Posts Tagged ‘DCMS’
The National Audit Office (NAO) report on the BDUK’s former Rural Broadband Programme, now renamed the Superfast Broadband Programme, contains elements that might lead to cognitive dissonance.
It reports that BDUK commissioned Atkins, a primary supplier of services to government, to look at BT’s costs to provide high speed broadband in rural areas. After looking at a few sites in Suffolk, Atkins concluded “BT had charged Suffolk nearly 20% less than would hypothetically be charged by another efficient supplier, in part reflecting that BT benefits from substantial national bulk buying power compared with other providers.” Paragraph 3.10)
That’s good news, right? But it seems there’s more joy to come for taxpayers. In Paragraph 5 NAO reports “BDUK’s experience of actual costs in phase 1 has led to BT agreeing to submit lower costs in its financial model for phase 2.”
However, it carefully notes that BT was picking low hanging fruit in Phase 1, namely peri-urban areas rather than deep rural ones where is cost to reach them is likely to be higher, unless you use a satellite.
NAO also suggests BT got other sums wrong. BrOkenTeleph0n3 revealed that BT’s planners estimated BT would break even on a 20% take-up in 12-14 years. “Take-up of superfast broadband so far has been significantly faster than forecast by BT in the phase 1 contracts. Take-up has risen to more than 20% already for two non framework projects”, the NAO found. This “should bring greater coverage than contracted, as local bodies will be able to extend their rollout with remaining funds,” it says.
BT is the only framework supplier left, and 43 out of 47 county councils have opted to use the framework to procure Phase 2, although 10 may elect to hold money back for Phase 3, the final 5%.
“Overall, the effect of the first 2 phases will be to reinforce BT’s already strong position in the wholesale market for broadband infrastructure (the Wholesale Local Access Market). BT’s assets and infrastructure will benefit from approximately £1.7 billion of public sector investment although BT must maintain these assets at its own expense. BT is also required by regulatory conditions to provide wholesale access to other suppliers.”
The NAO also revealed that the public will benefit from clawbacks due to higher than expected take-up for only seven years. “After these seven years, the supplier will keep all of the extra wholesale profit.”
BT amortises its fibre over five to 20 years, and its exchange equipment over three to 13 years.
BTW, in its 2013 rural broadband report on page 35, the NAO said “The Atkins ‘should cost’ model for Northamptonshire is three per cent higher than BT’s actual bid for the area. Atkins was not able to complete analysis of a second local body area, Suffolk, due to the difficulties it encountered in modelling a more complex technical solution. Atkins’ model is the only model available to us that has tried to match a corresponding BT bid identically.”
The hour-long Public Accounts Committee interview on the NAO report, featuring DCMS, BDUK and BT officials, took place on 28 January 2015. You can see the video here.
The government is looking at how to get high speed broadband to urban businesses despite state aid rules that appear to preclude using some of the £2bn of BDUK money to do so, culture secretary Sajid Javid told MPs on the Culture, Media & Sport parliamentary committee yesterday.
Javid said DCMS is talking to stakeholders, including the Federation of Small Businesses, which this month produced a second damning report on broadband, to resolve the situation.
Javid also revealed that the contracts between BT and country councils for rolling out “superfast broadband” have claw-back clauses that come into effect when take-up reaches 20%.
Javid added that the government was updating the Electronic Communications Code as part of a deal with mobile network operators to extend mobile coverage to 90% of the UK land mass announced late last year.
In February 2013 the Law Commission recommended changes to provide a clearer definition of the market value that landowners can charge for wayleaves, resolve inconsistencies with other legislation, clarify network upgrade and sharing rights, and establish the rights of land owners and network operators with respect to access to land and removal of equipment, as well as ways to resolve disputes
This link Culture secretary Sajid Javid on the DCMS annual report opens a new window. Javid’s comments on the code are at 12.43, and on broadband at 12.53.
MPs have launched an inquiry into rural broadband speeds following on-going concerns that nearly £2bn of taxpayers’ money is unlikely to produce the expected results.
- the extent of broadband coverage in hardest to reach rural areas
- digital access and experience of digital─only programmes, such as the new CAP system applications
- support available for those required to use digital─only programmes
Written submissions should be submitted via the Rural broadband and digital─only services inquiry page on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website.
The deadline is Wednesday 19 November 2014.
There is less than a month left to respond to the government’s Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy consultation.
The government seeks guidance on what people think will they require from a communications ecosystem that is fit for their purposes.
In preparing the consultation document it consulted “companies, organisations and individuals from across the communications industry, consumer representatives, the regulator, other government departments and the devolved administrations”.
A glance through Annex A shows that the consultation is, from the outset, framed by an insiders’ view of how the debate should go. “Our assumptions were developed through discussion with stakeholders and draw on a review of published reports and articles. The assumptions include:
- Users will need more bandwidth as data consumption continues to rise;
- Expectations to gain access to services and applications on the move will become the norm;
- Technological advances in telecommunications and broadcasting will continue to be rapid;
- We can expect changes in the communications market, potentially including new players and possibly market consolidation; and
- Resilience and reliability will become increasingly important as aspects of what constitutes a good service, alongside availability and speed.”
Last year the Confederation of British Industries (not credited) said in a study of the UK’s broadband infrastructure that it was “a mistake to hold back the investment until after the next election” and that “households and firms in rural internet ‘not-spots’ need to be connected faster”.
The Federation of Small Businesses (credited) said earlier this year the networks are not “fit for purpose”. “Many urban or semi-urban businesses can experience poor coverage too, and even where broadband is available the range and quality of services often fall short of what businesses require.
“Tailored business packages offering symmetrical upload and download speeds are often prohibitively expensive, while business parks and premises have been overlooked in the roll-out of local fibre networks to residential areas. If the full potential of small business is to be harnessed and the economic benefits of broadband connectivity realised, this must change.”
In 2012 the Forum of Private Business (credited) said, “Energy costs and access to effective telecommunications, including broadband, are the most important infrastructure issues faced by small businesses.”
To be fair, HMRC recently acceded to FPB’s call to delay the compulsory online submission of VAT and tax returns until there is adequate access to high speed broadband across the country.
But that is a small victory.
The well-connected Philip Virgo shows that the scenarios envisaged DCMS are already out of date. By 2020, DCMS’s most extreme view is likely to be commonplace, at least in other countries. Describing the background material as “myopic”, Virgo says, “…publicity for the consultation has been muted and its timing might seem to imply HMG is going through the motions and in not serious. But the politicians are serious and the consequences of a lack of response other than from those contacted will be profound.” (His emphasis.)
Virgo makes the point that the government’s ambition for government services to be “digital by default” is at odds with the delivery mechanism. For him there are two questions: are the on-line services of government usable by the target audience, and how is that usability measured?
As policy issues, those are a lot more useful than most of the 44 questions posed by the DCIS consultation (see Annex C for the summary.) Should government policy really consider technical issues like IPv6? Should it really care how UK network speeds compare to other countries?
A disciple of economist Michael Beesley, Virgo strongly believes that regulators can, or rather should, do little more than control price, quality of service and predatory behaviour. “The recent histories of Ofcom and Ofgem indicate why he was right,” he says.
The Rwandan telecoms regulator RURA has taken this to heart. Last year it set out easily understood and measured Quality of Service standards for mobile and fixed line operators. How the operators do it is up to them. Either they hit it or they don’t. At risk is their licence. That concentrates the mind.
But to return to the consultation. TechQT has put up the entire document plus annexes in an easily commentable online format, thanks to DigressIT. It will collect comments and forward them to DCMS by deadline. And it won’t “disappear” them the way inputs to the Digital Britain report have mysteriously vanished.
Comments close on 1 October. Have your say. It may be your last chance for 10 years.
Last week ministers claimed that the government’s £1.7bn budget has paid for superfast broadband to pass one million homes, so far.
This is 12% of the 8.8 million homes it is meant to serve with speeds above 24Mbps by 2017. As there appears to be no official source for the number of business premises, ministers are free to ad lib broadband availability to businesses.
There was no indication of what upload and download speeds users receive, and there are growing reports that services promised from some cabinets are now being deferred, perhaps indefinitely.
The money is all going to BT under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme. It supplements the £2.5bn BT claims to have spent providing “superfast” service to the two-thirds of the population deemed “economically viable”, roughly the area covered by Virgin Media’s cable network.
A department of culture, media & sport spokesman said: “The £1.7bn is comprised of £1.2bn for phase 1 (£530m of BDUK funding plus local and European funding taking this up to £1.2bn) and £500m for phase 2 (£250m from BDUK to be matched by £250m further local and European funding).”
Based on the 2011 census, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says there were 26.4 million households in the UK in 2013. Of these, 29% consisted of only one person and 20% had four or more people.
According to the department of business, innovation & skills, there were 4,895,655 UK businesses in 2013. Nor BIS, nor the ONS, nor the department of communities and local government (DCLG), which counts the cash raised from business rates, has a number for the physical shops, offices and factories businesses occupy.
That did not stop the Federation of Small Businesses last month from reporting that the national broadband network is unfit for business use. “The current government targets of 24Mbps for 95 per cent of the population and 2Mbps for the remaining five per cent will not meet the future demands of UK businesses.” it said. This includes video conferencing, remote back-ups and cloud applications.
This was tacitly confirmed by HMRC, which now allows firms in “remote locations” to submit their VAT returns by paper instead of online. FSB national chairman John Allan said the move will benefit many small businesses. “However, it clearly highlights the need for the government to tackle the poor state of digital infrastructure in the UK. Too many firms are negatively impacted by sub-standard broadband. It is vital business owners spend more energy doing business and less doing paperwork.”
There are also widespread reports that BT has deliberately ignored central business districts and business parks in both its commercial and taxpayer-subsidised broadband roll-outs. As a result, DCMS set up a £150m SuperConnected Cities fund that will give small business a £3,000 grant to upgrade their broadband connections in up to 22 cities.
The scheme was “red-lighted” In a Cabinet Office report in May 2013. A year later these cities had issued 1,008 vouchers.
Fixed to wireless connectivity was 77:23 with Virgin Media leading the list of suppliers followed by Metronet UK. DCMS said 149 suppliers had registered; 90 had won business as a result.
BDUK’s quarterly broadband performance indicator for June said the £72.4m BDUK has spent so far guaranteed at least 24Mbps download speeds to 888,133 premises. That is £81.56 per premises passed.
Put another way, the government is covering 12,260 premises for every million pounds spent so far. Ministers say they expect a £20 return on every pound spent on this roll-out.
Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier is to hold a Broadband Roundtable at 10am on 31 July at Perseverance Works in Shoreditch, the heart of London’s TechCity district, to discuss the “embarrassing” availability of broadband in central business districts, never mind rural areas.
So far 422 suppliers have registered to service the government’s £150m Urban Broadband Fund, which funds the SuperConnected Cities scheme. Some 149 have have provided quotations, and 90 have won business, says DCMS.
By the end of May the cities had issued 1008 vouchers in 14 months. The fixed/wireless connectivity split was 77/23 per cent, and the average speed per connection went from 11.2Mbps to 70.3Mbps for downloads.
According to Hillier’s blurb, “Broadband is a national embarrassment and action is urgently needed. Government grants of £3,000 have been added in, but that is like a sticking plaster on a broken arm. Businesses are moving out of the area because they simply cannot access high speeds.”
The cities in the SCC programme are Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Derry/Londonderry, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Newport, Oxford, Perth, Portsmouth, Salford, and York.
DCMS says it will provide a city by city breakdown “this summer”, but declines to say how much money has been paid out so far or to whom. However, Virgin Media tops a DCMS table of suppliers to whom vouchers have been issued (see below).
BT, which Ofcom says has an effective monopoly on wholesale fixed line access despite Virgin Media’s efforts, declines to say how many vouchers it has won. Its Openreach division is likely to be a big winner anyway. This is because smaller operators like Hyperoptic and TalkTalk rent ducts and lines from Openreach, even as BT’s Business division competes with them at a retail level.
So does 1,008 vouchers issued in 14 months represent success or failure? To be fair, it’s probably too soon to tell, but there’s not much time left – DCMS says the money dries up in March 2015.
It’s appropriate that Perseverance Works (PW) is the venue. Helped by former BDUK consultant Mike Kiely, the firm has just contracted Fibre Options to supply a 16Gbps link into the premises which houses around 90 businesses.
As landlord, PW will own the network. Each tenant will be able to use the government vouchers to order a connection running at up to 1Gbps. Fibre Options will do the provisioning and billing.
It took more than a year to negotiate the deal because the usual suspects were not prepared to consider an aggregated customer base – they wanted to sell a long-term leased line service that most tenants neither wanted nor could afford. PW eventually went to tender, which Fibre Options won.
PW spokesman Paul King says he sees “no reason” why PW’s approach should not be replicated by business parks across the country. Members of INCA are currently targeting business parks, most of which have been neglected in BT’s NGA roll-out.
The details again: 10:00-11:00, Thursday 31 July, 2014 at Eastside Educational Trust, Suite 16, Perseverance Works, 37 Hackney Road, E2 7NX. To book a place call Meg Hiller’s office at 0207 219 5325.
ISPs cash in on voucher scheme
|1||Virgin Media Business|
|5||Unitel One Source Ltd|
|9||Venus Business Communications|
|13||Unique Network Solutions|
|14||Qubic Group Plc|
Parliamentarians will meet tomorrow to discuss broadband policy amid growing anger and concern among businesses that almost £2bn in taxpayers’ subsidy will leave the UK in a worsening competitive position.
Digital Policy Alliance chairman Lord Erroll will chair the meeting (see below for details) that will hear from two recent papers that show that large parts of the UK will end up with broadband access one-fortieth of that of South Korea, and far behind France, Brazil and China by 2017, the deadline for the government’s current broadband spending plans.
The report from Digital Business First (DBF) flatly contradicts Ofcom’s recent finding that the UK leads Europe in high speed broadband. In an open letter to Ofcom CEO Ed Richardson, the DBF said, “When ranked against all 27 EU states (not just the five Ofcom conveniently chose for the sake of a headline) the UK ranks tenth, behind countries like Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, Lithuania and Latvia.
“Secondly, there are large areas of the UK (approximately 10 million homes and businesses according to the government’s own figures) that are to be supported with public funding to deliver ‘target’ broadband speeds of just 2Mbps and 24Mbps (via the BT network). These speeds are well below even Ofcom’s low threshold of ‘superfast’ broadband. These ‘have nots’, which include some of our most productive business premises in rural locations, are being left to languish in the slow connectivity lane indefinitely.”
The forum’s assertions are supported by a study of the effect of line lengths on broadband speeds by researchers at Edinburgh University. The researchers found that one in eight Scottish homes is unlikely to be able to get more than 24Mbps, and 40% of rural homes and businesses will struggle to get more than 2Mbps.
Openreach, BT’s network infrastructure division, redacts its line length information in recent public documents. However, in a 2011 report on line lengths and line costs to Ofcom, Analysys Mason said that BT had confirmed (in 2004) that its average line length (between the exchange and the premises) was 3.47km (including the dropwire length). “This provides a reasonably good reconciliation with the (2008) Sagentia analysis (3.34km average line length). The same presentation also confirmed the distribution of lengths between the cabinet and the customer, with a typical 420m length and a small proportion of lines (10%) with a very long length,” it said. Analysys Mason later calculated the average Openreach line length at 1.704km – a figure hotly disputed by Openreach.
A 2011 White Paper by Alcatel-Lucent on the use of vector technology with VDSL2, the technology chosen by BT for its next generation broadband roll-out, found that at 420m, the average download speed would be about 40Mbps, while at 1.2km, it would drop to about 24Mbps (see graph).
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show a declining trend in the construction of communications infrastructure (see graph). The ONS figures include post office buildings and sorting offices, but also exchanges and cables. This suggests that few new cables have been laid in the past 15 years, so Sagentia’s figures are likely to be reasonably accurate.
(Unfortunately, the ONS bundles sales figures for telecommunications equipment with those of computers. This makes it impossible to establish accurately what UK network operators have invested in network hardware and software.)
As noted earlier, Openreach’s capex has been steady at around £1bn for several years. But it is starting to decline as it comes to the end of its “commercial” broadband roll-out to cover two-thirds of the population, but only one-third of physical UK.
In BT’s case, Alcatel-Lucent appears to have made a convincing argument to go for vectoring over VDSL2. It said, “Reusing existing infrastructure reduces investment costs and risks. It also helps with eco-sustainability targets. With VDSL2 Vectoring, you can deliver higher speeds at about 1/3 the cost of deploying fibre. And any fibre investments to support VDSL2 Vectoring lower costs for future fibre deployments.”
But as its own figures show, this is true only where line lengths are short, and it does not appear to include any offset for reclaiming the copper and reusing the ducts.
DBF members Alex Pratt and Frank Nigrello, who represent local enterprise partnerships in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire respectively, accuse Ofcom of painting an “unduly rosy picture” that serves the UK badly. “It amounts to institutional denial of the need for a significant change in policy towards investment in digital infrastructure. It is leading to an unnecessary rapid regional and national decline in our relative productivity and competitiveness. It is akin to adding extra weight to handicap our businesses in what the prime minister has called ‘The Global Economic Race’.”
The DBF is highly critical of what it sees as the government’s casual approach to broadband. “Current government policy and funding has failed to bridge the superfast broadband infrastructure deficit for 35% of the UK,” it says. It attributes this to a lack of consultation with user communities; adopting the “least ambitious targets and technological means” to deliver them, and to a lack genuine incentives for investment in future-proof high speed broadband networks.
Quoting from the National Audit Office report on the rural broadband roll-out, the DBF said, “The department (of culture media and sport said) its aim was to achieve the most possible with the given funding, not to lever the maximum amount of private investment.”
It added, “The current argument between Ofcom and mobile networks on spectrum fees, with the latter threatening to reduce 4G coverage unless fees are lowered, points to a far less investment friendly approach in the UK.”
The DBF report also criticises the lack of ambition in making high speed broadband a universal service. Again quoting the NAO report it said, “The effect of designing a programme which only reaches 90% of the target area will make it more expensive at a later stage to cover the final 10%. It will also make it less commercially viable for anyone other than BT to bid, as no-one else will have existing infrastructure to bolt it on to.
“Matters are made worse by the fact that BT is preventing local authorities from publishing plans showing which areas will not be covered, which would enable other, often community-based consumers, from filling the gap and ensuring 100% coverage.
“Witnesses from the broadband industry told us that potential investment by competitors had been lost. For example, UK Broadband has spent none of the £150m it had allocated for the programme. Fujitsu had also stated an intention to invest £1.5bn which has not been invested. In total, INCA estimated that the investment that had been foregone was at least £2.7bn.”
The DBF calls for a national broadband plan and responsibility for its delivery to be moved the department responsible for business and enterprise.
“Any incoming government in 2015 should be specifying a target of at least 100Mbps for the UK ‘have nots’ within two years,” it says.
It called for the UK to re-establish its world lead in mobile communications by “adopting an ambitious ‘can do’ approach to 5G technology”. 5G networks offer the prospect of universal ultrafast (1Gbps) broadband across the UK, it said.
It also called for changes to the terms of the 4G mobile licences to ensure that the coverage obligations include a signal strong enough to deliver 10Mbps inside a home for 98% of the UK population, a voice service, and for more than one 4G mobile network to have the above coverage obligation.
The meeting takes place on 24 March at 15.10-17.00 in Committee Room 4A, House of Lords, Westminster.
The agenda is:
* Welcome and introduction by Lord Erroll, DPA chairman
* Presentation of European Internet Foundation’s (EIF) report ‘The Digital World in 2030: What Place for Europe?’ by Peter Linton, advisor to EIF board of governors and co-author of the report
* Presentation of Digital Business First’s report “The UK’s enduring broadband deficit: A divided nation – Time for an effective plan” by Alex Pratt, chairman Buckinghamshire Business First and Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
* Comments by Stephen McGibbon, EMEA regional technical officer, Microsoft; Peter Olson, president of Digitaleurope and head of European Affairs, Ericsson; Alexandra Birtles, head of external communications, TalkTalk Group; and parliamentary contributions with closing remarks by James Elles, MEP and EIF co-founder.