Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘FTTC

How to get better value from that £250m for rural broadband

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BrokenTelephone doesn’t normally publicise paid-for events, but we’re making an exception in this case. We have long argued that the UK has ignored alternatives to the gap-funded model beloved by BT to finance investment in broadband networks. At last someone has heard us and is taking he message seriously.

Adrian Wooster, late of BDUK and now with Broadway Partners, is putting together an event for 12 March to look at the non-engineering aspects of getting next generation broadband into the Final 10% – funding, investment, business models, social inclusion, and the dreaded state aid. It is aimed at the public sector, financiers and communities.

The timing is perfect because DCMS has just announced how the £250m of the £300m promised years ago will be divvied up: England £184.34m; Wales £12.1m; Scotland £20.99m and Northern Ireland £7.24m.

The official reply to BrokenTelephone’s questions about the terms and conditions tied to the allocation was, “Procurement will be a local decision – we’re not dictating who the supplier should be. Where contracts are already in place with BT, local bodies can decide to extend them (within contractual limits); or to undertake a new procurement either using the national framework or not.”

Reading between the lines, there is a desire for local authorities not to simply give it all to BT but to conduct genuine fresh procurements in an attempt to get better value for taxpayers. INCA has shown that LAs can likely get better value for their taxpayers’ money if they go with altnets rather than BT. INCA executive director Malcolm Corbett is on record saying that procurements that pick BT find they contribute up to 90% of funds to what is meant to be a match-funded process; altnet solutions could come in at 30%, thanks to the willingness of private investors.

BT is already trying to “white ant” altnet coverage areas, making it difficult for altnets to provide coverage without overbuilding BT’s subsidised coverage areas. It is also spending £50m to fill in city not-spots and hook up multi-tenanted buildings to stop Hyperoptic and CityFibre from having a free run. BT claims that serving 150-home villages like Lancashire’s Dolphinholme is commercially viable. That might be true, but only because BT is running a fibre to a nearby radio mast; Arqiva or a mobile network operator is picking up most of the capital cost, and the village (or rather homes along the road) is covered en passant at marginal cost.

The other big win for LAs is that many would-be altnets offer fibre to the home; BT’s fibre stops at the street cabinet. So even if the altnet fails, the fibre is in the ground; LAs could get BT or another big operator to take it over at a fraction of the cost than if they picked BT at the start.

Wooster says the event will present funding options that don’t depend on gap-funded grants. “The UK is largely alone in gap-funding. There are very good, tested models that we should be learning from. These have a bigger economic impact and are better value for the stakeholders including, not least, the public sector,” he says.

Wooster says delegates will learn to how create more options and choices for broadband delivery; how to maximise their SEP allocation; how to love state aid; how to get new funding streams without spending a penny; how to de-risk their projects; how others abroad have done/are doing it; and how to make your area a contender for ‘Best Broadband in Britain’.

The event will be at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, so reasonably central. Fees are £99 each for civil servants, and £50 each for communities. Book via https://broadwayworkshop1.eventbrite.co.uk.

UPDATE

The price for communities has dropped to £25, and Wooster says, “We will listen to cries of poverty.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/27 at 10:32

WSCC/BT roll-out to duplicate wireless broadband coverage

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that BT is prioritising rural areas where it faces competition for its initial taxpayer-funded roll-out of next generation broadband.

The latest example comes from West Sussex, where BT has already upgraded the coastal belt in its commercial roll-out, and is now moving inland.

The official West Sussex County Council interactive map (which is not up to date in terms of its colour-coding; it still says the coast is “under evaluation”) does not reflect any choice of suppliers of high speed broadband.

BT's taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma's privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

BT’s taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma’s privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

However, BrokenTelephone has made a more up to date map which shows roughly how BT’s taxpayer-funded coverage maps onto the coverage provided by wireless internet service provider Kijoma (outlined in black).

Interestingly, the WSCC says that two of the exchange areas shown as pink are “partly in the commercial roll-out”.

“These are Billingshurst and Bosham. The rest are outside of the commercial roll-out and therefore in the area eligible for funding by the project.”

When the BDUK procurement framework was first mentioned, wireless was excluded as not being capable of meeting EU targets of 30Mbps for all, and 50% of the population on 100Mbps service. The European Commission later relaxed its stance on wireless, but BDUK and local councils appear to ignore the change in contracting for next generation broadband networks.

We have asked WSCC for clarification as to precisely which areas in Billinghurst and Bosham (bottom left of map, just south of Kijoma coverage) are in the commercial roll-out, and what the time-frame is for the roll-out to the non-commercial parts are. We’ll update this story if we get a reply.

This is not the first sign that BT is being allowed to use public money to overbuild privately-run networks. The most egregious so far is BT’s roll-out of a fibre through the

Lune Valley, Lancashire - site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle.

Lune Valley, Lancashire – site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle. (Click to open.)

Lancashire village of Dolphinholme, where residents have spent time, money and effort digging towards the B4RN network to ensure that their village doesn’t miss out.

While BT’s Dolphinholme roll-out looks good in terms of “homes passed”, the actual availability of a fibre connection to those homes not on the road appears slight. The more likely reason for the fibre link is that the road through Dolphinholme leads to a radio mast, and the fibre is there to backhaul mobile radio traffic, not to carry residential broadband traffic. But its presence is a threat to B4RN, which, try as it might, is unlikely to persuade mobile network operators to use its fibre, at least in the short term.

Tunstall, another Lancashire village in the B4RN coverage area in BT’s sights, is on the road to Kirkby Lonsdale and there is already fibre in that road. BT is also targetting Whittington, which is the hamlet after Arkholme and Docker on the way up to Kirkby on the opposite side of the Lune valley to Tunstall.

Two weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped plans to roll out a 1Gbps-capable FTTP network in the Dun Valley, Wiltshire, after the Wiltshire County Council said it would apply BDUK money to BT’s “up to 80Mbps” FTTC roll-out in the area. This followed months of discussions between residents, Gigaclear and the council as to their roll-out plans for the valley.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/20 at 07:01

Devon refuses public vote on competing broadband projects

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The proposed South Hams coverage area, just west of Dartmouth, Devon.

The proposed South Hams coverage area, just west of Dartmouth, Devon.

Devon residents were refused a vote on which next generation broadband plan they prefer – their own or BT’s – at a public meeting hosted by the leader of the county council.

Local newspaper the Kingsbridge and Salcombe Gazette reports that residents who attended a public meeting on 22 January heard details of a fibre to the home (FTTP) project by would-be community network operator South Hams Broadband and a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) alternative by BT and the county council-run Connecting Devon & Somerset.

The paper reported that Bill Murphy, MD for BT’s Next Generation Access roll-out, told the meeting they “had an important choice to make”.

County council leader John Hart, who hosted the meeting, refused to allow a vote on the two proposals.

Click the pic to enlarge.

Click the pic to enlarge.

Chris White, who spoke for the South Hams Broadband project, which plans to run fibre to all the premises in three coastal parishes west of Dartmouth, was reported saying it was now “unclear” how residents would be able to make this choice.

“Perhaps a vote could have been taken then and there to give Councillor Hart a flavour of what the audience had made of the two options presented. Unfortunately, he was having none of it, and refused to have a vote of any sort.”

White went on to say, “Although the mood of the meeting was in fact unmistakeable, it became clear that (Hart) and his select committee would make the decision on ‘commercial’ grounds, based on a written report from the CD&S broadband team that would remain confidential as it would contain ‘commercially sensitive information’.”

Shortly before Christmas BrokenTelephone reported that Lancashire’s B4RN and Devon’s Thurlestone (aka South Hams) community-based next generation broadband projects had passed the BDUK hurdles to qualify for money from the £20m Rural Broadband Development Fund. The next step is have their county council exclude their planned coverage areas from BT’s taxpayer-subsidised fibre to the cabinet roll-outs.

As reported here earlier, BT has an effective veto over such exclusions.

A 2012 analysis of the South Hams project by rural broadband consultant Adrian Wooster (whose subsequent contract with BDUK has just finished) revealed the area has 4,610 homes. Seventy per cent are main residences and 260 are social housing properties; a quarter are second homes or holiday lets. South Hams now plans to cover about a quarter of the original area.

Wooster reported the average predicted speed in the project area was just 3.1Mbps, (at the time half the national average), with ADSL2+, VDSL and Docsis services all unavailable.

There were 13 BT telephone exchanges. None was “unregulated”, and only in Kingsbridge did BT have competition in the form of TalkTalk.

“The existence of additional operators in a telephone exchange can be a useful indicator of the markets general interest in the area, and the existence of backbone connectivity; some operators offer wholesale access to their core networks as well as retail services,” Wooster wrote.

“That only Kingsbridge has additional operators is perhaps an indicator that the whole of the South Hams area is not considered attractive to broadband operators and that backhaul connectivity may be scarce and expensive.

“Should the community decide to progress a FTTP project in the Thurlestone area, the budget is likely to be in the realm of £3-5m.”

White said the South Hams plan is to make a 100Mbps symmetric service available to all premises in the parishes of Thurleston, South Milton and South Huish. He expects to issue a tender in March, select a supplier in June, and start work in July, provided the county agrees to “descope” the three parishes.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/04 at 06:57

Broadband talk sparks questions over BSG lobby role

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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.

Richard

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/03 at 10:04

BT and the AstroTurf wars

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 A derelict BT microwave mast. © Copyright Peter Barrington and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence Share alike 2.0.

A derelict BT microwave mast. © Copyright Peter Barrington and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence Share alike 2.0.

For the past week BrokenTelephone has been conducting a private correspondence with Peter Barrington who goes by the internet handle of Somerset.

Barrington has been a prolific commentator on BrokenTelephone, as noted here. His comments have been partial, and biased towards fulfilling BT’s agenda with respect to next generation broadband. Although often invited to debate issues, he refuses to reply when the answer may be unfavourable to BT.

BrokenTelephone has tolerated Barrington’s comments, whose volume amounts to spam,  in the interests of free speech. However, one of his private letters in the correspondence noted above gave pause for thought.

In response to the earlier story about a business park in the Bovey Tracey exchange area, Barrington sought help establishing how one could work out how many businesses there might be in a post case area. We published his email address so that people could help Barrington directly as the issue was peripheral to the story. As it turned out, a reader simply replied in a comment.

Even before that, Barrington asked that his email address be removed. I demurred. Barrington then wrote, more politely, “Would you please remove my email details from your website. We contribute to these sites on the basis that email details will not be published, particularly due to the possibility of spam and disclosure of personal information.”

Why “We”? Why “sites”?

As anyone who has an interest in how the government is spending £1.4bn of taxpayers’ money with BT knows, this subject area is full of commentators who push the BT line exclusively, who will not acknowledge contrary evidence, safe in the knowledge that “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

This is known as “Astroturfing”. According to Wikipedia, this is “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message (e.g. political, advertising, or public relations) to give the appearance of it coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant. Astroturfing is intended to give the statements the credibility of an independent entity by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.”

Barrington claims BT doesn’t pay him. However, he also claims to be a former BT engineer, so as a BT pensioner he has a pecuniary if indirect interest in BT’s fortunes.

Wikipedia goes on, “Some studies suggest astroturfing can alter public viewpoints and create enough doubt to inhibit action.”

It adds astroturfing threatens the legitimacy of genuine grassroots movements.

The authors of an article in the Journal of Business Ethics, quoted by Wikipedia, argue that astroturfing that is “purposefully designed to fulfil corporate agendas, manipulate public opinion and harm scientific research represents a serious lapse in ethical conduct.”

If BT has to resort to astroturfing to make its case, how strong can its case really be?

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/27 at 23:56

The BT (Bovey Tracey) broadband mystery

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A lonely cabinet waits in vain for its fibre friend outside a Devon business park. Picture from Google Streetview.

A lonely cabinet waits in vain for its fibre friend outside a Devon business park. Picture from Google Streetview.

A reader has objected to some elements of the previous story and asked for an explanation of how the figures were derived, particularly with respect to the Devon postcode mentioned.

This is the explanation.

If you simply put the postcode in (SamKnows) you are told FTTC is available on the exchange, which is true, but not the whole story. Bovey Tracey exchange, or at least parts of it, are or will be enabled, which means Sam doesn’t really Know the crucially important fine detail.

BT doesn’t commit to enable all cabinets on an exchange, and the evidence suggests that while some decisions are undoubtedly made for good engineering reasons, the overall impact of not enabling cabinets sits heaviest on business areas.

Using Google Maps it’s easy enough to find some businesses in the business park and get their phone numbers – putting these into the BT broadband checker shows FTTC is not available locally in the park.

Waveguide Solutions – 01626 835255 – FTTC is not yet available in your area

RB Engineering – 01626 835951 -FTTC is not yet available in your area

Country Bus – 01626 833664 – FTTC is not yet available in your area

Intertruck – 01626 834688 – FTTC is not yet available in your area

Some parts of the Bovey Tracey exchange area have been enabled – the nearby residential area appears to be enabled – but the cabinet that appears to serve only that end of the business park hasn’t.

Looking on Connecting Devon & Somerset’s website, it’s difficult to elicit anything. Its interactive map explains almost nothing other than that Bovey Tracey is partly enabled commercially and that part of it will be enabled with public funds. However, the final coverage map tells a different story if you are prepared to analyse it. There is a small but definable hole in coverage which corresponds to the business park.

To answer one of the other points – the information is scanned from the maps provided by councils, so any gaps are where no commercial builder has declared an interest and where public subsidy is not planned either.

The maps typically show a combination of commercial footprint, which includes Virgin Media, and publicly subsidised footprint. In Devon’s case, the map depicts the expected coverage once their programme is finished, so any holes in coverage are what is left once BT, Virgin, AN Other and the public investments are completed.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/22 at 23:18

Broadband buyers need to get their hands dirty

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Telephone poles lashed together because Openreach can't afford to  swop cables from the old pole to the new one.

Telephone poles lashed together because Openreach can’t afford to swop cables from the old pole to the new one.

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.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/14 at 00:32