Following the broadband money

Government delays Final 10% details; why?

with 14 comments

Questions have been raised over the government’s delay in publishing the speed and coverage details of BT’s roll-outs under the £1.8bn BDUK framework procurement of next generation broadband for the country.

Responding a Freedom of Information request, the department of culture, media & sport, the BDUK’s political parent, admitted taking legal advice on the publication of the so-called SCT figures. It refused to disclose the advice, saying it is legally privileged.

BT is the only supplier pitching for state funds under the BDUK framework. Sources close to the department say they believe the legal advice was that a case could be made that the public interest in offering contracts to provide broadband access in areas where BT will not build outweighs BT’s commercial interests.

DCMS confirmed that the details were kept secret under confidentiality clauses in the contract between the local authority and BT. The contract partners each kept the details, and DCMS did not keep ‘the maintained details”, it said.

“As the supplier progresses its roll-out we would expect the deployment data in the SCT to become less commercially sensitive and local bodies will publish details of the roll out,” it said. In other words, once it’s too late to do anything about it.

Publication of these details is crucial for more than 50 applications for funds from the £20m Rural Community 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 applications.

Sources with knowledge of the situation say that delays in publishing the SCT details allow BT to  adjust its roll-out plan. It can ensure that no competitor will be able to service a contiguous area large enough to be economically viable. This leaves BT free to back-fill its coverage at leisure, or not.

DCMS said “The populated SCT is effectively an initial planning document, which is subject to alteration. Sometimes significant changes are made to it during delivery and its use by another commercial organisation or the general public could carry significant risk.”

It is unclear  who carries the risk. Indeed it is hard to see that the contracting council takes any risk; whether BT or a competitor provides the network is irrelevant as long at the specified service is delivered. DCMS surely has no business protecting the shareholders of private companies that wish to compete to supply councils.

If alt-nets (competitors) wish to build in places where BT has not indicated a desire to build, then the council,  voters and  taxpayers win. If BT wishes to close out competition by building everywhere, the same applies. If BT decides to build where a competitor has already built, the council and voters win because he or she then has a choice of broadband suppliers, and the same is true if a competitor chooses to build where BT has built.

The state aid money is a distraction. The local authority can spend it only once. It should make no difference whether it spends it with BT or with an alt-net, as long as the specified service is delivered. But it is illegal to give the aid to one supplier who can then use it to compete against a privately funded company, particularly one with an existing network. (This is the objection raised by BT and Virgin Media to block the government’s original £150m Superconnected Cities project.)

That is why it is important to clarify early what BT is contracted to deliver and where so that others can take their chance. Or perhaps no-one is looking after the subscribers’ needs in this matter

It is not clear why BT is being allowed so long to plan its roll-out after signing the contract. Does it not know what assets it has in these locations, and whether they are fit for purpose? Was there not an inventory taken before it was privatised? Were these assets not maintained in the following years? Are there no records of what was done, when, and by whom? And if the work was outsourced, can BT not reconcile the suppliers’ invoices against internal audit reports to establish what it should have?

Cynics will say that’s hard work; it’s much easier to keep going back to the taxpayers for hand-outs, and managing the brand and perceptions. But it’s not a viable long term strategy in a competitive market.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/28 at 22:51

14 Responses

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  1. I think the government should have listened a bit sooner? We told them from the very first tenders appearing what was going to happen, and now it has. Its never too late though, and its a good lesson learnt. Let us hope they can sort it out and move on, and support altnets and competition, and hold the incumbent to account, and not believe the hype about ‘homes passed’ and actually measure the service of homes connected. Unlike in 2003, when every home was connected to a ‘broadband enabled’ exchange and BT claimed they all had broadband. That farce still continues. This time we should demand proof the funding has actually delivered what they say it will, and no cover ups. If it hasn’t they should pay it back and let an altnet do the job properly.


    2013/06/29 at 13:11

  2. What’s the exact problem with ‘home passed’? Given that distances to cabinets are not always lots of km. Why don’t you ask the ISPs what they think as it’s their business this is all for.

    What would an ‘altnet’ provide for the same funding? Can’t see them digging up pavements in towns and villages.


    2013/06/29 at 13:36

  3. Who takes the risk? Me and you.


    2013/06/29 at 17:43

  4. “Lots of grass verges which makes it cheaper and easier.”
    So why didn’t BT do it in the first place if its cheaper and easier?


    2013/06/29 at 22:12

    • Andy – its because its cheaper and even easier for BT just to patch up the copper in urban areas and stop any competition so they can continue to milk their obsolete assets and call it ‘fibre broadband’ when it isn’t. It isn’t fibre broadband unless its fibre to the home, and running the fibre to a new cabinet to join onto the old copper cabinet is a quick fix to get a few going faster. The fact the take up rate is so poor explains a lot, its because those customers are already close enough to get a working connection. The ones who can’t get a connection are not going to be helped. That is why its vital to help the altnets. They will be far superior and cheaper to run both in cost and global footprint. They will soon start to harvest urban customers. Competition will drive the telcos into modernising their network… now we just have to convince the politicians who have been brainwashed by the telco lobby.


      2013/07/03 at 17:04

      • So a ‘few’ is 15 million… We need to see the costs for FTTP in rural areas to show how it can be achieved, they seem to be lacking.

        So where are the altnets digging up the pavements in rural villages, and not just grass verges.


        2013/07/03 at 18:15

      • You could look at B4RN’s business plan for costings. It’s been on their web site for ages.


        2013/07/05 at 06:35

      • Yes, but what about where commercial labour costs and estates with pavements are involved. Is the cost of FTTP v. FTTC then significant? As an example a village with a single cabinet and 300 properties.


        2013/07/05 at 09:32

  5. […] government has said the speed and coverage template details (SCT) in BT’s NGA contracts are commercially confidential, but it expects local councils to publish them once the BT roll-out is under […]

  6. […] Having sought and received legal opinion on publishing the SCT details, it is inconceivable that BDUK is not aware of these issues. Moreover, in response to a Freedom of Information request, it has indicated that it expects the SCT details to come out in due course. […]

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