Following the broadband money

Broadband maps are just eye candy

with 25 comments

It is good that more counties are following Northamptonshire’s example and publishing the maps of the areas they expect to cover using taxpayers’ money from the £1.2bn NGA fund.

However, there is growing doubt over whether they are more than just coloured eye candy.

Take these caveats from the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Connected Counties web site:

The maps are indicative and should not be relied on or otherwise treated as a guarantee of current or future provision.

There are a number of things to be aware of when interpreting the maps:

  • It is not necessarily the case that all premises within an upgraded area will receive an increased speed – different premises within that area may be served by different infrastructure

  • Although an area may be served by upgraded infrastructure, the distance to this infrastructure from any particular premises in that area may mean that speeds for those premises are below ‘superfast’ levels of 24Mbps (download).

  • The modelling which informed the maps is based on a number of assumptions which may change following a detailed, on the ground assessment of local conditions. Throughout the phased rollout programme, Openreach engineers will be deployed to undertake local surveys. This may result in changes to the programme rollout plan dependent on the findings.

The BT press release that announced its contract said Bucks and Herts “will see fibre broadband becoming available to more than 90 per cent of premises … by the end of March 2016.” The caveats mean that the councils will hand BT £18m for some faster broadband somewhere some time.

BT knows exactly how much the counties have to spend, so it can work exactly what it can afford to put into the ground for a given profit that is known only to it.

These caveats exempt BT from doing more for less, as the rest of the country is being asked to do.

Further, the councils can’t ask other suppliers to make good what BT leaves undone, unless they give BT first refusal.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/09/17 at 18:27

25 Responses

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  1. Those that have not already done so should watch the BBC Newsnight article where it is clearly demonstrated that the wrong technology is being deployed. This is countered by a less than confident assurance that the BT deployment will be adequate when it is already quite clear this is not the case everywhere. This approach leaves a horrible mess and no realistic remedial mechanism for the “Up to 80 Mbps” unfortunates more than say 700 m line length from their FTTC, always assuming a FTTC has been or is about to be installed.

    There may be some “jam tomorrow” statements made but these seem very hollow when you realise that virtually all the deployed equipment is incompatible with vectoring technology and requires all the ECI electronics to be swapped out and the Huawei ones also require a new module. There are other suggestions made which are quite obviously not fit for medium term purpose. See:-

    and particularly the comment from the former BT CTO Dr Peter Cochrane below the article.

    Who remembers those warm words about the best broadband in Europe by … when did they say ?

    Merrow Drover

    2013/09/17 at 18:47

  2. Correct me if I’m missing something, but if the detailed surveying work hasn’t been done, how can the maps be any more detailed at this stage?


    2013/09/18 at 09:15

    • A competently run company knows what assets it has and the condition they are in. If BT was planning a greenfield rebuild of its network, your objection would be justified.


      2013/09/18 at 12:33

  3. BT have access to the performance data of every ADSL and VDSL service via the DSLAM / MSAN equipment in the exchanges and FTTCabinets. Given that there is No Universal Service Obligation for any broadband service, perhaps BT don’t wish to highlight where known cable faults / anomalies exist, even though local field staff and users are all too painfully aware.

    Many have evidence of PCP Green cabinet records after BT’s PCP to Postcode data for every line was released into the public domain in 2011.

    Merrow Drover

    2013/09/18 at 13:02

  4. We have seen two providers one of whom may supply on a commercial basis, the other part commercial part contribution. However they would both require a larger area to service than just ours.

    No problem – there’s no fibre, no cable, and not even VDSL in any of the neighbouring villages.

    So a chance to marry supply and demand to get maximum choice at the best value for taxpayer’s money based on a next-gen infrastructure.

    Now that Maria Miller has “clarified” that local authorities may and indeed must release data about their rollout plans I emailed Hampshire Council on 19 July asking for the details of what is being provided in our area.

    No reply. In the meantime the Hants website says that new information will be provided in the next 6 weeks. But that was on 9 July. There is still nothing.

    I forward the same email back agaiin on 13 September.

    A reply arrives quickly, which says that they had hoped to publish a map at the end of August but are being held up by a few last minute changes. Expecting to publish “information” mid October. “However, none of these changes are delaying the rollout or timescales.”. I paraphrase slightly since I did not ask permission to reproduce the reply.

    I reply, clarifying the requirement – in order to move ahead, we need, at cabinet level (accepting all solutions will be VDSL) all the cabinet locations and which ones are being upgraded so that partners could plan with some confidence. This is what I believed Miller had not only sanctioned, but stipulated. I also asked for clarification on the 2Meg target for all:

    “[the most useful data would be…] The assurance that absolutely every single resident will be receiving 2Mbps+ speeds and that the length and/or quality of phone lines is not going to be any kind of stumbling block causing this to be modified to “almost everyone” or “most people”, the necessary remedial action (sections of aluminium and poor copper being replaced, line bonding) will be taken unprompted and at no cost to the resident as part of the engineering work.”

    The reply to the request for neighbouring and local rollout plans and confirmation on the 2Meg target is that none of this information can be supplied “until we have finalised the rollout area” , and even then they shall not be able to provide cabinet by cabinet level information as this is “considered commercially confidential”

    The location of the cabs cannot be commercially confidential. Within an hour I could have the location of all the phone cabs round here in the adjacent villages.

    The bulk of the spend is coming from BDUK and Hampshire itself, not BT. This is taxpayer’s money.

    So as I see it, there are no plans to supply any detailed level of information. There is no desire to minimise taxpayer’s spend or spend on NGA networks instead of VDSL or to capitalise on commercial investment from other sources. This, to be fair, is the position in which local bodies have been placed who now seem obliged to draw up maps with scant details to appease those whose money is being spent, without revealing very much at all judging by what has been published by other areas.

    The village may either wait indefinitely to “see if something is deployed” at some date at some time in the indeterminate future, supplying indeterminate speeds.

    Or, the village may work in isolation from BDUK and Hampshire and press on with the original plan to self build.

    This may result in us building a network with our own money which BT can then overbuild with our own money.

    I wonder how far along plans have to get for an alt net before the area is put into the BDUK rollout plans.

    Announcement of intention? Actual dig? Subscribed customers? What do you think?


    2013/09/19 at 11:43

    • Many thanks for that Mark. The Conservative Party conference is coming up soon. I’m sure Maria Miller and Ed Vaizey would like to take your question.


      2013/09/19 at 12:44

      • I seem to have allowed my membership of the Conservative party to lapse, perhaps around the time that it became evident that they were a bunch of raging socialists like the last lot.

        So Miller has “told” local authorities to release “the information” [so as to enable alt nets to plan] and the local authorities are ignoring her, at least, this one is.

        Is that because someone at said local authority stands to face prosecution for breach through disclosure while Miller remains untouched?


        2013/09/19 at 14:45

      • Sean Williams told Margaret Hodge at teh PAC meeting that he had no objection to local authorities releasing the information, so I don’t see how BT could sue if they did. I think it is more likely BT is not telling the councils what the altnets need to know, even while it scrutinises the altnets’ plans to see where the demand is and where it wold be profitable to go.


        2013/09/19 at 16:05

      • It’s odd, isn’t it, as rurals – in general – have always been told that they are not commercially viable. There just isn’t the poulation density to justify an investment.

        But that isn’t how it works, is it. Such areas with altnets do become commercially viable not because any of the costs decrease, not because the potential income increases, but because of the loss of market share. This dynamic seems to have been lost on those who formulated the scheme and drew up the contracts.

        So of course BT wants to crowd out competition and make sure the line rental keeps rolling in. I don’t see that as controversial. It’s the correct behaviour for a monopoly company whose duty is to shareholders.

        In the context of BDUK this means extracting the maximum amount of taxpayer’s money for those shareholders. This dynamic, again, seems to have been lost on those who created and oversaw these schemes.

        The absolute gift would be to have contracts which only specify deliverables, if there are any specific ones, at a very high level and give BT a period of years in which they know that they will not face competition or, if they may, are able to step in and deploy based on “insider information”. For those deliverables to be “modified” during the contract and deployed in a way that BT sees fit.

        For the customer – that being the local authority – to more or less “get what they are given” as BT determines.

        Odd really, as the customer is normally the one in charge, especially important when spending Other People’s Money.

        Even better if the details of the contracts to spend Other People’s Money are then hidden from those who are funding it, or there might be some semblance of accountability. If those contracts then have to be signed off by BDUK then it would be lovely if they were benevolently waved through without much thought.

        What puzzles me the most is that if high level deliverables have been agreed at a price, and the pot is only so large, then a significant amount of detailed surveying would have to have taken place before the contracts were even drawn up so as to determine whether those deliverables are realistic for the spend in order for BT to determine whether or not they can or want to supply the requested deliverables at that price.

        So all or most of the deployment information would have to be known already. Doesn’t mean it can’t flex in extreme examples (like impossible wayleaves, permissions etc) but BT and Hampshire *must* already know who is to get what or the contract could never have been awarded. They must already have carefully thought out how to get 2Meg to everyone, where the cabs are, what the line lengths and qualities are, and so on.

        You don’t take a contract and only afterwards determine what you’re going to deliver. Unless the contracts are so vague that no actual deliverables have been agreed, rather, there are just “aims” or “goals”.

        And given that the contracts are “confidential” it makes me wonder if this is the gift that has been presented.


        2013/09/23 at 13:34

      • Did anyone catch our dear Mr. Vaizey on R4 just now, being quizzed about the costs of cabinets?

        Repeat after me: “BT can only get paid if they produce invoices. BT can only get paid if they produce invoices. BT can only get paid if they produce invoices.”


        2013/09/25 at 21:28

  5. @ Mark,

    It is already quite clear that BT’s “Wrong Technology” is not fit for purpose throughout a Rural Area and this is exacerbated as BT have No Universal Service Obligation for any broadband service over the PSTN.

    As a solution provides a 1 Gbps Symmetric solution unlimited by distance or electrical noise, there can be no competition from BT’s future inadequate partial offerings; so the way is clear for you to DIY with minimal risk, provided you select a dark fibre supplier other than BT.

    Merrow Drover

    2013/09/19 at 13:02

    • However since BT can’t even get there urban data correct then I have no faith in such projection maps. According to BT I should be able to get 14mbit on my line, yet I just about manage 8 and in within the travel card zones of London…

      The FTTC to my cab has been pulled with no say as to why or if its every going to be thought of again, ni change of a PCP move, and no chance of any other provider but Virgin.

      The problem with coverage maps is they are based on such a small dataset using ideal conditions (hence my line *should* support 14mbit for example based on distance to the exchange etc.) PCP to postcode mappings are nice, but show nothing in some respects.

      Unless the know the pair quality of the D side, let alone the E side its anyones guess at to what you might get on any given line. Granted most of this is due to poor upkeep of line plant, and old cables – but ahh well such is life.

      I have lines on the same D & E side bundles running to the same exchange over the same path – 1 holds almost 20mbit, the other struggles to hold 14…

      Lucky B4RN people getting gige in the dales & there own DWDM network when we have as many not spots in cities & towns with people on 1mbit and there neighbors on 70mbit FTTC no one will fund those, and there not covered by any of these ‘projects’ or gov incentives…


      2013/09/19 at 18:29

  6. And as for the kit – its fine. DLM causes some issues but at the end of the day you go out buy an MSAN and hang it off a 50yr old copper pair running 5km and see what results you get.

    The DOCSIS netwiork is a better way to go, but that requires coax everywhere


    2013/09/19 at 18:31

  7. @ Q,

    Whilst I appreciate that some telephone users won’t require ADSL or VDSL at all on every phone line, none of the PCPs being installed can approach the numbers within a typical PCP which are definitely required in some areas. E.g. both PCPs in Chilworth off the Guildford exchange now are resplendently cluttered with TWO Huawei 192s. To some extent this is due to BT’s monopolistic insistence on every VDSL service being supplied with a line which becomes a “mandatory option” to be paid extra for. If isolated D side lines were allowed, even at a higher rental – as permitted by Ofcom’s insistence, FTTCs could easily accommodate 500 services; as was installed (but not populated) by Rutland Telecom for Lyddington. As it is the UK is lumbered with Huawei 96, ECI 128, Huawei 192, ECI 256 and Huawei 288 capacities.

    If ever we can get the politicians and public servants to sort out the horrible commercial mess, much of the (partial) Virgin Media network, unlike BT’s 1950s network, could so easily accommodate 7 mm fibre ducts direct to the doorstep of most urban houses.

    Merrow Drover

    2013/09/19 at 18:57

    • Why would VM want to install fibre ducts, or would this be part of a government funded FTTP scheme? The new owner is reducing staff by 4%. VM speeds are higher than needed by many now.


      2013/09/20 at 08:07

      • @ FUDder-Dudder,

        As you are so obviously a BT agent, why not sort your own mess out first ?

        How about following the advice of your former CTO described here:-

        Then carefully consider this paper as well as the comment from Dr Peter Cochrane below it.

        Merrow Drover

        2013/09/20 at 08:27

      • Not at all. Why can’t we have a sensible discussion? We need realistic proposals, both financially and technically.

        If 100% FTTP is the objective that how do we achieve it? Simple question.


        2013/09/20 at 08:33

      • Start digging.


        2013/09/20 at 13:51

    • So far as I know, the design of the cable network requires that the street cabinets cannot be more than a certain distance from the properties because the link between them and the properties is copper. This is why there are so many cable cabinets even though the coax is more performant than BT’s phone lines. Otherwise you’d get housing estates where some people can get phone only, and some can get broadband and TV. A bit like VDSL in fact.

      Again and this is AFAIK – those coax cables are capable of gigabit speeds anyway. The work required would be from head end to street cab (fibre link) and at the street cab, but no need to dig to premises to deliver very fast speeds (unlike BT’s network).

      While they’re about it however they could certainly offer FTTP down those ducts as you say for people who want say over 2Gbps or whatever the limit is for coax. Virgin Media aren’t really being given any incentive to push towards this when VDSL peak speeds are lacklustre by comparison to what they have now anyway, but may be forced down the “upgrade the interlinks” path as concurrent bandwidth requirements increase sharply in the coming years and the focus eventually and necessarily changes from “up to” or burst speeds, to actual delivered speeds.


      2013/09/23 at 14:29

  8. @Merrow Drover – Easynet can provide a service as a FMP with no dial tone though we have only ever had this at a couple of specific sites on special projects.

    I Agree whilst there is *NO* requirement for a dial tone on an xDSL line I don’t see that changing anytime soon if ever. How would BT (For example) justify what was line rental for a phone service on a dry copper pair and still offer no ‘supported service’ above 28.8k or 160kbit…

    There is another way as several people I know have done – hijack some Virgin media ducts and run your own cables!!!

    FTTP is too costly, long to role out & no one will pay for it unless it involves a bundled service (TV, Phone, Internet) all over an *optical* path. Are you referring to 7mm blown fiber tubing by chance? its do-able but its fiddly. You need nodes, splice points and joints everywhere – I suspect in may urban areas BT don’t have the space in the ground to accommodate it. This in part is due to BT (and other providers) never recovering any dead or decommissioned line plant and assets.


    2013/09/20 at 17:08

    • We know the limitations of DSL and the cost of FTTP but no proposals from anyone yet…


      2013/09/23 at 12:48

      • That’s not quite true, though, is it. I’ve posted one or two potential solutions on more than one occasion in reply to you on the ISPReview website in the past.

        I thought you might ask again, so I bookmarked the last such reply (user “DTMark”).


        2013/09/23 at 23:02

      • But would VM be interested in others using its ducts? It has a TV/phone/broadband set of products and is there any indication that there is a significant market for speeds beyond what’s available now from VM?

        Is the state today one that would even consider laying fibre (plus all the associated kit and management plus where does the link from each property actually route to) into properties. Or should it just fund FoD for all with a large choice of ISPs?


        2013/09/25 at 20:38

      • “is there any indication that there is a significant market for speeds beyond what’s available now from VM?”

        Yes, in areas which don’t have VM. Hence, BDUK. However that results in areas which don’t have VM gaining a choice of only one infra supplier. It also leaves areas with VM, where BDUK does not go, with a choice of only one infra supplier.

        There are benefits for all in this, including all the players, but the commercial advantage would not have been BT’s in quite the same way.

        “should it just fund FoD for all with a large choice of ISPs?”

        Dong the maths, the oft-quoted figure to provide FTTP to all is about 1k per premise, so just shy of 30bn.

        That’s for a network rollout. I don’t suggest that the State rolls out the network, only that it acts as facilitator to remove the biggest block – the “dig cost”.

        I also suggest that the State attracts significant private investment, so the cost to the taxpayer is not c. 30bn, rather, significantly less. This means tendering to create, in the end, a competitive market with the end result being – potentially – multiple infra suppliers in densely populated areas, so actual choice for the customer.

        Fibre to all premises “FoD” came out at over 46bn when I ran the maths on that based on certain assumptions – necessarily, since “FoD” is a bespoke scheme which takes no advantage at all of the economies of scale. It’s an incredibly expensive way of not rolling out a network but propping up an old phone company – and still results in only one infra supplier.

        Logically, BT should be in a position to roll out nationwide FTTP cheaper than anyone else given the assets it has.

        Had BDUK constructed the scheme differently and implemented it with any kind of commercial vision, BT would not have been able to hold them over the proverbial barrel and the taxpayer might have got real value for money, an NGA network – indeed, more than one – and competition so there would be no need for BDUK2 and BDUK3 and so on.

        This would have been a one-off exercise for the future to roll out “the best superfast broadband network in Europe” instead of a State rollout of merely current-gen VDSL tech which will date very rapidly and a path which may well cost more than any of the other options.


        2013/09/26 at 01:31

  9. […] Broken Telephone website has a couple of good articles here and here. […]

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