Following the broadband money

Common sense challenge for Cotswold Broadband roll-out

with 20 comments

West Oxford mapNice to see that Broadway Partners’ affiliate company Cotswolds Broadband has received funding commitments for £1.6m from West Oxfordshire District Council to make superfast broadband available to every home and business in the hardest to reach areas of West Oxfordshire, some 4,000 premises.

BT’s £25m county-wide project with the Oxfordshire County Council would have left 2,000 premises without access to high speed services. The new deal will address that shortfall.

The district council will supply a loan, BDUK is expected to chip in a grant, and private investors will match the funds so raised. Broadway Partners’ Adrian Wooster, late of BDUK, says this is the first time a a public private partnership has been set up for a UK rural broadband project.

The network will be mainly fibre to the premises (FTTP). It will offer open access to attract multiple ISPs and a richer choice of service offerings, and could backhaul 4G mobile in the area.

It’s an interesting approach, and one contrary to BT’s. BT’s approach has been to optimise the delivery of next generation broadband to rural area for its shareholders. Cotswold Broadband (and B4RN and all the other FTTP projects) are about optimising for the users.

According to a TED talk that I can no longer find, the maths insists that the optimal solution to a problem like delivering superfast broadband to rural areas optimises for one or the many. You can’t do both

So, as BT is beholden to its shareholders, it’s rational for it to do the least it can for the money it is given.  In practical terms, that means making minimal investment in its network for as long as possible and persuading everyone that this is as good as it gets for the money, and besides they don’t need more.

In optimising for users Cotswold Broadband has to use a variety of technologies to connect the 4,000-odd premises to be cost-effective.

Assuming BDUK chips in £400k and the investors match the public sector money with their own £2m, what can Cotswold Broadband buy for £1000/premises? It’s already said most will get FTTP; if it can persuade a cellco or two, 4G mobile broadband is possibility. It could also consider microwave in E-band, Carrier Wi-Fi or and upcoming free to air WiGig wireless access, which is all becoming cheaper, and is more flexible to apply than fixed lines like copper and fibre. Over time it could use spare cash from wireless customers to extend the fibre where there is a demand.

Of course, these technology options are also available to BT, but the fact that Cotswold’s deal exists suggests BT has had no interest in supplying the area, presumably because of cost. Besides, using the new tech would involve it getting into new technologies. Going through the learning curve would sub-optimise its return on capital employed, so logically it won’t. The best it can do, logically, is to become an ISP on the Cotswold Broadband network.

Having behaved rationally so far, let’s see if BT’s common sense will prevail.





Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/05/14 at 06:58

20 Responses

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  1. This is David Cameron’s constituency. I hope he’ll endorse it and wish it every success.

    • Me too. Him opening the network would be a nice photo opportunity. I hope the operator invites him. And Ed Vaizey from down the road.


      2014/05/14 at 09:49

  2. The late Culture Secretary Ms Miller endorsed B4RN but that hasn’t made one iota of difference to the size of the currently non-existent Govt. subsidy.

    It might help to bring a little credibility to acknowledge that the Laws of Physics are a major obstacle to the UK having the best broadband in Europe using the creaking PSTN without any upgrades. Indeed in Ewhurst we now observe that the BT Wholesale availability checker has recently condemned some long lines by removing all FTTC availability. Unfortunately for the checker it can’t condemn those lines already with VDSL services so instead their maximum speed estimates have all been reduced to 1 Mbps despite the closet one to the DP (Distributuion Point) achieving over 19 Mbps download.


    2014/05/14 at 10:09

    • Ms Miller is still alive, even if her political career is dead. Can we say the ex-culture secretary?


      2014/05/14 at 10:32

      • Delighted to do so !

        Perhaps, as a free(er) agent she might be allowed to illustrate further disappointments with the use of our taxpayers’ precious cash.


        2014/05/14 at 10:39

  3. We’re watching this carefully. Around 18 months ago I sat with Adrian W discussing Kent broadband activity (BT still the only player), and explained that we intend to repeat B4RN here in Kent, with enough community support. I’m keen to see how the community interest is protected by his PPP, to stop BT or Virgin or ISP-X from buying the passive infrastructure after it’s in the ground. Is it over private or public land? What does the Special Purpose Vehicle look like, legally? Who pays Broadway Partners for their efforts, and how much? Probably still a far better deal than the lot that advised BDUK initially!

    Much to understand …

  4. As you say lots of questions…..
    Which ISP’s do we think are going to be interested in this?
    How is this fitting in (or not!) with the county council’s existing BDUK contract with BT in the area?
    Did not this group have a DEFRA bid turned down last year?
    Was there some competitive tender process by WODC to award this to CBB?
    What is likely to be the cost to the end user do we hazard a guess at?


    2014/05/14 at 18:23

    • I would have thought Gavin Patterson, for one, would be very interested in getting BT Sports out to the Final 10% at next to know cost compared to what Openreach doing it would cost.
      If BT was to publish its speed and coverage data we would be able to see how it fits in.
      So what if Defra turned down the bid? It can’t release RCBF money because of BT and the council’s failure to disclose the speed and coverage data.
      This is a loan. Why should there be a competitive tender?
      The money is £4m for 4,000 premises, all supplied by investors, so zero cost to the end user. Buying a subscription to use the network will, no doubt, cost something. How does BT feel about comparing per bit costs?


      2014/05/14 at 19:35

      • See see no difference that it is loan as to why there should not be a competitive tender process.
        The council should have the opportunity to evaluate what alternative suppliers would do with the loan in terms of service provide, the likelihood of the loan being paid back/security provided, the status of the applicants, and all other aspects…including that it does not end up like most other PPI are alleged to (in the NHS) – costing the taxpayers a lot of money.

        The full 7 digit postcode data IS available for Oxfordshire at this link.
        (The main site is ……..and choose the postcode map tab)
        Put my code into it and I’m told there is no plans for any upgrade – ever unless someone coughs up some more money from somewhere. (I’m in the country but not in WODC)


        2014/05/15 at 08:27

      • I agree that lenders should be cautious with regard to pay-back etc, but BT had its chance for free money and said no. Who else cares? Gigaclear, which operates in Oxfordshire? Personally, I think it’s better is the network is owned by the people it serves.
        Thanks for the post code link. Hadn’t seen that before.
        Sorry to hear you’re unlikely to get an upgrade. You sound knowledgeable – what are you doing about it?


        2014/05/15 at 09:15

  5. P.S to my comment right at the beginning, Mr Vaisey probably won’t be visiting his neighbour’s constituency because the natives are restless on his own patch now.

  6. Ian, would you agree that one good thing about BT is that it does seem to roll out to maximum number of properties for the funding it has? I say this having watched campaigns like Fernham where the village has gone to the press because it is in Ed Vaizey’s constituency. It has also shared with the press emails from the county council, not saying this is right or wrong. The clear objective is to divert funds to their village and in so doing probably end up with fewer properites reached in total. BT has been completely immune to lobbying in our area. It sits stoney faced as mainly parish councillors plead we have a member of the royal family we must have broadband, we have an MP, we have many councillors who need to be kept in touch, we have a knight of the realm, we know x or y, a or b lives here etc. None of it works it seems to alter BT’s algorithm for maximum number of properties for funding available. Can you like them for that?

    Selina Howells

    2014/05/15 at 11:13

    • Hi Selina
      We just can’t be sure that BT is covering the maximum number of houses for the money.
      We know that Iwade paid around £13,000 to enable a cabinet. Somehow this escalated to an average of £28,900 in England (see NAO report, p34
      BDUK’s Jonathan Zeff also managed to get back some 30% of money invoiced on early BDUK projects because of unspent management fees, an item the NAO had problems accounting for.
      As to BT’s stony-faced silence, I suspect it’s probably because they don’t know – that’s why they caveat everything with “subject to survey”. I’m sure they prefer to be thought fools than to open their mouths and remove all doubt. (Cheap joke – sorry.)


      2014/05/15 at 15:41

      • HI Ian, that’s a slightly different point, Paul Phillipson, Fernham, wants to make it a poltical process, which in my experience BT resists, and I’m glad that it does. It’s politics that has been so bad for B4RN, which is succeeding any way. It’s politics – ex BDUK consultant, David Cameron’s constituency, NAO/PAC headlines, old political ally of Cameron’s running the council, local elections next week – that is behind West Oxfordshire District Council’s decision, not common sense.

        Time will tell on cost. It’s helpful for comparison that a district (a wealthy one which already has an alt net providing ftth) has appointed an alt net to provide for 4,000 properties.

        I hope you will report impartially. Cotswolds Broadband has the public’s money so you can follow that and help to make sure it delivers and in two years time we have not kept a few counsultants employed but don’t have the network for 4,000 properties.

        Selina Howells

        2014/05/17 at 07:57

      • Hi Selina I hope do report the facts, even if they are uncomfortable at times. The entire BDUK process has been political – how could it not be given that public money is involved and BT has been at pains to ensure that local councils give it all to BT. That has been Bill Murphy’s job all along. Let’s see how Cotswold |Broadband gets on, and most importantly, how users react to what they get. It should be easy to compare that with what users on BT Infinity get and think of it.


        2014/05/17 at 12:37

    • Hi Ian, Selina,

      Ian – £28,900 you quote is just 36% of the total. The total average subsidy of c£47k does include significant premiums for the 2Mbps USC and the take up risk, numbers are begining to emerge, which may permit NAO/PAC to test the validity of these items.

      The BT contract is not political in my opinion, but the objective is supported by all parties. BT own the all existing rural networks and VDSL and FTTdp can reach significant numbers and quickly. They not so much won the competition but were the last ones standing which created its own problems but the job needed doing and contract letting. The contract constiutes about 25,000 fibre paths nationally. If the subsidies reflected incremental costs of the c£15k visible earlier in the process then substantial amounts of FTTP could be begun and placces like Fernham would not be excluded.

      Fernham should not need to become political to be reoslved, there is plenty of money in the pot to conduct the work but we need more transparency on the process to unlock the money.

      I hope the West Oxfordshire initiative works. At a £1,000 per customer connected it is not much different from the equivalent of the BT solution when you do premise passed to premises connected comparison. The hope was to find one of these per county, but groups need to be particularly well organised and determined to build what needs to be a piece of national infrastructure.

      NGA for all

      2014/05/19 at 08:01

      • The contracts might not be political, but the method of obtaining them surely was, as the Vital Visionproject shows. So too does the nonsense around Physical Infrastructure Access, which raised duct access costs to third parties beyond affordability or manageability. Now TalkTalk and Sky have to explore installing their own fibre networks because they can only unbundle wavelengths, not fibre, from BT. Whose bright idea was that? Here’s hoping they call a meeting of community network operators and agree a standard interface so that they deliver their services quickly over those 1Gbps fibre nets they are building. Having them as anchor tenants would improve altnets’ creditworthiness, release capital quicker, speed up network builds and take-up, and shorten break-even times. Win-win all round.


        2014/05/20 at 01:35

      • PIA and wavelength unblunding decisions were taken by the Independent economic regulator Ofcom in their economic analysis published in Fixed line market december 2010. I may not have liked the conclusion but the evidence gathered and conclusion reached was very logical and would withstand rigorous scrutiny. I would be happy to re-state that every rock was upturned to find competitors that would meet what rural customers wanted.

        The requirements were written around the wish of rural customers to gain access to the same choice and the same offers or equivalent to those living in urban areas and allowances made for very rural communities to extend those faciltiies . These requirments were tested with groups in the pilot areas. Certain liberties were taken in reducing the requirements on OSS to acommodate a well funded startup, but it would have been wrong to limit the requirement to match the ability of the smallest homespun network, that’s not how requirements work.

        PAC and indeed public opinion could well have concluded that too much time was devoted to finding and seeking to accommodate would be competitors at the expense of time conducting negotiations and getting the required levels of transparency. Any reading of the Communications Act 2003, followed by an understanding of BT’s wholesale obligations and you would get a very different perspective on the prospects for competition in rural areas.

        NGA for all

        2014/05/22 at 15:42

      • As part of the finding competition exercise, BDUK did host and support many ALA/OSS working group meetings to encourage, and in the hope these interfaces would emerge in time. There was no lack of support. If blood could have been squeezed from this particular stone, it would have been sucked dry.

        They interfaces may appear in some form this year but for very small networks, but there was insufficient momentum and organisation by altnets in 2012 to bring these forward in any meaningful way. There still is imho.

        NGA for all

        2014/05/22 at 15:57

  7. Ian,
    In terms of my own local cabinets being excluded from BDUK I don’t really see anything can be done – unless more money is found from either BT, a local council, or the residents themselves.
    Part of the problem is that we do get a sort of manageable ADSL service so there is no general local outrage unlike those unfortunate villages where they all get a bare 2Mbps on a good day.
    I personally believe the main reason it is being omitted is that knowing the cabinet service area and house locations mean a lot of residences are a long way from the cabinet with relatively few places near to it. So in terms of where best to spend BDUK public money to get true SFBB speeds to the most people – this place is not it.
    Sadly as an engineer I tend to agree and this does suggest that FTTC may not the be best solution anyway locally and we have to wait until the roll out of something like the halfway-house of FTTdp. (Logistically in terms of power availability etc converting them to FTTC would be no problem)
    Gigaclear do edge closer each new roll out they do and seem to offer the best solution to everyone but again given the lack of interest locally in SFBB I really doubt whether you could get more than 10% of the locality to sign up – well short of the 30% they require.
    Frankly I see no change until beyond the end of the BDUK program – somewhere possibly in the period 2017 to 2020 something might be done: by then with the rest of the UK on FTTC etc perhaps the rest of the residents will be more exercised about the situation!


    2014/05/15 at 14:00

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