UK NGA broadband is too important to be left to BT
The time has come to consider whether CEO Ian Livingston’s cost-cutting at BT has now started cutting into bone.
That he has been successful so far is without doubt. Livingston managed to pump £2bn into the pension fund just before year end, he’s been able to blow £786m for the rights to screen 38 football matches, the share price has doubled, and he’s raised the dividend from £388m in 2011 to £453m. He claims ‘superfast broadband’ now ‘passes’ 10 million homes. No doubt many shareholders feel he’s earned his £7m salary.
At the sharp end, i.e. where people dig trenches, lay duct and hook up customers, things look different. The Surrey village of Ewhurst is no stranger to disappointment brought on by BT. For years it has tried to get high speed broadband into the village, so far with negligible results, thanks to BT.
Villagers’ hopes lifted about a year ago when BT published plans to upgrade their street cabinets with fibre backhaul. Now it seems unlikely Ewhurst will see a next generation connection before September.
There may be many explanations for the delays, but some are clearly of BT’s own making. Take this Reversed PCP 5352 cabinet, right outside the post office at Cranleigh, whose BT exchange serves Ewhurst. The housing has been put on back to front and cemented in. So the next time a lineman needs access to the frames, it will be all but impossible for him to get at them.
Is this the only problem? No. In a videotaped council meeting Waverly councillor Diane James described progress in Ewhurst as “way behind schedule”. Ewhurst was meant to be finished in March, and now looks like missing the June deadline, she told fellow councillors. “The activities of BT and its agent are at best shambolic and incoherent,” she says.
According to Walter Willcox, who also took the pictures, Ewhurst has “two cocked-up (street cabinet) planning applications, a set of damaged cables where the idiots rammed their drain rods, so potential damage (has) still to manifest itself, a re-sleeved PCP put on back to front, and now a long length of large ducts which also ought to be excavated entirely.
“Then add the Cobblers Brook lash-up (with fibre rental @ £105,000 p.a.), at least three truncated electricity poles, a still-connected line protection unit giving a very nasty bridged tap condition, at least two poles with dangling redundant drop wires providing excellent radio connections via cross-talk, and finally an unknown quantity of rotting aluminium alloy cables buried un-ducted directly in the ground.”
Willcox has been documenting BT’s efforts in Cranleigh. “We now have details of two FTTC services in Cranleigh; the first installation near Notcutts went well and provided a capped downstream IP Profile of 38Mbps and an upstream one of 2Mbps over a distance to the FTTC (cabinet) of about 712m. (BT promises ‘up to’ 80Mbps downloads.)
“The second installation in (name withheld) with a FTTC cabinet distance of 439m is one of the worst examples of BT’s incompetence over a trivial fault I have encountered, even though now there is a good downstream IP profile of 73 Mbps and an upstream one of 20 Mbps on a premium service.”
That customer kept a log (BTInfinityfault log) of BT’s actions from when he ordered Infinity. It took BT six weeks and five engineers to install his service, which went live last weekend.
Some will say that Ewhurst’s problems are what you’d expect for shooting your mouth off at a monopoly. That may be true, but that is neither acceptable nor the point here.
What should worry county councillors deeply is that they have to spend taxpayers’ money on next generation broadband procurement, but how much might have to go to fix up BT’s duct and pole infrastructure. Then there is money they might have to spend to repair shoddy or incompetent work, such as the resleeved cabinet in Cranleigh.
The Ewhurst saga demonstrates a lack of professionalism, of historical jerry-rigging, and a willingness to do what is expedient. We must hope it is unique. After all, Sean Williams, BT’s director of strategy, assured the House of Lords communications committee ( videoat 17:08:13) that BT’s Infinity roll-out is a mass market, industrial-scale effort, and shouldn’t be disturbed. The hard evidence from Ewhurst is to the contrary.