Is BT’s £2.5bn NGA broadband roll-out really commercial?
BT’s commercial roll-out of next generation (NGA) broadband is capricious, political, and certainly not based exclusively on commercial considerations, according to correspondence seen by Br0kenTeleph0n3.
The letters have emerged in the couple of weeks since Br0kenTeleph0n3 broke the news of BT’s attempt to inflate its prices for BDUK contracts. They indicate extreme frustration with BT over its planning process, which is missing its targets.
In the following examples some details are disguised because Br0kenTeleph0n3 believes that disclosing them could prejudice correspondents’ on-going business with BT.
One correspondent has been nagging BT to connect his Midlands community. His community is a relatively new estate, with more new houses going up. It already has over 300 lines, he says. He recently sought to benchmark it against others elsewhere in the country.
He discovered that in one town in the South East Openreach plans to upgrade a street cabinet. It is more than 2km from the local exchange, and serves about 160 homes. The new cabinet has room for only 96 lines. On 9 October 2012 he asked Openreach’s complains and escalations department for its commercial justification.
It responded on 16 October:
This back from our Commercial Modelling unit head :
I’m not sure what help I can provide, other than confirming that the two cabs mentioned are outside of our Commercial 2/3rds UK footprint:
This exchange is part deployed,. There will potential be more coming in future phases. However Cab 53 is not in the footprint as has a low total homes passed and is not commercial.
This exchange is part deployed. There will potential be more coming in future phases. However Cab 82 is not in the footprint as has a low total homes passed and is not commercial.
In determining the most commercially viable cabs to deploy to we take into account the costs of deployment and the likely take-up. The likely take-up percentage figures are good for these cabs, but they are both quite small, so the costs of deployment are not being outweighed by sufficient revenue.
Not taking this as definitive, the correspondent’s further research revealed the following:
“Cab 53 is on the footprint, the planning permission was requested, attached, and the BT checker indicates a go-live by December 2012.”
The BT Wholesale checker confirmed, “Your cabinet is planned to have WBC FTTC by 31st December 2012. Our test also indicates that your line currently supports a fibre technology with an estimated WBC FTTC Broadband where consumers have received downstream line speed of 80 Mbps and upstream line speed of 20 Mbps.”
The Openreach letter reveals clearly that BT has a map of the exchanges and cabinets that are inside its commercial footprint. It should be possible for BT to publish this so that communities that lie outside it can make alternative arrangements for getting high speed broadband into their villages.
In practice BT does not publish it. Thus, when communities take the initiative, apply for and are awarded grants to do their own roll-out, BT can respond, effectively spiking their guns, as happened in Ewhurst.
In May 2009, Ruth Pickering, then BT Group’s director of superfast broadband told Walter Willcox, Ewhurst’s broadband champion, “The UK rollout will be demand led and we have stated that we will go to areas with proven demand. To influence the rollout to gain coverage in your areas you can contact your local authority and lobby your Communications Provider to ensure that they have captured the demand for your area which will enable them to consider you when they are making plans for their utilisation of SFBB.”
Willcox set to building demand with a will. On 1 March 2010 Bob Townend of Openreach’s high level complaints department wrote to Willcox saying, “I have to advise there are no plans for any investment in the network in the area centred around the village of Ewhurst. I can also advise that Cranleigh exchange (which serves Ewhurst) is not in the current or next phases of the NGA FTTC roll out schedule for Superfast Broadband.”
What happened next at Ewhurst is told here.
Willcox later wrote, “Our original project provided ample capacity for 500 services from each cabinet and a comprehensive new fibre spine running through Ewhurst including some trial fibre to homes and premises. We now have three cabinets with a capacity of only 100 services each without enough connectors or duct space to achieve their maximum of 256 services. We had raised our significant concern to our BT contacts but all to no avail.
“The fibre distribution point is near Sayers Croft with a part shared quad tube routed to each cabinet and insufficient duct space in some places to increase that capacity. It seems further major expense for road works and more cabinets will be the only solution, as already demonstrated twice in Chilworth.
“It is vitally important that all investment in infrastructure, and most especially all the taxpayers’ state aid, is properly planned to provide a full fibre service to every premise as a replacement for the worn-out twisted pair cables.”
BT’s planning department did get one thing right. In January 2010, BT announced that Didcot would be the only village in Oxfordshire to be fibred up. Didcot MP Ed Vaizey became the UK’s communications minister four months later.