Following the broadband money

Rural broadband debate attracts record MP support

with 15 comments

The debate on rural broadband, or rather the lack of it, attracted support from more than 100 MPs, a record, claimed organiser Rory Stewart, MP for Cumbria and the Border.

It was is, after all a no-brainer. No constituency would sling out its MP for supporting the roll-out of high speed broadband to their homes and villages.

But after a highly articulate and motivational introduction from Stewart, the debate quickly bogged down in petty detail, thanks mainly to a rambling turgid recitation of old arguments in favour of the status quo by former Ofcom member Chi Onwurah. (Update: To read Stewart’s full speech go here.)

It is common cause that faster broadband, especially in rural area, will help locals do more business, access more information and services such as telemedicine. This will make them more attractive to start-ups and existing firms, stop penalising school goers, and lower the cost of providing public services. This in turn will slow the depopulation of the countryside, and help to equalise access to opportunities available to residents of villages and cities.

The question is how to do it, given the virtual monopoly BT enjoys in so-called Market 1 (rural) areas?

Communications minister Ed Vaizey maintained the solution will be a raft of technologies, operators and schemes. But his defence of what BT is doing (twice the fibre installation rate of Germany, of AT&T, or Verizon or Singapore) seemed so jingoistic and bombastic, in marked contrast with his normal charming response to other issues, that one wants to question his neutrality on the subject.

BDUK, the government “skunkworks” set up to start spending the £530m budget for next generation broadband, is expected to pass judgment on which local authorities will be successful in their bids next week. But as Stewart noted, the real path forward will be known when Ofcom stats auctioning off the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum  in 2012.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/05/19 at 17:47

15 Responses

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  1. Why don’t the LLU people go into Market 3 areas?

    Did this debate achieve anything?


    2011/05/19 at 17:55

  2. Nice Post Ian. I thought Rory, Tim and Eric our northern mps were great. Then as you say chi put a stop to any innovative chat and the rest just said how bad connectivity was in their areas, putting paid hopefully once more to the ofcom hype that 99% of the uk has broadband. But I guess they will start saying it again. I was disappointed at Phillip Lee who rabbitted on about satellite, we all know they are ok for time lagged bbc outside broadcasts but are not much good for a family or rural business. I have had one, I have checked the current offerings inc hylas and they are not going to fill the gap of the 10%. they are too expensive and too slow. Although as a plus the install is instant, but that is all they have going for them. I was also disappointed by Ed saying that BT are doing good stuff rolling out ‘superfast’. The cabinet broadband is not superfast. its just a bit faster than adsl and only for a few close to a cabinet. Many on a cabinet will be stuck on 5 meg for decades.
    In my humble opinion the best solution is to get a fibre pipe into the heart of rural areas. If you tackle the hardest to reach places first, and let them build their own rural networks, either privately where the skills are available or with support, then these networks will be so good they will challenge the market, deliver competition and make BT et al up their game and give us NGA a lot sooner than if we wait for what is virtually a monopoly to get out of the mindset that they can sweat the victorian copper assets for ever. Once you get the rurals rocking the rest will soon catch up. Otherwise the rural networks will harvest customers, and the telcos won’t want to lose their cash cow. Who would pay Ian Livingstone’s million pound bonuses? Who would pay the shareholders?
    i think Rory did good getting this into the spotlight, its just a shame so many of our elected representatives don’t get IT. They still get their emails handed to them on dead trees, and I doubt
    if they have ever read a blog. O well, we just keep at it, and one day they will realise they were wrong to ignore the grassroots, and fibre is the only effective way of building next generation networks.


    2011/05/19 at 18:35

    • FTTP or bust. Why don’t you come clean and say “I want £10 bn of public investment in FTTH” (or whatever number you think applies).

      Then see how many agree.


      2011/05/19 at 23:25

  3. LLU people, as you call them, need backhaul from Market 3 areas to the core network. BT’s backhaul charges are extortionate, as are its proposals for pricing on access to poles and ducts. In addition, at least one high court judge believes that business taxes on fibre protects BT.
    As to whether the debate achieved anything, I think it marks Rory Stewart as bright, articulate, technically astute and a shooting star in UK politics. As Vaizey said, only half-joking, it wasn’t worth his while to not give Cumbria a shot at BDUK money. One can imagine him getting an important job in the government, if it were a meritocratic institution.
    As to what it achieved in speeding up access to next generation broadband, at least some of the issues and alternatives have enjoyed a public airing. That should make it harder for BT and Virgin Media to pull the wool over MPs eyes in future. Which can only be good for UK plc.

    Ian Grant

    2011/05/19 at 19:15

    • I think you got your Markets upside down, Market 1 is the one with only BT Wholesale currently bothering to invest.

      Fibre tax – £8 per year per customer – give it a rest.


      2011/05/19 at 23:22

  4. Well said Ian. If we had a level playing field and a decent regulator we wouldn’t be in this predicament, the networks would be being built in areas of market failure. ie 90% of the uk land mass. 😦


    2011/05/19 at 20:56

  5. I found the whole thing just another groundhog day. 15 years fighting for broadband comes to this? We’ve had debates in the House before nearly a decade ago, on the very same issue. 25 yrs ago, similar debate. Check Hansard.

    Let us make telcos limbo under a USC rather than pushing upwards to, at the very least, a symmetrical USO that tackles a future-proofing problem. Let us permit MPs the chance to seize the limelight when so many grassroots people have done far more, and understand infinitely more, than those in Westminster. Let’s praise civil servants and councils who fail to grasp a painful nettle and move this issue forwards rather than stand still. Let’s fail to comprehend the real issues and how the dots join together – be they medical, educational, environmental, technical. Let’s allow a regulator, who is running to catch up in a fast-moving industry, to dictate. Let’s allow private companies to hold this nation hostage.

    The world has moved on. We have not. The House and civil servants have not, the telcos have not for their very own reasons which hold shareholders as more important than us mere consumers and business people, the NHS, and the next generation. The regulator, represented today by Chi, is failing in its statutory duty quite appallingly.

    I honestly despair. I have written probably a million words on this subject, spoken out loud at conferences galore, travelled the world at my own expense to find solutions, elbowed my way into the House and into MPs inboxes, set up community broadband associations and networks (for which others take the credit), fought tooth and nail for this subject to be taken seriously. And a handful of MPs still miss the point in how we move towards a next generation network that will actually serve the next generation today, tomorrow and 40 years in the future.

    The solution is without a doubt for the people of this country to take the matter in their own hands. I’m seriously debating repeating the BackHoe Backhaul protest from America – anyone fancy lending me a JCB so I can pull that North South fibre out of the roadside up the M6 and hold it hostage? Or perhaps that Transatlantic fibre from Cornwall to London?

    You are playing with our lives and livelihoods, and those of our children. Yet the vast majority of those arguing the case know little about the problems nor solutions because you listen to people who are so far down the ladder of knowledge to not even be on the first run of said ladder.

    Yes, I am furious that we are no further ahead tonight than we were 10 years ago. There are times when the lack of backbone in British people is more than just exasperating. FACE the sodding problems and deal with them.

    Lindsey Annison

    2011/05/19 at 22:28

  6. I came into the debate a little late, unfortunately when Chi Onwurah was droning on. However I have to give top marks to our local MPs Rory Stewart, Eric Ollerenshaw and Tim Farron for completely understanding the issues and getting the point across well. I work in the IT industry and some of the subjects discussed in this area is difficult for me to understand so for somebody who is not in the IT world it is extremely difficult to understand. I think that this is half the problem as clearly demonstrated by Pillip Lee when he started banging on about how Satellite is the answer, which is absolutely not the case. Let me be clear, I am placing no blame for lack of understanding as I’m sure that most of the MPs have the best intentions, but the lack of understand makes it so easy for the likes of BT to “blind us with science”, as what seems to have happened with the tender for Lancashire County Council.

    Rory, Eric and Tim have clearly done their research and from what I saw, seem to understand very well.

    There’s a lost to be said for the like of Tim who makes use of social media to engage different points of view and not just take the feed from the standard often biased sources.

    I shall be watching this with interest. Thanks for the post.

    Martyn Dews

    2011/05/20 at 07:17

  7. LLU companies are not going into more exchanges because of the cost of installing and supporting the equipment for a few customers, not just backhaul costs.

    cd getting desperate again when she mentions shareholders.

    FTTC meets acccepted superfast definition, few will have FTTC with 5M.

    Provide a fibre pipe means absolutely nothing, fibre is the transmission medium. What will the connection provide? Before any are provided there will need to be a strong, detailed business case showing how end users will be provided with service. Particularly for the vast majority will not want to be part of the implementation.

    Surely wireless makes more sense than fibre for isolated properties?


    2011/05/20 at 11:31

    • The government is stimulating demand in rural areas by doing things like forcing farmers to fill in their Defra returns online and making access to other public services “digital by default”. Which is great, if only the infrastructure was there to the stimulation. People in rural areas are thus between a rock and a hard place until then.
      Agreed that wireless makes sense where it’s uneconomic to lay cable. But if famers are prepared to dig their way to a fibred up “digital village pump” and lay fibre from there to their own premises at their own expense, why should they be stopped?
      At heart, this is about account control, and no telco wants to give it up for fear of becoming a “dumb pipe”.


      2011/05/21 at 13:45

      • Anything stopping ‘farmers’ digging to someone close to an exchange and getting a connection from there?


        2011/05/21 at 21:25

      • Are you suggesting that someone “close to an exchange” should resell connections? I doubt everyone who lives close to such cabinets wants to be in the telecoms business. Why shouldn’t “farmers” dig right up the cabinet and BT connect them directly?
        Besides, where this has been done, such as in Ashby de la Launde, BT was less than cooperative in helping NextGenUs to connect its village network to the BT network. Not least problematic were the escalating prices quoted, the basis for which are still a mystery to NextGenUs, I m told.


        2011/05/22 at 04:51

  8. […] parliamentary debate led by Cumbria and the Border MP Rory Stewart last week passed a motion calling for the 95% target […]

  9. […] exchange of letters is a sequel to Penrith & The Border MP Rory Stewart’s Commons unanimous motion to boost mobile coverage from 90% to 98% of the population. The CCP estimated the cost adding the required 1,400 extra base […]

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