Following the broadband money

Is BT’s £2.5bn NGA broadband roll-out really commercial?

with 21 comments

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.”

Communications minister Ed Vaizey: right place, right time

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.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/10/18 at 07:08

21 Responses

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  1. Ewhurst are now delighted that their cabinets are going live. They need to see the takeup before worrying about cabinet capacity.


    2012/10/18 at 07:45

    • @ Somerset,

      “Delighted” is stretching reality beyond reasonable levels. We have cabinet 19’s ECI 128 with 64 services available for ordering from 12 October 2012 with no services connected yet. The tie cables were installed there on 15 December 2011. The other two cabinets are due shortly again both with 64 services available and to be followed by a further 36 when the second line card is provided.

      These quantities are wholly inadequate for cabinets with the following approximate quantities
      Cabinet 18 = 220 Houses and 279 working pairs
      Cabinet 19 = 348 Houses and 422 working pairs
      Cabinet 20 = 332 Houses and 502 working pairs
      given the very poor current ADSL speeds achieved mainly due to very poor D side lines particularly for the outliers. (As Ms Garfield mentioned recently.)

      We also have reason to believe that a mistake has been made “As the cabinet 20 ECI 128 (pictured here on 16 October 2012) was supposed to be an ECI 256”. This requires two 100 pr and one 50 pr cable sets in a single 57 m long duct length without intermediate pits and also containing the fibre quad tube and a yet -to-be-provided 5 pr telemetry cable (if it is to follow the Cabinet 19 design).

      There are also very worrying signs that network integrity is being compromised with short term “temporary” repairs since 7July in the debacle described here:-
      and still to be rectified.

      Given the three earlier planning blunders that BT and their subcontractors made in Ewhurst, we must sadly question whether BT Group operations are still fully under control.

      There’s plenty of reading on the Ewhurst web site for those interested.


      2012/10/18 at 08:29

      • Your word, not mine. ‘We are delighted to report that service providers are now accepting orders for FTTC/VDSL (fibre to the cabinet) services on lines connected to PCP/cabinet 19 in Ewhurst.’


        2012/10/18 at 14:33

      • Ever heard of irony?


        2012/10/18 at 20:45

      • Yes. People in Ewhurst are getting access, what’s the problem, why should people not sign up for faster broadband?


        2012/10/18 at 20:52

    • Ewhurst have a self appointed micromanager on the scene with nothing better to do though 😉
      Expect to see reports of the temperature of the tea the Openreach technicians are drinking.


      2012/10/18 at 09:14

    • Ewhurst has waited 18 months longer than necessary, and there is considerable resentment about BT’s role in causing the delay. Don’t hold your breath about residents flocking gratefully to sign up.


      2012/10/18 at 10:00

      • Are you seriously saying that customers of Sky, BT Retail, TalkTalk etc. will not sign up now that it is available? Do you really know there is ‘resentment’? Walter is concerned that so many will sign up there will not be enough capacity in the current cabinets. So which is it?


        2012/10/18 at 11:31

  2. Since when was a town with a population of 22,000 a village?

    Will go and sit in a dark corner and recite the new mantra – BT is evil BT is evil, Fujitsu is nice and cuddly just like C&W and Geo

    Andrew Ferguson

    2012/10/18 at 09:45

    • @ Andrew,
      I think you are correct with your figures for Cranleigh, but Ewhurst village starts in cable length terms 3.25 km away from the exchange and has about 1000 properties in total connected to three PCPs. I would expect that the, presumably SamKnows data, covers the whole of THCN.


      2012/10/18 at 10:30

      • @Walter I was referring to Ian’s use of the line “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.”

        Didcot is NOT a village, and the source article from 2010 contains no mention of village either.

        Andrew Ferguson

        2012/10/18 at 13:02

      • Elsewhere Ian said:

        ‘As someone pointed out to me yesterday, the first exchange to be upgraded to NGA was Didcot in Oxfordshire. ‘

        They were wrong. Didcot was one of 63 announced in January 2010.

        Earlier ones here –


        2012/10/18 at 13:10

    • What did you think of the other 19 paragraphs Andrew, any thoughts?


      2012/10/18 at 14:20

      • What that people are shocked to find that it is possible to influence the Openreach roll-out? Plenty of times where people have lobbied about a cab across UK, some with success and some not.

        No shock at all, its their money spend it where they like I guess. That does not mean that I agree with how they are spending it, and time will show if they have spent it wrong, as they will collapse as a PLC or another company will nab all the business.

        So long as BT does not actively discourage other investors starting competing business I am happy. Plenty of successful competition in EU with no access to incumbent ducts/poles.

        Andrew Ferguson

        2012/10/22 at 09:47

  3. If the Government can force the energy companies to ensure all customers are automatically put on the best tarriff, surely they can force BT Openreach to reveal which cabinets are not commercially viable. THis woudl be in the interestes of rural broadband.
    And surely Ofcom could make it a requirement that says BT cannot then upgrade that area to NGA for x years – to allow niche operators to deliver solutions to communities without risk of being attacked by BT Openreach.

    There remains a significant conflict of interest within BT Openreach – between its own commercial ambitions with respect to FTTC/FTTP (which benefits BT PLC shareholders) and its obligations to its customers, the Communication Providers like Vtesse, which results in copetition for BT PLC.

    A very specific example of this conflict would be the refusal of the very reasonable and sensible Vtesse request to allow dark fibre in subloop unbundling (=FTTC). This would have reduced costs and allowed greater bandwidth etc. It would have brought more competition to BT Wholesale/Retail.
    Yet BT Openreach in its own version of subloop unbundling (FTTC) does just this – uses its own dark fibre.

    But it refuses to let any of its SLU customers use it. I wonder why….?

    • This idea of being put on the lowest energy tariff has yet to be understood by anybody.


      2012/10/18 at 11:34

  4. Interesting comments given most appear to be attempts to pick holes in 1 paragraph of the content which is incorrect rather than discussing the other 19 paragraphs.

    Also interesting how the same faces reoccur constantly. Starting to wonder how many of those making comments here are connected with BT in some way other than being simple consumers.

    It’s almost as polarised as US politics.


    2012/10/18 at 14:20

    • OK, why is it political?

      I think you will find some are just trying to extract facts from the words.


      2012/10/18 at 22:47

      • You don’t seriously believe Openreach are a normal division in a normal company like any other with no consideration of political ramifications of their actions do you?

        Good will is something all companies seek, in the case of BT and Openreach that good will extends to politicians and regulators.

        The politics depends who lives in Haywards Heath and is covered by the smaller cabinet.


        2012/10/19 at 11:09

      • Here are some interesting facts! And from “This is Somerset”. No connection I know, but can it be a true reflection of the Openreach attitude or is it just more politics?

        David Cooper

        2012/10/19 at 13:06

      • @ Somerset – thank you for putting HRH’s comments in context. I remember now; it was some time ago.

        I found the source of the Garfield comment and it is as reported in the “This is Somerset” item.

        It was very good of Openreach to apply this thinking to Ewhurst and save them from the amateurish attempts of a major provider (this is irony so please do not quote it as a positive). If the project had not been destroyed by the political manoeuvres of BT, Ewhurst would have by now an infrastructure with potential to serve all premises without the need for further street works, tie cables, and cabinets (not irony, so please quote).

        @PhilT – I have nothing better to do so I thought I would put in a word for the Ewhurst technical expert. This is the person who in his own time provided the specification, tender documentation, grant application and many other aspects necessary to secure the award of an RDPE grant (subsequently withdrawn). I think that this kind of person should be applauded. There are a few of them around and rather than belittle them should they not be applauded? After all community hubs and local choice was this Government’s stated policy when they took over from the previous administration, perhaps before they had consulted fully with BT?

        David Cooper

        2012/10/19 at 18:39

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