BDUK uses Catch-22 to sideline altnets despite OK to 15Mbps
A next generation broadband service will be acceptable as long as it “feels” like 15Mbps, according to BDUK, the government agency responsible for spending £1.2bn with BT to procure NGA.
This emerged from correspondence following the BDUK industry day meeting last Monday to gather ideas on how to get high speed broadband into the Final 10% of the country. It is confirmed by presentations at the meeting.
The EU target for next generation broadband is a 30Mbps universal service. BDUK has watered this down to 24Mbps and not universal. However, BDUK now says the service need deliver only 15Mbps “90% of the time”.
A delegate writes, “I specifically questioned the panel about the detail of this as did another audience member. We asked what the exact criteria were and how BDUK would actually assess and measure/calibrate this – what does it actually mean?
“I pointed out that for example BT allocates a maximum of 1Gbps supply to a 150 line Infinity module. Therefore if all 150 users were online simultaneously they could not get more than 7Mbps each – so how does this relate to users getting 15 Mbps for 90% of the time?
“The panel could not answer, which was surprising and disappointing. The chairman of the day actually stated to the room, ‘Well, as long as it FEELS LIKE a 15Mbps connection it would be fine’.
“After the room stopped sniggering he was asked to clarify what ‘feels like 15Mbps’ actually means – what are the criteria? He literally shrugged his shoulders, pursed his lips and could not answer.”
The meeting learned that any applicable technology would have to demonstrate a theoretical capability to deliver 30Mbps but that there was only a requirement for customers to get 24Mbps to qualify as the service being NGA/Superfast.
“In other words, if you had a technology that could deliver (a maximum of) 25Mbps and not a bit more, then even if it could deliver 24Mbps 100% of the time to 100% of users on a ‘pure’ and uncontended basis, it would not comply technically with BDUK as it had no potential to offer 30Mbps.
“This is more than a little confusing but I think I get what they are trying to say,” says the delegate.
According to him, delegates wanted a new open market review (OMR) for the Final 10%. He notes note no agreements where made, no suggestions adopted and no policies changed at this meeting.
“There was no suggestion or commitment from BDUK that they would make any policy changes in light of Monday’s meeting. We naturally would all hope that they were genuine in their reasons for calling the meeting rather than it simply being a ‘box ticking exercise’ so they can say they ‘consulted’ us. There is no guarantee of anything and nothing to stop them from saying they listened to what we had to say and are going to do their own thing, or simply leave things as they are with no changes.”
The reader went on, “The exact speed and coverage predictions and templates are not being disclosed to the public due to NDA agreements put in place by BT with local authorities.
“The panel was asked how it can be appropriate/allowed for any company participating in a publicly funded project to hide behind NDAs regarding the scope of the project? (BDUK) accepted that, in future, they would have to look at ways of preventing this happening again for future contracts so that companies (ironically all the regional/local providers who hope to get involved from this point forward) would not be able to hide behind NDAs. This issue was in no way resolved – it was simply debated – nothing more.”
Our reader says he and several other delegates believe BDUK may use this to give everything to BT again. “After all, if BT are the only ones that know the scope and speed and coverage for the existing projects, then only BT will be in a position to be able to scope out, identify and present a project for the Final 10%.
“Let’s say the ‘rest of us’ have to wait for the current projects to finish before we can identify what’s left – then we could not even begin planning for the Final 10% until 2017 – post the current roll out. This would leave BT in a preferential position as they, armed with all the info, already know where they intend not to reach and so would be able to plan the Final 10% projects around that NOW so that they could begin and be well under way, if not completed, by 2017 – potentially before the information is even disclosed to the rest of us.”
He described the situation as “atrocious”. He said, “One could see how BDUK may use this ‘Catch-22’ to declare that they have to give it all to BT as, due to the failure to prohibit NDAs from the existing projects, they have no option now but to leave it all to BT as BT are the only ones able to access info to make plans.”