Following the broadband money

BT has a veto on RCBF rural broadband projects

with 22 comments

BT is determined not to allow competition in rural areas. That’s why the speed and coverage details of their NGA contracts are kept under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and why would-be RCBF-funded community networks in the Final 10% are not allowed to see them.

This is clear from BDUK’s guidance to local authorities who may have eligible RCBF projects in their area.
In addition BT is permitted to do an impact assessment on RCBF projects, and hence holds an effective veto on them. Or it can use its own taxpayer-funded roll-out to ‘white-ant’ the projects’ coverage areas, making sure it will be hard or impossible for the projects to attract enough subscribers to be viable.
Will the NAO enquiry at least glance at this situation? I’m hoping DCMS will reply to my FOIA question on it in time to do some good.
It seems an awful lot of trouble to go to over £20m, but it demonstrates BT’s attention to detail.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/12 at 21:27

22 Responses

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  1. Post PRISM etc disclosure, I no longer believe this is simply about destroying competition. It is about access to the network and hence data. Allow communities to build networks and what do you lose? Not a handful of customers, that’s for sure.


    2013/06/12 at 22:08

    • So, GCHQ just says “Give us sysadmin access”, just like NSA, and you do. No names, no pack drill. Just get on with it. After all, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing fear, right?


      2013/06/12 at 22:13

  2. Agree Ian, they don’t need the £20million but they don’t want anyone else to get it and make competition for them. They didn’t need the BDUK money to do cabinets either, their own profits could have paid for them to be done but they had to stop other companies getting into the market. BT are very good at protecting their investments. I just wish they would put as much effort into getting fit for purpose connectivity to people and not just harvesting high areas of profit.


    2013/06/13 at 06:19

  3. It sort of makes sense. After all most of the RCBF areas are talking about developing new or upgrading existing networks / infrastructure in areas that BT often already serves with basic broadband. As a result the local authority / government needs to make sure that this takes place in an area that BT has already chosen not to upgrade and that may require BT to do some additional assessments first.

    One other way of looking at it is that such efforts can often prompt BT into considering an upgrade for areas that might have otherwise been overlooked; although there are contentious elements to that approach, such as stepping in at the last minute to stall well-planned alternative schemes (doesn’t look very good).

    On the other hand most consumers don’t care where the network comes from. Instead they just want better access and ideally a choice of the mainstream ISPs. Ultimately you can’t blame BT for being a commercial company and trying to protect its interests and the government doesn’t want to use public money if it doesn’t have to.

    The market is a product of modern regulation and that’s something that only the government can really change.

    Mark (ISPreview)

    2013/06/13 at 06:30

  4. Mark – “As a result the local authority / government needs to make sure that this takes place in an area that BT has already chosen not to upgrade and that may require BT to do some additional assessments first.” – not quite, in my experience – no ‘additional assessments’ post-OMR required, and I believe all LAs should have completed these?

    One of the ‘hurdles’ in an application I made was getting the LA to declare I would be in the ‘10%’ that was not to be NGA-served. At that time (pre-OMR), that was impossible and DEFRA muttered about ‘some suitable form of words’ from the LA (impressive or what?). If I tried again, post-OMR, the situation (NGA ?black/white?) is easy to establish, BUT NOW we are into the ‘will the BDUK fund allocation deliver NGA to this area’ quandary, and, guess what – that is under a NDA.

    What BT fear, I’m sure, is the arrival in an area of an efficient, reasonably priced (in my case a High Point Infrastructure fixed wireless network) that would have delivered to all who wanted it a robust 40mb service, unlike any possible ‘Infinity’ scheme which would not reach all as we are seeing around the country, and certainly not at those speeds. This is allegedly why the Ewhurst SEEDA-funded FTTP/C scheme was ‘terminated’ (with the ‘help’ of Surrey County Council.) – start around 14/1/2011

    The scales are heavily stacked, and yes, Ian. one hopes the NAO report does not get the same treatment as the HOL report.

    mike phillips

    2013/06/13 at 08:08

    • Yep that’s definitely a problem that has needed addressing for quite some time and as usual the government seems to be a little slow, deliberately or not, to tackle it. I’ve seen the NDA issue crop up quite a few times now.

      Mark (ISPreview)

      2013/06/13 at 08:37

    • Re the first reply – would a wireless network be required to log all user details and activity?


      2013/06/13 at 11:05

  5. Puzzled why this thread appears to have ‘died’ in a ‘national security’ focus when the topic raised seriously impedes many, many groups trying to get some funding out of the RCBF scheme? As in another thread, certainly one scheme seems to have gone ahead, but with the money going to……….BT.

    Perhaps lins22 can explain how the RCBF scheme may warrant ‘restricting’ on security grounds whereas B4RN and other community efforts are unaffected? Why have the men in black not arrived and dug up their fibre or blown up their masts?

    mike phillips

    2013/06/14 at 07:27

    • If it’s all BT, GCHQ has ‘only one throat to choke’. BT and before that the Post Office, has always been compliant anyway.


      2013/06/14 at 08:17

      • But it’s not ‘all BT’. VM, C&W as was, mobile telcos, community projects, data centres etc.


        2013/06/14 at 11:26

  6. But, Ian – it isn’t just ‘all BT’ – what about the other providers eg B4RN?

    Do I understand the proposal now here is that the ‘veto’ for BT may be being given on security grounds and not to do with commercial “impact assessments on RCBF projects”? A whole new topic? Now do we open up another ‘reason’ for BT being the only ‘surviving’ BDUK bidder………………?

    Wait a mo – there’s an unmarked black car outside……………….

    mike phillips

    2013/06/14 at 09:12

    • I hope you can still read this, Mike… I’m sure it’s one of the reasons why the government (and incumbents) likes to sell MPs on the idea that telecoms networks are a ‘natural monopoly’..


      2013/06/14 at 09:29

  7. This takes things to a new level! I’m HOPING it is just a peanut butter sandwich and tinfoil hat moment, but…………………………..

    Surely, if true, we have all been wasting our time commenting/agitating/asking and we should all just close up shop and let it ‘happen’ as per the master plan since now’t anyone outside the stockade can do could have any effect?

    In my simple mind I had assumed that since the ‘altnets’ bandwidth would at some stage pass through a ‘major’ routing, that would be where the ‘monitoring’ would be done, rather than at a ‘wireless network’ level.

    I take it that the proposition is that Gigaclear/B4RN/etc etc are all involved in submitting ‘user data’ to HMG? The thought of Bill Lewis too, snitching on his customers’ emails and VOIP calls…………………….I expect he will wish to comment.

    mike phillips

    2013/06/14 at 10:38

    • Somerset

      2013/06/14 at 13:26

      • As I read it, that applies to ISPs, not networks?

        mike phillips

        2013/06/14 at 13:37

      • Further research reveals the spooks need just four bits of metadata to identify 95% of folk on (mobile) networks (Sorry Mike ;-). That rather nullifies their argument that they need the snooper’s charter to rectify the imbalance created when BT et al moved from mainly circuit switching to packet switching. It’s also why at a strategic level they don’t need to care about content. They want to who you and your buddies are and where you hang out. If the patterns suggests you’re up to no good they can always invoke RIPA and take a detailed peek. As they did nearly 500,000 times last year.


        2013/06/14 at 13:46

  8. […] BT is determined not to allow competition in rural areas. That's why the speed and coverage details of their NGA contracts are kept under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and why would-be RCBF-fun…  […]

  9. […] the BDUK framework, particularly now that there is only one supplier. What Ian Grant describes as BT's attention to detail, even with regard to the small sums on offer from DEFRA, raises serious questions as to the reasons […]

  10. […] Broadband Fund to go forward.  Applicants must fit in with the local council/BT roll-out, and BT has an effective veto on council approval of such […]

  11. […] May BDUK, which is overseeing the broadband delivery programme, issued guidance to local authorities who are considering applications from community network operators or altnets for funding to cover […]

  12. […] effectively has a veto on such deals. BDUK guidance says it may choose to assess the impact of removals on its existing […]

  13. […] reported here earlier, BT has an effective veto over such […]

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