Following the broadband money

Is BT running a dirty tricks campaign against its broadband competitors?

with 30 comments

Br0kenTeleph0n3’s attention has been drawn to the following LinkedIn message and the subsequent comments:

This is not the first such story to come my way. They are happening with increasing frequency.

Normal journalistic procedure is to try to establish the truth or otherwise of these stories by personal interview with the principals to confirm and check times, dates, acts, consequences etc. and to verify them with third party research. Once the story has been confirmed, then to approach the alleged perpetrator to get their side of the story.

However, many of these stories come from remote places, and I have neither the time nor the money to follow up each individually. What I propose is to collect as many stories plus supporting evidence as possible, while BDUK is still considering its list of suppliers for its broadband procurement framework. If the stories show there is a pattern, I shall take what I have to the relevant supplier to get its comment, and publish the results here.

If there is enough hard evidence of dirty tricks, it may help to get the changes needed to ensure a fairer competitive market for the supply of broadband access in the UK.

I realise that some people might have stories but may require anonymity. If this is the case, please use Dropbox, or call me on Skype (Ian Grant) or email me at For the super-paranoid, and who shouldn’t be these days, you can use GPG encryption, the current open source for pretty good privacy. Look for my public key under Ian Grant and my email address.

Over to you.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/08/01 at 09:12

30 Responses

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  1. We have evidence of the same thing. When we got a fibre connection into our village for our community wifi network the whole area was mail shotted just the same.

    When word got out of a plan to bring fibre to the home for the area, BT wants a public meeting to convince everyone that they can bring ‘superfast’ to the area. I think it is a bit of a problem to community jfdi people when the incumbent with its massive marketing budget can muscle in on areas they have totally ignored for a decade. But there you go, that’s competitive market forces for you.
    We just have to do it better than them, and win our own customers.

    I don’t see how you can make it fairer. I just think folk need to be aware of the lengths the telcos will go to in order to stop new entrants, innovation, and the jedi.
    They have to protect their old copper phone lines come what may.
    Our job is to get new rural networks built and prove to government once and for all how they have been conned.


    2011/08/01 at 09:23

    • There are bodies like the Adverting Standards Authority and the Competition Commission, even Ofcom, who are there to see fair play done. I would be the first to agree that they take a long time to reach decisions and they may be too late for some of the people affected.
      However, big companies are jealous of their reputation, so they don’t like it when they are shown up as less than perfect corporate social citizens. Public embarrassment is about the only sanction one has against their excesses. Look what happened with News International. Look what it took to get “justice”.
      It would be too much to hope that big companies stop abusing their power, but shining a little light on their actions can help to keep them cautious about what they do.

      Ian Grant

      2011/08/01 at 10:24

    • As you know well that was a very widespread mailshot that arrived on my doorstep 200 miles away at the same time.

      Campaigners have to be treated with at least as much caution as corporate PR spinners.

      It will be interesting to see if Ian gets any evidence, I’ve yet to see any of these apocryphal tales substantiated. Everyone likes to bash large companies and truth is often a casualty in that action.


      2011/08/01 at 10:52

  2. In fairness the flyer linked above is referring more to the benefits of BT’s new HomeHub 3 for “home” wireless (WLAN) networking, although it’s easy to see how some could get this confused with a separate piece of local fixed wireless ISP infrastructure. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if BT were preying on that common confusion as commercial firms have done similar things for years, but at the same time it doesn’t look like a “dirty trick” in the same way as clearly slandering a specific rival would. It’s just a crafty advert, unless the new ones are different?

    Mark - ISPreview

    2011/08/01 at 09:59

    • I haven’t seen the alleged flyer distributed in Kinmuck, so I’m curious why it would slag off wireless if it was promoting Wi-Fi. If anyone has a copy, please would they forward it to me.

      Ian Grant

      2011/08/01 at 10:10

  3. thats what you pay marketers such enormous fees for Mark.
    Also it is strange why only areas where community broadband networks exist get targeted? Dirty or Crafty? Matters not, such is life. Bit annoying when they can’t even deliver the service in the areas they target. Their leaflet says we can get speeds of ‘up to 20meg’ – but our exchanges are only upto 8meg. I think everyone is now getting wise to the fact that BT promise, but don’t deliver, and its a better bet to support local community networks.


    2011/08/01 at 10:13

    • Didn’t Adrian Wooster pronounce the death of local community networks recently ?

      Wouldn’t want to mislead anyone by suggesting that after several years of inaction a “community” solution was suddenly going to pop up and resolve all their problems.


      2011/08/01 at 10:55

  4. When even Government ministers continue to spout the lie that the vast majority of Britain already has broadband, what use are ASA and Ofcom in this matter? They certainly have achieved nothing in protecting consumers against the lie about fibre optic broadband being delivered over co-ax (copper).

    The reality is that in the first round of community projects endeavouring to fill in the very many gaps where BT refused to connect, BT just kept coming over the horizon, again and again and again. LS29, Isle of Wight, 3C, Kirkby Thore, you name it, (I can name far more because I was dealing with many of them as both Access to Broadband Campaign co-founder and for the Association of Broadband Communities) – every time a community tried to solve the problem, BT were there with spoiling tactics.

    These ranged from cancelling and delaying leased line delivery until their own plans for exchange enablement were completed in the area, to hefty marketing plans aimed at specific postcodes offering services which then were never actually delivered or were not delivered in an appropriate timescale i.e within 2-5 years. On a national level, at that time, BT threw £35M into a marketing campaign which helped to scupper many projects who could only dream of that level of budget for project delivery let alone advertising.

    We are seeing a similar pattern now with applications for next generation from communities being sidelined or steamrollered, where the local authorities seem to believe BT rather than their own citizens. The community projects which do get off the ground are in the most part those with tenacious and dogged champions who know that the solution offered is vastly superior, even when done on a broken shoestring, than that which BT can deliver due to known technical issues such as line length, aluminium etc. If BT partnered with such ‘visionaries’, everyone would be a winner but this seems to be a step too far for BT and local authorities.

    Whilst all of us understand that BT is a private company and there’s nothing fair in love or business, the continuing efforts by the incumbent to slow down the roll-out and infill of communications infrastructure in their own interest is hampering the efforts of this country to make an economic recovery, let alone the social cost of depriving swathes of the country of connectivity.

    It is far more than just coincidence that when a community project seeks to engage with its community via the local media, interacting with the local authorities etc, BT suddenly roll up to make life infinitely harder. (And there is a new list being developed where this is once again happening, of which this post gives just one example).

    It wouldn’t be so bad if BT then delivered on its ‘promises’ but it is now more than 8 years since BT first started these tactics and many, many areas are still on dial up or sub 2Mbps connections. The number of postcodes in Cumbria alone with sub 2Mbps (source: BDUK) is horrifying considering the £19M spent to achieve ubiquitous broadband – which at the time was defined as 2Mbps and above. The NWDA, Commendium and YourComm (should) carry the full blame for that, but the truth is that the connectivity was delivered over (on the whole) BT infrastructure which has robustly proven to be incapable of the job in hand – to provide broadband.

    Just as we seem to blithely swan along ignoring the true state of this country’s indebtedness, so we seem completely incapable of acknowledging the fact that the incumbent cannot actually deliver first generation broadband to many areas, (which is why community projects are set up in the first place), let alone next gen, but does not want anyone else to do so either.

    Keep the information coming, but whether any in authority are actually capable of accepting the truth before spending our hard-earned cash remains to be seen.

    Lindsey Annison

    2011/08/01 at 11:48

    • Are we incapable of acknowledging the status quo, or merely complacent in accepting things as they are.

      The lack of demonstrable solutions can’t help, who does one ring to get a notspot fixed given that BT doesn’t want to fill the need in that locality ?


      2011/08/01 at 15:31

      • PhilT – Judging from some of the correspondence here, the trouble is that BT will not budge until someone else does, and then it does everything possible to avoid actually putting in hard assets.
        Several network network operators have said it would be helpful if BT would publish a definitive list of where it does not consider it can make a profit. Given that it plans to extend ADSL2+ to 90%+ of the population, that doesn’t leave much space. But some small operators may be able to make a living from it, or communities provide a non-profit operation for their own benefit.

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/01 at 16:26

      • I don’t see BT moving much just because someone else does. We never saw any competitive effort against our wireless network or any attempt to solve nostpots like Ashby-de-la-Launde which were on the BT Chairman’s and Head of Openreach’s desks more than once. We even suggested an FTTC location to solve 9km line lengths but there was no interest, now Ashby has FTTH.

        It’s a big myth that BT run around deploying services to fend off other players – Rutland Telecom got their cabs into Lyddington and now Essendine using Openreach fibre. Essendine was / is on the Stamford exchange FTTC footprint but Rutland are up and running and I haven’t found a BT FTTC cab in Essendine yet. So there are two demonstrable examples of how BT fail to get in ahead of competitors.

        It’s obvious to me where BT aren’t deploying solutions and we have had more than one notspot survey that consolidated data. If we don’t have a solution it’s a poor lookout if the best we can offer are apocryphal stories that can’t even provide a leaflet to back them up. If there is anyone with a viable notspot / slowspot solution and money to invest then we need to hear from them !

        Would it be legal to announce you weren’t going to serve part of a market ? I thought the Treaty of Rome had something to say about such practices.


        2011/08/02 at 14:33

      • BT is on record saying it will invest where it can make a profit. It doesn’t say how or where in its accounts or in what time period it will do it, so such a statement needs to be tested thoroughly to understand what BT means by it. Unsurprisingly, BT is reticent on these details, which leads to market uncertainty that benefits BT and no-one else.
        As to apocryphal stories, I have spoken to enough people by now (see earlier comment) to believe that when it comes to not-spots, BT will in the first instance, use so-called “dirty tricks” to delay installing equipment until circumstances suit it. This is not illegal, but it can mean that subscribers may receive an inferior service to one they might receive if they subscribed to another vendor’s service. I believe the residents of Iwade, to name just one case, would corroborate this.
        There are plenty of people in not spots who don’t care how they get signal, as long as they can watch Eastenders and talk to the grandkids using Skype. But when the government mandates an onlinel-only interface for transacting with it, as is the case with some 300,000 farmers and rural businesses (says the CLA), then we are in a different ball game, one that has not had enough attention from government on the universal service obligation. Note: obligation, rather than commitment.
        If that’s the game the government wants to play, it should pay for farmers and rural businesses to get a reasonable connection. That was what the BDUK money was for. What we are seeing is BT lobbying to have the money to spend as it sees fit, without necessarily having to provide service to farmers and rural businesses.
        I’m not suggesting that an adequate connection means a 1Gbps service to the farmhouse or roadside produce stall. But even the digital village pump idea appears to have got lost. One wonders why.
        Having BT (or another provider) lay fibre into a village to the “pump” would allow locals (or others) to provide local signal distribution if BT or AN Other didn’t want to. The point is, locals are not even being given that choice, and BT is not making it easy for anyone to test that option in short time or great detail because of the protracted negotiations over the price of access to BT’s poles and ducts and other kit.
        One can argue that BT’s behaviour is entirely fair and reasonable if one considers only the interests of BT’s shareholders in a fully competitive market. But this is a wider issue, and one in which government has played a fuller part than usual by insisting on “digital by default”. Further, by definition, the places we are talking about is where BT is the only supplier. That makes all the difference, I’m sure you’ll agree.

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/02 at 15:28

      • ‘Having BT (or another provider) lay fibre into a village to the “pump” would allow locals (or others) to provide local signal distribution if BT or AN Other didn’t want to. ‘

        What does the word ‘having’ mean, at no cost? Lots of providers able to lay fibre.

        Statements without detail are no use to anyone!


        2011/08/02 at 19:31

      • Hi Peter – It’s about using the BDUK money to pay BT or AN Other to lay fibre. But do you as a taxpayer want to spend a lot of BDUK money duplicating existing passive infrastructure because BT wants to charge for access to its poles and ducts that we taxpayers paid for when BT was the GPO?

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/02 at 20:37

      • Some would say that BT became private 1/4 century ago, specifically to encourage/allow competition.

        So is it all down to the cost of using BT (and VM and C&W etc.) infrastructure, not just locally, but across the UK, which is not in the Ofcom proposal and what numbers would work?


        2011/08/02 at 20:57

      • I refer you to Ofcom’s latest broadband map for a view on how successful the privatisation of BT has been in introducing and promoting competition.

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/03 at 09:15

      • Broadband wasn’t invented 25 years ago!

        Competition came in the shape of Cable & Wireless, Thus etc.

        What became Virgin Media was just cable TV companies annoying everybody digging up the streets.

        BT wanted to install fibre to every property but Mrs Thatcher did not want to annoy the cable TV companies.

        How different it all could have become…


        2011/08/03 at 20:27

      • You are not the only one to hark back to Thatcher’s decision to support the cable industry at the expense of BT.
        But really would we have been better off with a monopoly fixed telecoms provider?
        I believe there was a lot of subscriber unhappiness with BT’s performance back then – not a lot different to where it is the monopoly supplier today.

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/04 at 07:01

    • Time for an Ed Brown ADIT NE style clawback from YourComm? – that would be C&W then.

      There is growing discontent and rightly so with central government ineptitude so fear not and remember Ghandi’s four steps…

      Awesome post Lindsey thank you.

      Guy Jarvis

      2011/08/04 at 01:01

  5. Interesting question Phil. If we ring BT they say they only do phone lines. We thought they did broadband so that is why we ring them first. If we ring an isp, they say they can connect you, cos the checker says so, then when they can’t or when it fails after 3weeks they say they will get on to wholesale. If wholesale say its ok then somebody has to get on to openreach who want £+100 for an engineer visit. This is all assuming the home wiring is ok. After all this palaver and the home is still a notspot you could always try ofcom, but they just say ‘everyone can get broadband’ and the checker says you can get a connection on your number so crack on with it… If you talk to councillors and MPs they say they will check for you, they ring ofcom and get the same BS so they think you are just an agitator. You can even go to the top and talk to Bill Murphy, who says he will look into it, because he knows everyone can get a connection can’t they? and so he has a look into it, and says whoops, they must be in the 0.04% of the UK who actually can’t get a connection. sorry and all that. So you waste hours, days, months of your life trying to get some help. If you can find out who to ring Phil then we will all ring that number…

    We have acknowledged the status quo and are doing what we can, in our own ways, to come up with workable solutions, we are not complacent, but there aren’t many demonstrable solutions about, unless you want to pay a telco a fortune for a leased line, and not many ordinary people want to do that… and satellites are too much for many to afford, especially when they see others getting a service for £3.99 or even free for the first 3 months which is what BT advertise…


    2011/08/01 at 15:46

    • The thing we need to get over is that BT aren’t going to fix notspots on their own, so there’s no point asking them. They are notspots precisely *because* BT don’t want to serve them. So we need to move on.

      A similar argument applies to community solutions. If a community is still a notspot 6-8 years after ADSL arrived then one has to ask if it’s ever going to solve it. I suspect not.

      So we’re left with market opportunity – notspots and slowspots – but no sign of much activity to fill them in. Rutland Telecom have done 2 in ~14 months with maybe a third on the way. NextGenUs have done one FTTH deployment in a notspot but seem to be failing to get traction in Cumbria. etc etc.

      Enter BDUK with it’s tiny pot of gold, now everybody thinks it’s BDUK rather than BT that will fix their problem. With less than £60 per final third property I don’t see that happening either.

      Satellite’s available if you *need* a connection and will derive enough benefit from it to make it pay, but if you’re stuck in envy mode looking at city centre prices then your problem is not one of need.

      So there’s still nobody to ring.


      2011/08/02 at 14:22

      • BDUK is a national embarrassment and the sooner Dave Cameron shakes that particular tree the better as his ministers seem to have morphed into Sir Humphrey’s puppets.

        One extra factor to consider is the march of technology in terms of price/performance for non-legacy-copper alternatives in both the first and middle miles:

        FiWi is a great stepping stone to FTTH which gives immediate benefit at a lesser capex – works for NGU and YMMV

        Guy Jarvis

        2011/08/04 at 01:06

      • NGU? YMMV?

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/04 at 06:56

  6. The thing that we need to fix Phil is the BT and ofcom propaganda which still says that 99.6% of us are able to get broadband. The same hype will continue once they have soaked up the BDUK funding and shoved a few cabinets in. They will say we all have ‘superfast’ then, and milk the proceeds for another decade. They say at the moment that even with ‘all’ the funding they can only do 90%. What will they do with that statistic once the money is spent? How come there are notspots if nearly everyone can get it? How come they have only acknowledged their existence once funding appeared? They were in denial for a decade, will they do the same with superfast?
    Far better to let someone else have a stab at providing connectivity to the final 10% and get some competition going. Anyone can keep upgrading the urban areas, but it takes real innovation to help the rural ones.


    2011/08/02 at 16:31

    • Urban areas need the streets digging, expensive. What innovation is needed? Wireless or installing fibre are the options.


      2011/08/03 at 07:59

      • Powerline carrier, maybe? Also, there are lots of options on fibre/wireless combinations. This is not either/or.

        Ian Grant

        2011/08/03 at 09:17

      • What’s happened to the powerline trial in Wales? Some say powerline seriously interferes with radio reception.

        One issue may be that many people are happy with eg. 3M and are locked into ‘free’ broadband on a Sky contract. There needs to be a reason to change.

        Do costs quoted for FTTP installation assume a certain level of take up?


        2011/08/03 at 20:32

  7. Acronym Glossary 🙂

    NGU = NextGenUs UK CIC, a social enterprise that builds, owns and operates FiWi and FTTH networks.

    FiWi – Fibre and Wireless, two complimentary technologies together able to provide future-proof fixed and mobile access to digital services.

    FTTH = Fibre To The Home, the ultimate choice for fixed access having virtually infinite (no in the BT race to infinity = 40Mbps max sense either!) symmetrical data carrying capacity.

    YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary, in other words what works for NGU may not work for others.

    Guy Jarvis

    2011/08/05 at 13:26

  8. I live in Lincolnshire and I’m with Talktalk. Their service has been excellent generally until recently when I have had some connection problems. Talktalk have been very good about sorting things out.

    Interestingly this morning got a BT flyer pushed through my door for something called Home Hub which is supposed to be “very clever” and is the “solution for the modern home”. The blurb goes on to say “unlike some other broadband providers we’ll never slow you down” etc etc etc.

    I just wonder whether the two are connected ?

    Frankly it would be a very cold day in hell before I ever went back to BT. I used to be with them years ago. they are arrogant and treat their customers, ( or should that be victims ) like s**t. I have only been driven to swearing down a phone line on two occasions in my life and both times was when I was speaking to what BT laughably call “customer services”.

    I certainly would expect the dirtiest of dirty tricks from this bunch of monopolistic mafiosi.


    2013/07/08 at 20:12

    • Hmmm. Hope it’s nothing like that and the problems resolve themselves. Perhaps a note to Dido Harding, in case she can get some action/an explanation for you?


      2013/07/08 at 22:14

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