Following the broadband money

BT’s response to B4RN is a day late and a dollar short

with 5 comments

BT is a day late and a few dollars short of B4RN, the feisty community-owned network operator, when it comes to fibre.

A day or two after B4RN started digging in its 1000Mbps symmetrical fibre, BT popped up offering Lancastrians “up to 80Mbps” downloads and “up to 20Mbps” uploads, and trousering £32.5m in public money in the process.

£10.8m will come from BDUK, the government’s broadband withdrawals-only cash machine, £16.5m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and £5.2m from local councils (£4.7m from Lancashire County Council, £300,000 from Blackburn with Darwen Council and £230,000 from Blackpool Council).

According to the BT press release, this, together with £30m from BT, will bring its total fibre investment in Lancashire to £130m.

So far there is little to show for the money. The release quotes Ofcom figures saying Lancastrians’ average download speed is 7Mbps, basically normal for UK.

Worse, BT may be overstating the money. Notes to the release say BT is waiting for confirmation of the ERDP’s £16.5m. Even the £130m includes BT’s estimate of what it will cost to run fibre to the cabinets in the “commercially viable” parts of Lancashire.

The release gives no clue about BT’s contingency plan if the tight-fisted ERDP doesn’t come through, or its commercial roll-out hits snags like blocked ducts.

The release goes on to say the money will be “extending access to fibre broadband to 97 per cent of premises by the end of 2014”.

Most people who read that will think it means BT will run fibre into homes and offices. They will be wrong.

You have to read nine more paragraphs to find the sentence, “Fibre to the Cabinet will be the prevalent technology deployed under the project.”

To be fair, the release says later if people ask for it, they can have fibre to their homes running at “up to 300Mbps”. No prices are given, nor availability dates.

B4RN, on the other hand, is offering more than three times BT’s top speed for £30 a month from mid-summer, if the dig goes well.

If that’s the best BT can do, I may increase my shareholding in B4RN.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/04/05 at 08:05

5 Responses

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  1. BT’s coverage will be a couple of orders of magnitude greater than B4RNs though, and how does the cost per property compare ?

    How does the £32.5m going to BT compare to the £0.75m Barry’s ego trip required in terms of properties covered etc ? Strikes me that more than 50 times the number of people will benefit so there is a public interest / value for money argument in favour of the BT approach – their aspirations for job creation alone exceed B4RNs planned coverage in terms of numbers of people.

    yarwell (@yarwell)

    2012/04/05 at 08:19

    • I don’t think you are comparing apples with apples. BT was never going to provide adequate service to the areas B4RN is tackling. Why should B4RN be imposed on to create jobs? Count how many people BT has let go just since Ian Livingston got in. Finally read the Acreo report. It show that in Sweden the socio-economic returns on fibre are 1.5 time the investment within five years. But that’s Sweden for you.

      Ian Grant

      2012/04/05 at 08:56

    • @yarwell You make a good point with the coverage, but that’s not the point of B4RN. It’s primary focus it to get connectivity to areas that BT are not likely to, despite what their PR might say. As Ian says, the Press Release is missing detail on coverage.

      As for job creation. Those are just more finger in the air figures. Sounds great but what’s backing them up.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great news for Lancashire, but Ian has done the job that we all need to do but is sometimes very difficult and that’s read between the BT lines. It’s still not clear who will get what, how they will get it and when.


      2012/04/05 at 08:58

  2. […] is another interesting post here with regard to how this ’sits’ with the alternative provider, BT. Not well, I would […]

  3. BT “up to 300Mbs” is a joke – their customers in Milton Keynes with Up to 100Mbs FTTH are throttled back to just 20Mbs.

    The whole point of putting in Fibre is to SAVE jobs not create them!

    If BT put in FTTH Peter Cochrane estimates they could cut their maintenance crews from 10,000 to just 1000 engineers across the UK.


    Mel Bryan

    2012/04/06 at 09:25

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