Following the broadband money

Broadband talk sparks questions over BSG lobby role

with 12 comments

Richard Brown, who last week gave a presentation on “superfast broadband in Wales” to the Mid-Wales branch of the British Computer Society, was invited to provide a report-back on the meeting. He writes:

A little while ago, one of the Chartered Institute of IT (BCS) members got in touch, after he had spotted some of my comments in your blog. He got in touch to ask whether I would consider doing a presentation to members, about broadband in the UK and more particularly expand on the area of superfast broadband and public funding to deliver it.

Obviously I was pleased to be invited, but talking for around an hour about any subject is rarely easy – particularly when the audience is likely to be far more knowledgeable about how the tech works than I could hope to be. The thing is – they (the institute) didn’t want to increase their knowledge about the tech – they wanted to understand why the relatively large sums of money didn’t seem to be making any difference to the outcome.Wales is still wholly underserved for broadband, and mobile communications.

I took the BSG report as my inspiration for two reasons:

  1. I think that the assertion that the median requirement for broadband in 2023 at 19Mbps is more a self serving announcement for the members of Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) than a true reflection of the likely growth and potential for fast communications
  2. 19Mbps as a median suggest many need much less, but the report clearly states that only 1% would require 35Mbps-49Mbps in the same year

BDUK was originally set up to fund the ‘gap’ between the commercial rollout of the major ISPs (primarily BT) and those that would appear to never be able to receive superfast (24Mbps+) broadband.

I think that BDUK is failing, and BSG being a primary lobbyist to Westminster is part of the problem.

At the point that it became clear that my presentation had attracted the attention of (Public Accounts Committee chairman) Margaret Hodges’ office, (BT’s NGA MD) Bill Murphy’s interest was predictably high.  He seemed overly desperate to make sure that I ‘told’ Margaret Hodges that 100k premises in Wales could now benefit from superfast broadband because of the BT/Welsh ministers’ contract.

I’ve made my opinion of that quite clear in the presentation – and trust that both Bill and Margaret have been able to hear me clearly state the same.

1250 views of the presentation have accumulated since I added audio (BCS tech failed to record the presentation on the night), which is around the same number of views that the 25 most recent presentation BCS have on their YouTube feed have accumulated in total.  I think this demonstrates how important this issue is, and just how serious a sage institution such as the Chartered Institute of IT take this issue.

There were live examples of properties that had been passed by and are included in the premises passed figures (probably as bad a measure as Up To for broadband download speeds), and utter confusion (and a little irritation) that the Welsh ministers refused to be open about what the contract they have signed is likely to deliver.

The focus on the Welsh government failing to deliver on public promises was to be expected, as most of the attendees are Welsh residents – but, I did make an effort to point out that Wales is not unique in it’s failings.

I have been asked outright if I would consider setting up a public broadband interest group, along similar a vein to the NRA for gun users in the US.  I am not sure that the two are necessarily analogous in anything other than the potential threat to a group of the public who have no collective voice.

I am not even sure how I would go about funding something like that. I am seriously considering it though – we desperately need a counter lobby to BSG, which is  not serving the public well.

Do I think the future of broadband communications in the UK is bright? Not particularly – that is why I think that it might be time to bring the public together with a single voice.



Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/03 at 10:04

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Top Gear on Sunday made the social comment that as they were in Wales it was impossible to send a text message and would have to revert to the ‘dark ages’ for comms.

    I actually felt a bit embarrassed.


    2014/02/03 at 10:07

  2. BSG is not a primary lobbyist to Westminster. It is a “stakeholder group”, created by DTI/BIS to obtain a consensus view from a “sponsored industry” that they could use to tell ministers that their chosen policy was working. Then communications passed to DCMS and BSG became dependent on its sponsors:

    Those sponsors can now agree on little more than that UK has become unattractive to long term investors and, until it does so, they would do better putting their funds elsewhere.

    That leaves those running BSG in a hole.

    Philip Virgo

    2014/02/03 at 10:48

    • If it is true that the UK now offers unattractive returns to investors, one should ask why. After all, hundreds of millions have been spent on data centres; presumably they need to be connected. There seems to be no decline in the appetite for digital content, as evidenced by the mobile operators spending hundreds of millions a year to put in 4G technologies and coverage. Even tiny fibre to the home network operators like B4RN and Gigaclear appear to be able to scrabble a living from communities deemed uneconomic by BT. So, what’s the problem?


      2014/02/03 at 11:04

  3. It may be a slightly different matter in a leisure-only context – perhaps,waiting for an HD video to buffer for ten minutes.

    However when it comes to “what speed do you need” although it is possible to try to provide some sort of answer to that, if you were to instead look at physical not virtual roads and ask the London businessman going to Nottingham tomorrow for a sales trip: “How quickly do you *need* to get there?” I think the answer would be “as quickly as possible”.


    2014/02/03 at 11:10

  4. From the BSG website:

    “The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) is the UK government’s leading advisory group on broadband.”

    So, in their own words they are clearly there to advise.

    “Lobbying (also lobby) is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies.”

    “Advice (opinion), an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, conduct ”

    I see no functionary difference between the two definitions in this context.


    2014/02/03 at 11:31

  5. My daughter and her husband have been partners in a business in Wales for many years. I remember encouraging them to get Broadband years ago. Their office is right next door to the exchange. They went ‘digital, as other companies like theirs did at the time. They are landscape architects and are the biggest employer in the area.
    They soon found they couldn’t compete with other firms, as they couldn’t upload the large files, and had to remain with couriers. Then they bit the bullet and bonded three or four copper pairs to get a faster connection. That didn’t work either. Satellites wouldn’t work due to expense and poor upload.

    So they have relocated.
    All the employees now have an hour’s driving added to their day and the respective costs.
    The local pub doesn’t get the benefit of visiting clients.
    The village is emptier in the day time.

    This is what is happening everywhere. Not just Wales.


    2014/02/03 at 12:01

  6. @Arbie

    Richard – an excellent presentation especially in bringing out the “premises passed” fraud.

    BT’s Sean Williams used the “premises passed” measure at the latest PAC meeting with BT and BDUK on the 27 January 2014 (see 17.40.10 in the Parliamentary TV video) where he said, “Since we met you last time we have deployed the network passed 320,000 premises and recruited 19,000 customers”
    In this context there are two aspects that should be examining at the next PAC meeting with BT and BDUK:

    1. It is apparent from private survey work in Surrey that the installed ducting, cables and cabinets will not be enough to cover all premises, each upgraded cabinet being initially equipped with ducting and cables for approximately one third of the premises. We have yet to discover any Surrey County Council sponsored cabinet with infrastructure to cover more than 100 premises, often with more than 300 potential premises to be covered. In some locations, the new cabinet will never cover the existing number of premises.

    2. Many homes and businesses will not be able to obtain a “high speed” connection, as their cabinet connection will be by long poor quality metallic telephone lines. A few postcodes are unable to achieve any connection at all but they are still included as premises passed.

    Currently it seems all local bodies do as Surrey County Council and include in their “premises passed” statistics, all premises connected to partially enabled fibre cabinets. This disregards those that cannot get greater than 24Mbps and those that will have to wait for further installation of ducts, tie lines and even additional cabinets once the initial installed capacity fills up.

    This is significant to taxpayers, as we do not know who will pay for this extra infrastructure. It is possible that the demand that exceeds the initial capacity will not happen until after the local authority contracts complete; when no doubt in Surrey there will be much publicity on how they have provided superfast broadband to more than 99% of premises.

    A further concern is that BT could deem further upgrade work as not commercially viable, in which case it may never be done. In one location in Surrey, this appears to have already happened.

    David Cooper

    2014/02/03 at 20:58

    • I think BT, by changing its Fibre on Demand pricing from £38pm to £99pm + increased connection and installation charges has already decided it is not doing so.

      Can you check if Surrey have done as NAO have identified and paid an average of £16k extra to have their cabinets Fibre on demand readied?

      NGA for all

      2014/02/04 at 11:29

      • Thanks – I hadn’t considered Fibre on Demand.

        I think the point is that in Surrey and probably everywhere else the local bodies appear to have been duped into paying out taxpayers’ money for fully equipped cabinets, but BT have skimped and “saved” money as they apparently can’t afford to install the full capacity in one go. For an oversubscribed cabinet, there will be a significant delay to install further tie lines and possibly ducting, followed by yet more delay to install a second cabinet because the FTTCs are the wrong size to match the PCP green cabinet capacities. This is already happening in and it is likely that BT could refuse to refuse to upgrade ducts, tie lines for commercial reasons once the local authority contracts end. Also, just to add more to the plot, it is not in BT’s interest to attract clawback by encouraging high demand from day one.

        As far as Fibre on Demand is concerned, I always saw it as a political expediency to sell sustainability of FTTC to local authorities. With the price increase it already seems to be doomed to fail as a realistic product. It is certainly not realistic in some locations in Surrey given the distances involved. I could enquire if extra money will be paid, but doubt we will be told. In any case, as I understand it, for fibre on demand it is the aggregation point that would have to support any demands for a FTTP service and is independent of the FTTC, so is the average £16k to reinforce the aggregation point?

        David Cooper

        2014/02/04 at 23:53

      • From the little information available that is we are led to believe, a pit, and a splitter. Unsure as to the fibre run as the cables I have seen have 24 fibres, with the cabinet using 1 and 1 spare which ought to leave 22 spare for FOD. If so you can only account for at most £2k of the £16k.

        The Surrey budget was ceratinly generous enough for this work, but there is point if the option has been removed.

        NGA for all

        2014/02/05 at 16:48

  7. I note that BT has used BSG finding to justify to change in FODs prices and general justification for upping prices and creating and treating FTTP as a premium. This is peculiar given it is just a medium to transfer bits.

    NGA for all

    2014/02/08 at 11:19

    • BT’s pricing has nothing to do with cost but with what it can get away with. Being a monopoly supplier for an area or service gives it certain advantages in this respect. It’s the argument it uses against independent community networks, funnily enough.


      2014/02/08 at 11:45

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: