Posts Tagged ‘Digital Agenda’
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.
Free Wi-Fi access to the internet and greater use of electronic ways to monitor convalescence could help patients recover quicker, according to Gary Hotine, informatics director at the South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.
In a world first, Hotine pioneered free public access for patients and staff at the Torbay hospital and associated community hospitals.
Speaking on TechQT, Hotine said although the clinicians at South Devon have not explicitly provided evidence of the benefits of patient connectivity, they regard it as a “no-brainer”, he says.
Hotine says it’s “common sense” that if people are in touch with people who care about them, they will be less anxious about going to hospital and this will speed up recovery and/or provide more comfort while they are in hospital.
“Just recently we had a terminally ill patient in our cancer ward who was being blocked from getting into a bingo site. (South Devon’s policy is that providing access to gambling sites is inappropriate in a state-owned service.) She contacted our service desk; we asked the ward if they had any objection, which, under the circumstances, they didn’t, so we were able to unblock it fairly quickly. So you can’t just leave people hanging; you have to provide a level of support.”
John Popham, a campaigner for free Wi-Fi in hospitals, said he’d seen an early stage dementia patient speaking about how having an iPhone has transformed his life. Although it had a number of apps to help him, the most important thing for him was the stored numbers of people he could call if he was unsure or in trouble.
We wanted to use something people were already familiar with when they came to hospital.
Popham also reported on a patient who was recovering from stem cell surgery and had to live in an isolation pod for six weeks. The hospital gave him a laptop and an outside link for the time. According to the supervising doctor, the laptop did the patient more good than all the drugs they gave him. “Those are the kind of stories we need to be telling,” he said.
Hotine put in Wi-Fi two years ago because South Devon asked themselves what they would like if they were patients.
“We go to a lot of meetings in hotels, and it’s extremely irritating if the hotel doesn’t have Wi-Fi, and only slightly less irritating if they make you jump through hoops to authenticate, or you disconnect suddenly,” he says.
“We wanted to use something people were already familiar with when they came to hospital. The opportunity arose to put Wi-Fi into hospitals about four years ago. I asked my technical teams to see if we couldn’t use the same infrastructure to provide a publicly accessible, secure and robust Wi-Fi infrastructure.
“They found a way, and we did penetration tests to make sure that there could be no unauthorised access to the hospital and patient records systems, which of course would be a major concern.
From 2Mbps to 30Mbps
“Then we bought some capacity from the company that provides the junior doctors’ residence with Wi-Fi with I think a 2Mbps pipe originally. The idea was that we’d let the patients and public use it, and if it filled up and slowed down, we’d monitor it. To justify an increase we could show the trust board that it was having a beneficial effect on our patient community.
“We’re currently up to 30Mbps of bandwidth. The bearer circuit we’re on will allow us to go up to 100Mbps, but the present demand is satisfied by 30Mbps.
“The busiest period is 10am when we have about 1,500 connections, and the quietest period is 4am to 5am when we have about 220, mostly patients connecting to iPlayer and email.”
A significant percentage of the 1,500 are staff who are using their private devices to access the internet during breaks.
Staff at hospitals in neighbouring towns have been nagging their managers for similar access, and Hotine has been taking calls for information on how he’s done it.
Popham says hospitalisation, especially for long term patients, is a very isolating experience, both for patients and visitors. The equipment now in hospitals to access the internet is out of date, he says.
“Being able to access the outside world would be helpful in the recovery process because being able to speak to others is therapeutic.
“Making telephone calls on those units costs about 39p/min. If you’re online you can use Skype or Hangouts and talk to anybody for free for as long as you want.
“Even if you are on 3G or 4G, half the time you can’t connect because the wards are in a basement or the walls are steel and glass and the signal can’t get out.”
Popham’s campaign is growing – he has about 400 members on Facebook, and he claims it’s becoming accepted that public access Wi-Fi should be available free in hospitals. “I reckon there’s about 25% of hospitals now that have it; that’s a big increase on what it was four or five years ago, but still not enough.”
Hotine says provided a hospital already has a 24×7 IT service desk, the extra cost of providing public access Wi-Fi is the marginal cost of receiving a telephone call from the public. In the year since the system was in place he counts four or five logged incidents. “You can’t really measure the cost of that, in our experience,” he says.
Hotine notes that the £10,000/y he pays for the South Devon’s 30Mbps bandwidth seems a lot more than what people pay for their home broadband. But it’s the service level agreement, which includes the managed service, the walled garden, the site blocking and uptime requirements that pushes up the price. “Typically at home when there’s an outage you are in the lap of the gods as to when service is restored,” he says.
Being able to speak to others is therapeutic.
The Wi-Fi system supports Torbay Hospital with 400-500 beds plus another couple of hundred beds in community hospitals. The main hospital has about 1,500 access points, which Hotine expects to rise to about 2,500.
He notes that the existing patient entertainment system is rare in hospitals with fewer than 200 beds, but few community hospitals have that many. Closing the gap was key to the design of the Wi-Fi system.
Hotine said the trust has an active ‘league of friends’. He is considering asking them if they’d like to support building up a library of access devices, such as laptops or iPads, for patients’ use.
He hasn’t done it yet because the advent of mobile phones in hospitals has hurt the revenues of the firm that supplies the trust’s patient entertainment system and services.
An offer refused
Hotine notes that patient turnover has been rising in Torbay hospital, but the community hospitals take patients who need long term care. Remembering to collect devices that the patient has rented is likely to be low on the list of priorities once the clinical decision to discharge a patient has been taken, so an efficient collection service is a must, he says.
“We’ve made (the company) an offer asking them if they’d like to offer a paid-for service whereby they would supply the access devices. They haven’t been very keen, so we’re probably getting to the point where we will ask the Torbay league of friends. They’ve got a small army of volunteers who could get around the wards to handle the logistics.”
Hotine and Popham also spoke about the use of tech to monitor and diagnose patients remotely.
South Devon uses data provided by Patients Know Best, a private firm run by UK-trained doctors. Data privacy is governed by the patients’ contractual relationship with PKB. This allows the patients to give their data to South Devon without the trust having to abide by the duty of care restrictions that would apply if it were the primary data collector. Doing it this way has been “quite liberating and allowed us to make the progress we have,” Hotine says.
To hear the full discussion go to TechQT.
This is a guest post from Walter Willcox and David Cooper, who have been involved with Surrey village Ewhurst’s efforts to get high speed broadband. Regular readers will know that it’s not easy, as this post, based on their experience, shows.
Many local authorities that congratulated themselves for securing deals with BT are now employing their staff to promote the benefits of high speed broadband using BT’s marketing-speak, which can be grossly misleading and sometimes even false.
Surrey County Council, indeed all county councils, should pay more attention to the technical details.
Take the claim that BT is installing “fibre broadband”. In Ewhurst and almost every other village in the country, the final link between the cabinet and the premises is copper or sometimes aluminum. It is remarkable that no-one has asked the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate BT’s “fibre broadband” claims for possible misrepresentation.
But there is a more important practical issue: millions of subscribers are likely never to get the service promised by BT and paid for by taxpayers under the BDUK contracts.
The often-stated figures for those “Having Access” are based on the total number of telephone lines in the fibred-up street cabinet, yet very few of the new cabinets approach that capacity. Surely the ASA should require the cabinet capacity to be clearly stated?
BT deploys new upgraded full-featured fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) cabinets with a capacity of 192 or 288 lines, but BT’s investment in the cable infrastructure is limited to single ducts and a single set of tie cables that each provide a capacity of just 100 lines.
BT is on record saying that it will install more cabinets if the demand is there. Inevitably this means delay, sometimes of over 80 days, while remedial work is done to the cables, followed by even more delay to install a second cabinet.
Most of the BDUK contracts to date are supposed to complete by the end of 2014 or 2015, so what happens if a cabinet’s full capacity is needed after the contract ends?
Similarly, do local authorities realise that to meet demand greater than that provided by the first cabinet, the streets will have to be cluttered with more cabinets? Besides, who will pay for the extra cabinets post 2015?
In addition, technology advances such as G.fast and vectoring, which have still to be proven in the field, are dead ends because of the copper in the last mile. BBC Newsnight and others reported last August that FTTC was the wrong technology in the opinion of experts, here and here.
The local authorities’ lists of postcodes that BT will cover disregard the known line performance and lengths. BT knows the limitations of the service speeds and provides that data as soon as a cabinet is forecast for service. For example, in Peaslake, Surrey BT told the Surrey County Council it will cover the postcode GU6 7NT; yet superfast broadband is unavailable at all 10 addresses, according to the BT Wholesale estimator.
Those unfortunate subscriber at the extremes of the network, or with sub-standard lines, are not even informed by the BT estimator that the fibre cabinet is commissioned. (However the curious may pick up that the category “Fibre Multicast”, which is still shown, indicates that the cabinet is enabled.)
BT is very good at promising the world, but once a customer is hooked for its VDSL service there can be a distinct change of attitude. The subcontractors that BT Openreach hires for installations simply don’t carry the test equipment that can confirm the line’s performance. They rely on a speed test which, just after installation, is tuned to the maximum possible speed. This can change in just 48 hours. At one site we know of, a sync speed of 40Mbps on 9 July degenerated to only 4.38 Mbps by 08:09 on 11 July.
Subscribers then risk a charge around £170 to fix the wires if a fault is detected within their curtilage* (the area around your premises over which you are deemed legally to have control).
A number of ISPs are now offering self-install packages but the result is likely to be more disgruntled customers. How many end users have a detailed understanding of house wiring, let alone line performance issues? Surely Trading Standards should insist on a proper performance test once the connection has had time to “bed down”?
The difference it makes can be material. One case we know of concerns a new Sky self-install where the installation produced 13 Mbps. After remedial works to the house wiring the speed jumped to 28Mbps. That is still well below the “up to” 42Mbps the user was led to expect.
The separation of powers between Openreach and its wholesalers means that when a fault occurs, the end user has to convince the ISP, and the ISP has to convince Openreach to fix it.
This thread on the Kitz bulletin board (two pages) shows just how hard it can be to figure out and fix what’s wrong. It shows clearly that faults on the copper (telephony) network can destroy broadband performance, and that Openreach’s process and practice to fix them is arcane and open to error, to say the least.
Those responsible for making policy and for paying BT might also like to ask how BT can invest a billion pounds on TV sports contracts while Openreach’s maintenance performance has been so bad for so long that it has accepted it must pay fines if it misses certain targets.
Even casual observers can see signs of poor maintenance. For example electricity poles are quite properly being replaced, but the old rotting and unsightly poles remain lashed to the new ones, apparently because Openreach can’t afford to swap the cables from the old poles to the new ones.
These may be boring technical details, but in the end, they determine the customer experience. BT may be able to buy off shareholders with dividends and politicians with promises, but only performance will win the hearts and minds of customers.
As BT is the monopoly supplier in most rural areas, unhappy customers have only the ballot box through which to voice their displeasure. With elections just 18 months away, anyone whose job depends on a vote should start getting their hands dirty with the technical details of superfast broadband.
After analysing financial information BT must by law provide to the regulator Ofcom because it has “significant market power” i.e. an effective monopoly in certain markets, Frontier Economics (FE) found that returns on BT’s regulated services were consistently above the rate required to compensate investors, (the weighted average cost of capital as determined by Ofcom), and that wholesale prices could have been on average 10% lower over the period.
The report corroborates an earlier finding by Wik Consult in support of TalkTalk’s complaint to Ofcom that BT indulges in a “margin squeeze” by overcharging for wholesale products. Wik found that Openreach’s costs to build its FTTC network are £4.39 per line per month. BT Openreach charged resellers £7.40 or £9.95 depending on the bandwidth provided.
FE, a top 10 European economic consultancy, is chaired by former UK civil service boss Gus O’Donnell, who is widely known by his initials. On taking over as FE’s chairman in July he said he had come to respect FE “hugely”. “Not only is Frontier at the forefront of applying economics to tough public and private sector issues, it has an internal culture that is second to none.”
The FE report, The Profitability of BT’s Regulated Services, was commissioned by Vodafone. It shows that regulated wholesale prices would have been 10% lower on average, had they been set such that BT had earned a return at the benchmark level set by Ofcom. Because they weren’t, BT was able to earn on average an extra £600m/y for the period.
It found Ofcom is aware BT has been able to earn returns in excess of its cost of capital. It quotes Ofcom’s 2013 consultation on the fixed access market (now being assessed) saying, “BT’s reported profitability was significantly in excess of its cost of capital. We believed that this was prima facie evidence that wholesale charges for ISDN30 might be above the competitive level.”
FE also found that BT had to repay customers for overcharging. “For some markets where BT had cost orientation obligations, BT has been found later to have set prices above a cost oriented level and has been required to make repayments to the purchasing communication providers. The overcharges include £151m for certain Ethernet services and repayments of £42m for certain partial private circuit services.”
FE notes several potential reasons for BT being able to earn regulated returns above its weighted average cost of capital. These include
- differences between Ofcom’s and FE’s estimates of BT’s cost base
- some prices are based on costs that do not directly reflect BT’s actual costs
- BT may price services above its fully allocated costs
- Ofcom may have set RPI-X% charge controls too low, and
- some costs may have been allocated to the wrong service.
“Further analysis is required to understand which combination of these reasons may explain the results shown above,” FE said.
Disclosing the terms and conditions of BT’s £425m Superfast Cymru contract with the Welsh government would prejudice BT’s competitive position and create expectations that, if not met, would hurt BT’s reputation and share price, says the head of Wales’ ICT Infrastructure Delivery, Simon Jones.
Jones was responding to a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from Richard Brown, director of Wispa, a Welsh broadband consultancy. Brown had earlier been refused any information related to the contract, the biggest and most expensive single next generation broadband project in the UK.
Jones wrote to Brown saying, “Where possible, the Information Commissioner prefers complaints to be resolved by informal means, asking both parties to be open to compromise. With this in mind, I have reviewed your request and decided that with the passage of time, I am now able to release some of the information…
“The information that has been redacted is:
1. Terms and Conditions clauses:
a. 7.14 (cost per premise cap)
b. 18.4 – 18.8 (retentions)
c. 18.10 (loss of funding)
d. 20.1-20.2 (drop dead date)
e. 24.1 (limitation on liability)
2. Schedule 2 (Targets)
3. Schedule 2, Annex 1 (The Grantee’s completed Project Plan)
4. Schedule 4 (Postcode data – full lists of postcodes)
5. Schedule 5 (Testing and Test Criteria)
6. Schedule 6 (Eligible Costs and Financial Information)
7. Schedule 8 (Milestones)
8. Schedule 12 (Clawback)
9. Appendix 1 (Initial Documents)”
Jones put forward various reasons for not disclosing the above information.
“Releasing information on the location of sites and hosting protocols for internet websites would be likely to make the network vulnerable to e-crime,” he said.
He acknowledged a public interest in the information. “Release of this information would also help the public to find out where the network is located and how it could be served with broadband services.”
But this had to be balanced against the potential harm of releasing it.
“The release of exact locations of infrastructure deployed would likely increase the risk of theft and/or criminal damage to the network. There have previously been a number of attempted thefts of network assets, with one attack breaching the security in one location. There have also been acts of criminal damage on several locations in the past which were investigated by North Wales Police. This resulted in significant coststo repair the damage caused. Release of information on asset locations would be likely to increase the risk of further attacks.
“In the absence of a strong competing public interest in the release of this information, I believe the public interest arguments identified for non-disclosure outweigh those in favour.”
Turning to the confidentiality aspect, Jones said the information was protected by Section 41 of the act.
“…the information which is exempt under Section 41 was inserted into the contract from documents that were originally provided to us by BT in confidence as part of the competitive dialogue procurement process during the bidding stage. A key concern of bidders in competitive dialogue procurement is the protection of commercially confidential information. Given the sensitive nature of this information, I am satisfied that disclosure of this confidential information would breach confidentiality and as such, the confidentiality of the information should be preserved…”
Jones went on to say that releasing the details would be prejudicial to BT’s commercial interests because it could be used by competitors.
“BT is still actively competing with other companies to win similar business. There is a pipeline of opportunities currently available for BT to bid for in order to provide similar services to other public authorities. Additionally, some of the redacted information, if disclosed, would reveal BT’s strategy for products that are not yet launched.
“The redacted information may also create an expectation/reliance by BT’s national Communications Providers that such products are or will be available when BT is at a stage of the project where there is still reasonable uncertainty as to the timescales for their delivery. It is likely that failure to meet these expectations would be damaging to BT’s reputation and thus affect business and share price. Disclosure of this information would therefore be highly prejudicial to BT’s competitive position in relation to these opportunities and future business and I believe the resultant harm to BT’s commercial interests (should this information be released) would be substantial.”
Jones said the public has a right to know that the Welsh government is investing public money wisely, and that the award of public sector contracts is fair and within the rules. But he believed the public is interested only in the “wider detail of the contract rather than the detailed financial and operational information”.
Jones said that suppliers might be put off selling to the Welsh government if the details of their proposals came out.
“I am satisfied that disclosure of the redacted information would be likely to result in BT failing to compete in the market place and thus would be likely to prejudice its commercial interests. Whilst the information may be of interest to those working in direct competition with BT, I cannot see any wider public interest in releasing the redacted information. As such, I have concluded that the public interest in withholding the redacted information outweighs that in releasing it and this exemption is therefore engaged.”
If one accepts this view, then one must also accept that BT’s competitors are entitled to the same protection. This is not the case.
In May BDUK, which is overseeing the broadband delivery programme, issued guidance to local authorities who are considering applications from community network operators or altnets for funding to cover the “Final 10%”. These guidelines state plainly that the supplier who wins the main contract under the BDUK procurement framework has a right to scrutinise proposed projects to assess their impact on the main roll-out.
So far, only BT has won any such contracts, and Fujitsu Telecom, the only other eligible supplier, has long since withdrawn from the market.
One might argue that the Superfast Cymru contract is a different beast from the average BDUK county procurement. True, but that is sophistry. BT’s network does not stop at the border; nor do its business practices.
According to the guidelines, if an altnet proposal partially covers premises in the “90%” then the altnet, the Local Authority, DEFRA and BDUK have to establish if the BT project can be “re-scoped” to cover other areas defined as “no-build” in the SCT (Speed and Coverage Template that the LA agrees with BT). The LA, “at its sole discretion”, can ask BT via a “change request” to include the altnet’s proposed coverage footprint in the main roll-out.
If the LA decides not to raise a change request, then the altnet can go ahead only “where it can be clearly established that premises are eligible premises for funding under the RCBF”. But the information it needs to do that is protected by the non-disclosure agreement between the LA and BT, and, according to Jones, by S41 of the FOIA.
If the LA goes ahead with a change request, it has to ask BT to assess the impact of taking the altnet’s coverage footprint out of the main contract. To do this, BT would need to know precisely where and when and what its would-be competitor plans to build, without disclosing its own plans.
You might think that gives BT an unfair competitive advantage; we could not possibly say.
Perhaps it originally planned to hold the meeting in a BT telephone booth, but the department of culture, media & sport (DCMS), has rethought its venue to seek ideas on how best to get broadband to the Final 10% of UK homes.
As this issue has been debated since the first broadband roll-out started in 2000, it is likely the real purpose of the meeting is to terrify and confuse altnets and local authorities about the risks, restrictions and complexities around state aid, and to create enough fear, uncertainty and doubt that BT gets a default decision.
Through BDUK, the agency charged with delivering Superfast Broadband Britain, DCMS published its invitation to the 7 October talk-fest in a Prior Information Notice (2013/S 189-326234) on OJEU on Saturday 28 September. This gave interested parties just five working days to prepare. As those most interested in the discussion are likely to be living in the most remote, inaccessible parts of the country, i.e. the Final 10% where broadband is slow to non-existent, DCMS may not be expecting a crowd.
According to the OJEU notice, DCMS is “particularly keen to see suggestions for how to deliver superfast broadband to some of the UK’s hardest to reach areas, including those options which might give communities an opportunity to shape local solutions.”
It went on, “BDUK is seeking expressions of interest from potential prime contractors, consortia, sub-contractors or other interested parties in the broadband delivery supply chain who may be interested in responding to any subsequent procurement activity and is using this PIN as a mechanism to identify as many suppliers as possible in this space. Supplier views will be requested by the end of October 2013 at the latest.”
Some might regard this sudden desire for enlightenment as welcome. After all, some of the 50+ projects that have applied for money from the £20 Rural Community Broadband Fund, run jointly by BDUK and DEFRA, have been stalled for two years. Might this meeting unfreeze that fund?
Perhaps not. Hours after it was published it emerged that BT commissioned consultancy Analysys Mason, which spelled out why hiring anyone other than BT might be a “courageous decision”.
It did grudgingly suggest that BT would tolerate the locals’ efforts to get connected if they bought their equipment from BT, dug it into the ground and connected it up the homes and hamlets, waived their rights to wayleave income, and donated the resulting network to BT for BT to sell back to them. This is known as the Build and Benefit option, one which Penrith and Borders MP Rory Stewart has promoted and is currently on trial at Fell End in Cumbria.
BTW, on 9 May last year BT announced Penrith was the first Cumbrian community to get “superfast broadband”. On 29 November 2012 Stewart was present to celebrate the signing of a £40m next generation broadband contract between BT, represented by BT NGA project MD Bill Murphy, and Cumbria County Council’s Elizabeth Mallinson.
If readers would like to attend, and they should know space is limited, they should email Andy Carter at email@example.com or call him on 020 7211 6043 for an invitation.
Anyone who watched the Public Accounts Committee hearing on the value for money likely to be achieved by the government’s next generation rural broadband programme would have had no doubt that the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), its agency Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), and BT were in for a roasting.
In its report published today, PAC chairman Margaret Hodge MP said, “The programme to extend superfast broadband to rural areas has been mismanaged by the DCMS. The sole provider BT has been placed in a quasi-monopolistic position which it is exploiting by restricting access to cost and roll-out information. The consumer is failing to get the benefits of healthy competition and BT will end up owning assets created from £1.2bn of public money.”
None of this is new to regular readers of this blog, who have been following the BDUK money with a growing sense of dismay. What is new is that the political establishment can no longer ignore the fact that BT has run rings around them.
Despite the evidence collected by the National Audit Office and the PAC, it continues to protest its innocence. “We are disturbed by today’s report, which we believe is simply wrong and fails to take on board a point-by-point correction we sent to the committee several weeks ago,” it told the BBC.
The broadcaster said BT denied that it had failed to deliver value for money for the taxpayer and said that, even with the public subsidies, it would take it 15 years to pay back its investment in rural broadband.
That’s three years longer than Bill Murphy, MD of BT’s Next Generation project, has said publicly, more than once.
“Rolling out fibre is an expensive and complex business,” BT told the broadcaster, ignoring the fact that farmers and housewives are doing a fair job of it, self-funded and self-taught, in rural Lancashire, with the B4RN project, despite BT’s efforts to undermine them.
Responding to the report, Malcolm Corbett, the CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, (Inca)who gave evidence to the PAC,said “The PAC expressed real concern about the lack of competition in the programme, BT’s lack of transparency over costs, its deployment plans, the overall level of state aid, the reduction in BT’s financial contribution and delays to the programme.”
On behalf of Inca members he called for
- transparency over BT’s costs and deployment plans
- competition where alternative providers and communities are willing to invest in fibre and high speed wireless networks, BT should not be allowed to roll over them with state subsidy
- full, unfettered access for alternative providers to all of BT’s publicly-funded infrastructure to promote genuine competition and choice, and
- new investment models to promote investment, innovation and better value for money for the next £250m the government is committing to rural broadband.