Angry parishioners seek broadband alternatives
This evening an Essex village hall will host a meeting at which more than 140 people who represent around 80 parishes will discuss how to improve the broadband service their parishes receive.
These are almost all people who have been promised broadband, paid their money, and been, at best, short-changed.
They are mostly angry and frustrated.
They are not alone.
It shouldn’t be this hard. There’s a market out there that wants broadband. There are suppliers kitted up and fitted out to deliver it. Why can’t they get it together?
There is plenty of evidence that there many communities both rural and urban that now do not get a decent broadband service (i.e above 2Mbps reliably. See the map of Cumbria, for example) are willing to pay to get it.
However, the suppliers, at least the ones that are qualified to pitch for government money through local authorities’ procurement procedures, would rather talk to county councillors rather than to customers.
As a result, as Br0kenTeleph0n3 reported previously, some frustrated communities are getting ready to just do it themselves.
This is risky. There are unconfirmed reports that South Yorkshire’s Digital Region Ltd is on the brink of collapse. DRL rents its network from BT, and recently won a regulatory review of BT’s pricing of local loop unbundling products.
DRL says it was “surprised” to be contacted about the state of its financial health. “Our deployment of super fast broadband across the South Yorkshire Region is currently ahead of schedule and Phase 1 (80% coverage) will be completed by December 2011 in line with the project plan,” it said.
DRL wanted BT’s price cut to around £50 per line. In a letter sent to BDUK in April, Fujitsu Telecommunications and internet service providers claimed BT’s prices were four to five times its actual cost. As a result of DRL’s complaint, communications regulator Ofcom may drop BT’s “metal path facility” (i.e. a copper pair) price 10% from the present £91.50.
In addition, while BT has announced that it will enable some exchanges with high speed fibre, it has not said which street cabinets it will upgrade to “superfast” broadband. It has said previously as few as 70% of subscribers served by a steet cabinet may get the higher speeds of “up to 40Mbps”.
Nor has it said definitively where it will not upgrade its network. It has said it will provide a “superfast” broadband service to 90% of the country if it gets most of BDUK’s £530m budget, but it either cannot or will not say where the 10% live who will not get the upgraded service.
This creates fear, uncertainty and doubt among potential broadband investors and subscribers. Few investors wish to risk creating demand, put in a network, and having BT come in and underprice them, which it can easily do, thanks to the scale at which it operates and because it is probably the incumbent supplier.
In addition BT is usually the only source of backhaul, the link from the street cabinet to the national carrier networks. Potential not spot network operators are reluctant to discuss their plans with Openreach, BT’s physical network provider, for fear that other BT divisions may get wind of them, and scupper them.
There is little doubt that this uncertainty has slowed investment in networks in general and in rural networks in particular. There are stories that lack of broadband is helping to depress house prices, and many rural communities have blamed lack of high speed broadband for holding back economic growth and for depopulation of the countryside.
Ofcom is formally required to ensure that potential investors have more certainty about the investment climate. Its success on this score is evident from the number of investors and network operators providing broadband services to subscribers.
Tonight’s meeting will give further insight into whether the pent-up frustration with the slow or non-delivery of high speed broadband can spark innovative ways around the present obstructions.