decisions which are not matters for the Auditor General, and limited evidence would have been available on the likelihood of the project delivering its intended benefits. The current timing of the study allows for a broader examination of the likely impact of the Welsh Government’s investment in broadband infrastructure.
Part of the report will compare the Welsh project with that of England. “The NAO’s work in England and that of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is certainly helpful in enabling us to compare the situation in England with Wales and this will be reflected in the final report,” Moss said.
The PAC has said it will recall BT a second time because it is unhappy with BT’s answers to its questions at two earlier hearings to discuss the NAO’s findings.
The Welsh Auditor General will survey around 1000 businesses and households in Blaenau Gwent and Gwynedd, the two areas where there has been “significant progress”, to see what difference access to BT’s Infinity product is making.
The general public can also recount their experiences of the Superfast Cymru programme by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The auditors will not able to take up any complaints about BT or other broadband service providers and may not be able to reply to individual correspondence, the Auditor General’s office warned.
Note: Brown has submitted a Freedom of Information request for the test data and methodology that led the Welsh deputy minister for skills and technology Ken Skates to associate himself with press claims that over 100,000 premises are now able to access fast fibre broadband as a result of Superfast Cymru.
“The houses have been tested and verified as being able to receive superfast speeds. The average download speed of 61 Mbps is also more than double the contractual minimum for the programme,” the News Wales web site said.
It then went on to quote Skates as saying, “The fact that where premises are already benefiting as a result of the programme, with an average speed three times the UK average, shows the positive impact it is having as roll-out continues.”