Following the broadband money

Angry parishioners seek broadband alternatives

with 14 comments

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.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/07/18 at 10:30

14 Responses

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  1. Who did they pay money to and what were they promised?

    Is the DRL problem that many have bundles with Sky etc. and don’t need/want higher speeds?

    Time for BT to announce plans for every postcode in the UK.


    2011/07/18 at 10:47

    • Somerset – we agree on something! BT to publish its (non) roll-out plans.
      BTW, I also agree that customers don’t necessarily want speed for speed’s sake. Read Martha Lane Fox’s frustration in the Guardian blogs. Broadband (and the internet) is like a vote, and for the same reasons; people can choose not to use it.

      Ian Grant

      2011/07/18 at 11:32

  2. Sounds like the demands for super speed broadband are growing!!

    You and your Regions have the opportunity to influence the Community Guidelines for the application of State aid rules in relation to rapid deployment of broadband networks!

    Do you believe the rules should be changed to provide the State Aid and Public Sector financial support needed and guarantee the superspeed infrastructure required across Europe over the next 9 years ?

    Should incumbents be forced to collaborate with the competition?
    Should new suppliers of dark fibre be taxed for every metre installed?
    Should governments and LA’s who fund next generation networks with public money retain ownership or at least a “golden share”.
    Should the 7 Year Rule be dropped?
    Should “White Areas” be defined as < 20Mpbs simultaneous download and upload [Germany]
    Should there be a National Broadband Fund for community intiatives? [USA]
    All responses must be with DG COMPETITION before the closing date: 31st August 2011.


    2011/07/18 at 10:51

    • Excellent questions, and I hope readers will give their replies directly.
      Personally speaking, taxing dark fibre is taxing an input rather than an output. This discourages investment and reduces the opportunity to creates jobs and profits, i.e. the opposite of what Europe should be doing now.
      As to incumbents, I believe it is better that they cooperate willingly with competitors, but since they won’t, regulators should ensure that pricing of access to passive infrastructure is at the fully amortised and depreciated book value of the infrastructure, and no funny business about revaluations that suddenly add billions to it value.
      As symmetry, I believe very few people understand and act on the extent to which people these days are less audience than producer. Satisfying them requires increasing the degree of symmetry of upload nd download speeds in the network, and increases the ease and flexibility with which people can share stuff, including work.
      As to government funding, I would rather see fewer “honeypots” that can be subjected to lobbying and political favouritism, and more encouragement of investment and competition between network operators. Giving tax holidays for network build could supply the money without taxing people more to build up a honeypot.
      If public money is used directly to fund network build , the entire transaction, process and result should be in the public domain, and subject to audit by the subscribers/voters. If they don’t like what they see, they can vote out the incumbents and sue the network operator for non-delivery of contracted-for services.
      I’m sure others have better ideas.

      Ian Grant

      2011/07/18 at 11:23

    • if you set the white areas as 20megabit symmetrical that means the entire country is white. Sounds good to me. If they want us to be the best in Europe we need to get rolling out that fibre now. A UK map would have very few black dots on it.


      2011/07/18 at 11:30

      • Which means 20/80M FTTC is one solution.


        2011/07/18 at 11:35

  3. you are right Ian. ‘It shouldn’t be this hard’. I just wish the government would realise how this country is being throttled and held back by the incumbent and stop pandering to them. Protecting the sweated copper is not the way to build a digital britain, and if the suppliers queuing up to deliver NGA were given a chance they could prove it. A level playing field, relaxed planning, tax incentives instead of dis-incentives, it would all help and cost the government nothing.


    2011/07/18 at 11:00

  4. More about Essex at and a supplier looking to introduce wireless technology in rural areas.

    How is the UK held back by the incumbent? What are the planning issues and how much would any tax incentives have to be to make a difference?


    2011/07/18 at 11:30

    • Based on the Essex article, perhaps the question should be how has the incumbent (or indeed the regulator) permitted a digital divide to emerge? How has the incumbent managed to avoid a universal broadband obligation and get it watered down to a nebulous, low-speed, definitely not “best in Europe”, “commitment”?
      Is the incumbent committed in the same way that a pig is committed to the traditional full English breakfast?

      Ian Grant

      2011/07/18 at 11:45

      • I think it boils down to vital vision. A programme started by BT many moons ago, which has seemed to brainwash major politicians, police and healthcare professionals into believing that what passes for ‘broadband’ in this country is best left in the hands of an incumbent determined to wring the last bit of income it can from an obsolete phone network. Yes, they are just like a pig. But their time is coming. The people are realising the truth, slowly but surely and are no longer content to see their leaders swallowing the hype. If news international can be brought to heel then other corporations had better take heed. methinks.
        BT pulled the pdf, but its still out there on the ether.


        2011/07/18 at 11:55

      • Demand, funding, Ofcom, government?


        2011/07/18 at 12:22

  5. “DRL rents its network from BT” – only the copper loop, it has its own VDSL cabinets and fibre network with NOCs etc. DRL doesn’t have any ISPs on board that you’ve heard of, hence massive problems getting retail customers as is often the case with the worshipped “open access”. Plusnet’s “broadband from Yorkshire” isn’t available over SYDR kit, for example.

    I don’t buy the “are willing to pay to get it” argument. This will apply to notspots, to a point, but after that you have to explain why Virgin’s 50M service has a few % of the total subscribers, BT’s poor takeup of FTTC, why hardly anyone buys the faster upstream services / higher priority services on Market 1 exchanges, why US council broadband FTTH doesn’t take all the customers away from mediocre cable and DSL offerings etc etc. There’s plenty of commercial risk out there with takeup and price issues alone, never mind the other stuff.


    2011/07/19 at 11:48

    • PhilT – so has DRL dug to every cabinet?

      One reason people are reluctant to change ISP may be the change of email addresses. For many they do not have a need for bandwidth over that needed for web browsing and sending (not time sensitive) and receiving emails.

      I have been asking what the applications are that need 100M etc. but even a well know commentator on forums does not know, asking me to do some research. Research reveals what we all know, if you are putting in a new network then 1G fibre is the standard (ie. you can easily buy the hardware) and not what it will be used for. Currently HD video and fast file transfer are obvious, any others?

      Meanwhile, is wireless the solution for the many scattered notspots?


      2011/07/19 at 13:15

      • I think we’ve talked about how to raise and substantiate demand before. As you will know, Martha Lane Fox is doing her best to persuade 8.7 million Brits who’ve never been online before to try it. Not all those 8.7 million live in sub-2Mbps areas, and there are plenty who just find they prefer talking to real people, shopping in actual shops and being surprised by what they can find in their local library.
        People need to stop obsessing about network speeds; let the engineers worry about that. What most of us should look forward to are the applications and the opportunities they open up. Facebook, Google, iTunes etc are successful because they have become the platforms of choice for millions of others to try out new things. Most of those new things perish like mayflies, but every one teaches those involved and we who try them something new. Network speed just helps us to try more things faster so the rate of knowledge creation speeds up.
        As to wireless for the not spots, of course wireless is a solution, not the solution.
        Even Lloyd Fenton, CEO of specialist wireless rural broadband supplier Country Broadband, agrees that fibre is the ultimate. He showed parish representatives last night that fibre to the home (for a rural village of 95 houses) cost between £1000 and £1100 per house. Which is not a lot compared to the value of the house. But those houses have 20Mbps symmetric via wireless because the villages had decided that, for now, they preferred to pay just over £200 per house for their broadband connection, and to trim tree branches when they interfere with reception.

        Ian Grant

        2011/07/19 at 14:45

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