Following the broadband money

Miller meeting fails on key rural broadband issues

with 20 comments

Monday’s meeting between culture secretary Maria Miller and representatives from BT, BDUK and would-be network operators in the Final 10% (altnets) failed to produce concrete evidence of the government’s willingness to engage with the issues that bedevil the roll-out of a true value for money next generation broadband network in the UK.

The official statement reads:

This was a constructive meeting between the Secretary of State, BT and the most advanced community-led rural broadband schemes. It was agreed that all parties would work together, along with local authorities, to ensure that projects applying for the Rural Community Broadband Fund could co-exist happily alongside the wider rural broadband scheme, being led by BT.

The Government is clear that there is a range of options for the delivery of superfast broadband to the hardest parts to reach of the UK. The recently announced £250 million extra funding will ensure that superfast broadband can reach 95 per cent of premises by 2017.

BT declined to add anything from its side, while INCA (Independent Networks Co-operative Association) executive director Malcolm Corbett was emollient in his response. : “It’s clear that Maria Miller wants to see the RCBF projects go ahead,” he said.

In the meeting, Miller may have had BT’s Liv Garfield and Bill Murphy on the back foot, but their defence was worthy of Geoffrey Boycott because the meeting failed to agree:

  • whether the altnets have access to the £250m
  • when the RCBF money will be released to the six altnets
  • the speed, coverage and timing details of BT’s roll-out in the areas the altnets propose to cover
  • a guarantee that BT will not be allowed to overbuild the altnets
  • what BT will do to improve NGA access to business parks and other business clusters

In short, the meeting allowed those in the room to air their frustrations and Miller to save some face in the wake of the highly critical NAO, Pennell, and National Projects reports.  The Public Accounts Committee meets today to discuss the NAO report.

This is not to say that the above details won’t emerge in the fullness of time. However, the government has already granted itself a two year extension of delivering “the best broadband network in Europe by 2015”.

There is growing evidence that BT is using the same fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) tactics it employed in 2003 to disrupt the efforts of altnets to establish themselves: unfulfilled promises to deliver services, visits to local councillors, delays in releasing speed and coverage details, counter-proposals once demand has been established in an area, etc. This may be acceptable if the market is competitive; but Ofcom has found it is not, and the NAO has said the BDUK money will entrench BT’s monopoly.

Miller needs to ask whether the cost to the nation of BT’s behaviour is acceptable, and to act accordingly.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/07/17 at 13:20

20 Responses

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  1. If this was a David and Goliath scenario, David would have nothing better than a toilet roll to chuck at Goliath. Why am I not surprised at the outcome and the toothless way in which Maria Miller chaired the meeting? The altnets don’t stand a chance and should really accept defeat now because their shareholders’ stock will be worthless in five years’ time.

    Neil Bradley

    2013/07/17 at 13:31

    • A more optimistic endgame might be for shareholders to cash out in five years by selling a durable infrastructure asset (FTTH access network) to eg BT

      Guy Jarvis

      2013/07/17 at 15:05

  2. The Altnets should not be observed as competitors to BT to be hindered or totally destroyed, as was allowed to happen in the case of the Vtesse Networks SEEDA – RDPE approved grant for the Ewhurst project. Instead it must be recognised that they provide far superior solutions particularly where BT’s offerings are not fit for purpose. E.g in Ewhurst approximately 25% of premises cannot achieve the Government’s and SCC’s ambition of 24 Mbps.

    Surrey Hills

    2013/07/17 at 13:36

    • That is the position though ie that any altnet is seen as competition and it seems to be held at the highest levels in BT as an article of faith, or perhaps as an extreme expression of fiduciary responsibility towards BT shareholders.

      Guy Jarvis

      2013/07/17 at 15:03

  3. Quel dommage.

    mike phillips

    2013/07/17 at 13:40

  4. The altnets are definitely watched at the highest levels of BT Openreach. Amy Chalfen told me I was on her whiteboard and I looked up and behold I was!

    What is highly significant is the conflict of interest BT Openreach “leaders” have in their duty to BT PLC shareholders and to their obligations with respect to the Undertakings. Ofcom seems toothless in this respect. The events at Erbistock and elsewhere support this. One has to question why Ofcom cannot insist that BT Openreach declares areas they are not going to and/or insists they do not go there once declared for a fixed period. Since end users would benefit from this and fewer altnets would be destroyed (and a monopoly very very slightly eroded) – what is the problem? Smells fishy.

    How is it possible that BT Openreach “knows” to avoid business parks for FTTC/FTTP without data crossing the Chinese wall from BTW/BTR about lucrative fixed line BT customers – a cash cow that could be eroded by “competition”? Does Maria Miller (or Vaizey or whoever) actually understand the significance of this and the potential implications for Digital Britain that Ofcom has done nothing about it? Smells fishy.

    Broadband Consultancy Ltd 10 Bayley Close Uppingham Rutland LE15 9TG tel. 07833 680058 email: web:

    Registered in the UK no 7919444. Registered Office 10 Bayley Close, Uppingham, Rutland LE15 9TG. VAT Reg: 127470125

    David Lewis - Broadband Consultancy

    2013/07/17 at 17:54

  5. Word press is refusing to allow me to post a comment saying

    “Now the threat of a cabinet reshuffle has receded the balance of power between officials and ministers has changed. Watch the video of the PAC to see the consequent change in the positions of both BT and the Permanent Secretary.”


    2013/07/17 at 18:16

  6. Who were the 6 altnets ( I assume Gigaclear and B4RN were present but who were the other 4)

    Surely the allocation of the €250m could all go to the RCBF in the end and not BDUK at all seeing as the cost per premises for 1gbit fibre is much better value for money than ‘up to 15mbit’ VDSL which is what BDUK is delivering in many cases and with the odd lucky lad getting their full 40mbits but no more than 24% of households served by BDUK by my estimates. Basically not enough cabinets even though they cost less than £10k each. )

    On a per Mbit basis the gbit connections provided by the altnets only cost around 11-12% of what BT is charging the taxpayar as I understand it. 15mbits is frankly rubbish and the latency on long line VDSL is simply hideous. HD Video conferencing my eye. 🙂

    Fergus O'Dowd

    2013/07/17 at 20:07

    • I have asked who the RCBF Six are – no reply yet. Can anyone help? (Shall try Twitter now.)


      2013/07/17 at 20:20

  7. Hi, I must disagree with Iain’s interpretation of the meeting, I was there. The six projects represented were B4RN, Trailways in Dorset, Cotswolds Broadband, Northmoor and Noke, all in Oxfordshire. They have stuck the course in a rather long and tortuous process.

    The hold up has been over definition of the final 10%. In the meeting Maria Miller made it crystal clear that she wants the main rural programme to co-exist with the RCBF projects and tasked senior officials with fixing the problems. That work is underway.

    As I said at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday I am very impressed with the Secretary of State’s commitment to creating a more competitive environment and her willingness to get to grips with the issues she inherited.


    Malcolm Corbett

    2013/07/18 at 07:15

    • As with any black box process, one can only measure the inputs and the outputs. In fact, one doesn’t really need to know what happens inside the box, pruriently interesting though it may be. We all look forward to learning what the fixes are and when they’ll be implemented. And you played a blinder at the PAC meeting 😉


      2013/07/18 at 09:33

    • It’s interesting to read the prospectus for Cotswold. Much talk about tax efficient investment and little on expected customer numbers and revenue. However there will be a good return on your money!


      2013/07/18 at 10:48

  8. A better way was suggested (and sent to Ministry of Fun over a year ago)

    It even has costings, outcomes and an analysis of the (then) perceived and (now) realised failings in BDUK approach.

    Richard Brown

    2013/07/19 at 08:53

    • A short summary of funding, costings and solutions would help understand the 50 pages.


      2013/07/19 at 12:35

      • Well – laziness is your colour so it is inevitable you’d think that. Or maybe some of the words are too long?

        Richard Brown

        2013/07/19 at 12:37

      • Thank you for your professional reply. Is it that difficult to provide a summary of how you would achieve 100% 100M coverage?


        2013/07/19 at 16:13

      • Apologies if you consider that professional – I was shooting for condescension.

        The only difficulty I have is spending any time whatsoever in considering anything that you decide to write.

        Your perpetual editing and critique of others contributions is never matched by any contribution of your own and even in writing this I am feeling the will to….

        …ah nuts. bored now.

        Richard Brown

        2013/07/19 at 16:26

      • Your proposal would appear to be based on tax and VAT savings, a bit like the HS2 proposal using work time savings. It’s not a criticism, just asking for clarification.


        2013/07/19 at 16:41

  9. […] from the the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office, nor even culture secretary Maria Miller, lying down. On BT’s behalf, Yardley […]

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