Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt’s broadband legacy

with 21 comments

Freshly triumphant from a successful Olympics (with more to come from the Paralympics) culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has been outlining his ambition to have not only the “best broadband in Europe” but also the fastest.

In a speech this week week he said, “We simply will not have a competitive broadband network unless we recognise the massive growth in demand for higher and higher speeds.”

He added government is considering how to allocate the £300m from the BBC licence fee earmarked for broadband investment. “In particular we will look at whether we can tap into to this to allow those able to access superfast broadband to be even greater than our current 90% aspiration,” he said.

Is that good news for rural communities? Not necessarily.

Hunt quoted Ofcom’s recent finding that average UK broadband download speeds had hit 9.1Mbps. However, the small print in the Ofcom release said the SamKnows study “includes only ADSL customers within 5km of the exchange and in geographic Markets 2 and 3 and in the Kingston-upon-Hull area”.

So the 9.1Mbps does not include Market 1, roughly two-thirds of geographic UK where BT is the sole supplier. Had it done so, the average download speed would be more modest.

Hunt is clearly hoping that the mobile network operators will fill in the gaps. The government has allowed Vodafone to pick up Cable&Wireless Worldwide’s national fibre network, essential for backhaul. Ofcom’s decision to allow mobile operator Everything Everywhere (EE, aka T-Mobile UK and Orange UK) to refarm its 1800Mhz spectrum for LTE will help extend high speed access. This assumes EE and Three, which is buying the chunk of spectrum EE is forced to sell to comply with its merger conditions, can lay their hands on affordable consumer connection devices. Barring legal challenges, this may come ahead of the auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands sometime net year, which stipulates in-house coverage of 98% of UK homes.

Once that is done, the mobile operators can apply for £100m to reach into rural areas, and compete with fixed operators for a further £150m to upgrade broadband speeds in selected cities.

With Hunt confident that DG Competition will clear the way to release £530m in state aid for county broadband projects, it is hard not feel buoyed by the prospect of so much money pumped into networks.

However, there is a danger that the impending investment will deepen the existing digital divide between town and country communities.

Hunt will do well to make sure that every penny of the £530m is spent outside the suburbs, so too the £100m for mobile coverage, and the BBC’s £300m. If he could find a way for communities like B4RN to invest their own money with confidence, he could unlock more millions, and ensure Britain gets the broadband network it needs. That would be a legacy no-one could take away from him.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/08/23 at 20:47

Cumbria broadband rejection exposes BDUK chaos

with 15 comments

There are now serious doubts over the government’s programme to get “the best broadband network in Europe by 2015” following Cumbria County Council’s decision to reject bids from BT and Fujitsu for a £40m next generation broadband network.

In a statement this afternoon, the council said it would enter fresh talks with the two firms to get the network Cumbria has been looking for all along. A decision is expected in September.

“Neither of the final tenders had completely fulfilled the original, and full, requirements of the procurement process,” it said. Despite extensive talks between Cumbria and the suppliers, the bids met neither the technical specification nor the funding terms Cumbria had called for.

To be fair, BT has been upgrading its copper network in Cumbria at its own cost. But its capabilities fall far short of what the council expects from a next generation network.

Fujitsu has still to build a public access network in the UK, and was widely expected to get the nod in Cumbria. This is said to be to keep BT on its toes and to preserve the semblance of competition for most of the £830m the government has earmarked for next generation broadband.

 How we got here

The government set up Broadband Delivery UK shortly after took power to set up the procurement and disbursement process. Following Vince Cable’s faux pas over the BSkyB bid, responsibility for BDUK shifted to Jeremy Hunt’s culture media and sport department (DCMS), whose first priority has been the London Olympics.

Public procurement specialists, believed to be as many as 20, from the audit firm KPMG were drafted in via a Treasury framework procurement deal to help BDUK. According to insiders, none of the KPMG secondees had ever procured a large communications network. However, the rate for their junior staff is reputed to be more than £1000 a day. DCMS has refused to answer Br0kenTeleph0n3’s Freedom of Information Act request to provide details of the consultants’ qualifications and day rates.

The disparity in pay and the lack of technical expertise is believed to have led to friction between the permanent and drafted technical experts and the KPMG staff. Several DCMS reorganisations have seen staff with telecoms experience moved or or out.

BDUK set up a procurement framework that was guaranteed to exclude all but the biggest supply companies. Nine were invited; two, BT and Fujitsu, are still in the running. The rest say among other things, the Ofcom-approved terms and condition that govern access to BT’s poles and ducts made for a ‘incontestable’ environment.

Neither BT nor Fujitsu has signed up formally to the BDUK framework because the European Commission’s DG Competition, which rules over state aid disbursements, has so far refused to approve it. It is believed DG Competition is doing so because BDUK’s proposed procurements would lead to taxpayers’ money going into networks that would fall short of Europe’s Digital Agenda targets. These are for a universal 30Mbps service with 50% of citizens using a 100Mbps broadband service by 2020.

This has delayed local procurements, which are to be led by county councils. Cumbria felt it could no longer wait, and set off on its own, as it is entitled to do.

The present delay is not the first. Cumbria was meant to have picked a winner in January. But it may be the last.

 What’s next

It is less clear what will happen with councils that stay with the BDUK procurements, and the money. There are some clues. DG Competition quickly gave the nod to Birmingham’s plan for a state-aided, £10m, wholesale-only, open access, fibre to the home network that will supply everything from dark fibre down to anyone who wants to resell it.

It is understood that both the UK and European authorities are less anxious about broadband network procurements in cities, where there is usually a choice of network operators, than they are about what happens in rural areas, where BT has a regulated monopoly. However, the speed with which DG Competition approved Birmingham points to a preference for the features included in its proposal.

In addition, the European Commission’s vice president and Digital Agenda champion Neelie Kroes is on record saying national regulators have to make incumbents open their networks and to sell dark fibre.

That gives BT a massive problem. Having to sell dark fibre would destroy the business case for a fibre roll-out, BT’s director of strategy Sean Williams told the House of Lords communications committee. Installing fibre is five times more expensive than copper, he said.

Williams did not provide evidence to back this assertion, but if it is the case, it is hard to understand why Ofcom has not investigated why BT is selling its copper broadband for the same price as its fibre broadband. Or perhaps it knows. After all, Williams worked for Ofcom and was, he told their lordships, responsible for Ofcom’s broadband strategy.

So it seems the UK has a stand-off. BT is religious in its determination not to sell dark fibre; BDUK can’t disburse taxpayers’ money, so a lot of voters can’t get next generation (or even first generation) broadband.

It is hard to see how this will resolve itself. In the meantime, potential investors go elsewhere, talent follows them, and the UK grows a little less competitive every day. The only winners are BT’s shareholders, but for how much longer?

The blame for this must fall on BDUK, DCMS and ultimately, the culture secretary. If Hunt could escape the sack over Sky, he is definitely sackable for this cock-up.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/06/14 at 22:26

DCMS faces legal threat over BDUK funding

with 11 comments

Richard Brown, COO of Wispa, a Welsh communications consultancy, has sent Jeremy Hunt’s department of culture media and sport a final letter of notice before legal action, which is a kind of gentle nudge before the lawyers’ fee-meter goes into hyperdrive.

Brown is mildly peeved, if that’s the right expression, for a number of reasons. Firstly, he wrote a book which explains in lucid detail how BDUK can get its job done for a fraction of the money it is paying KMPG to screw up the procurement of broadband in rural areas.

His ideas have been supported by none other than Peter Cochrane, the former BT CTO, who has attracted headlines because of his damning evidence to the House of Lord enquiry into broadband.

He is also ticked off because Ofcom has not had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of his petition, signed by more than 600, calling for a ban on “up to” advertising of broadband speeds, which Brown claims, and Ofcom itself reports, are misleading.

Finally Brown is irked by the fact that BDUK’s procurement framework for rural next generation broadband access, which was meant to deliver at least six bidders for the taxpayers’ £530m, has delivered only two, BT and Fujitsu. In practice, it appears that the odds are stacked in BT’s favour, and Fujitsu has still to confirm its on-going commitment to the framework process.

So Brown has written to the DCMS, threatening legal action to stop BDUK under state aid rules from giving BT any money. Furthermore Brown is asking DCMS to refund him his share of the £530m, a sum he calculates as £8.98, whereupon he will cease his action.

DCMS no doubt would like to laugh this off as a publicity stunt, but there’s a sting in the tail. Brown is asking for all the records relating to the pilot rural broadband projects as well as minutes of all meetings between DCMS and BT. In some quarters, these documents will generate more interest than Lady Chatterley’s Lover when it was unbanned.

Normally, the courts might take the view that Brown’s action falls into the nuisance or vexatious camp, and chuck it out without a hearing.

Brown says, “The action is legitimate on the basis that it is effectively money that is not the government’s or the department’s, it is simply in the custody of the the DCMS. As it is a custodial amount they have a legal obligation to demonstrate that it is being used appropriately (should they be requested to do so). As I have requested on a number of occasions that they do that, and they have failed to answer, I can demonstrate that they have failed to act, and so the only courses remaining are to forget it, or take some form of legal action.
“The best case would be that they send a cheque for C£9 – then everyone can ask for their money back 😉
“The legal direction suggests that even if they consider it to be nuisance/vexatious then it is their responsibility to respond regardless, prior to such action being referred to a court.”

DCMS has 28 days to respond.

This is the text of Brown’s letter to DCMS.

BDUK Funding of BT

As it has not been possible to find a resolution to this matter amicably and it is apparent that court action may be necessary, I write in compliance with the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct.

Summary of explanation of pending action
That the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is willingly pursuant of a course of action that is contrary to our interests as a UK company, and is detrimental to us as citizens. In following a route that will fund a private organisation (BT) to the amount of C£530m of public funds (funds that have been contributed to by the citizens of the UK, or will have to be recovered from those citizens via a process of taxation)

Summary of expectation in prevention of legal action
I respectfully request, for the final time, that the action of State Aid funding a private organisation cease.  This action is detrimental to the benefit of the UK citizens and is to be conducted without our express consent.  In ceasing the action it will then be possible for those who have the knowledge to best advise the DCMS on how to allocate the funding in a more appropriate manner.

Sum(s) to be claimed
The sum of £8.98 is claimed in advance of this action.  This has been calculated by the dividing the announced BDUK fund (£530m) by the 2001 census population (59m) and deriving the amount that a single individual will bear in new or paid taxation.  Should we receive this sum we will cease our legal considerations.

Listed below are the documents on which we intend to rely in our claim against you:

How the State Aid Rules impact upon funding for the delivery of public services including services of General Economic Interest (
Treaty establishing the European Community Part three – Title VI – Chapter 1 – Section 2 – Article 87-92 [So-called Maastricht Treaty] (
Broadband Delivery UK – specifically Goals 1-4 (
Broadband Delivery UK – Discussion forums – specifically statement from Hunt (

In accordance with Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct I would request that you provide me with copies of the following documents:

Outcome reports from Rural Market Testing Pilots (all)
Meeting minutes from Department with BT meetings (all)

I can confirm that we would be agreeable to mediation and would consider any other system of Alternative Dispute Resolution in order to avoid the need for this matter to be resolved by the courts and would invite you to put forward any proposals in this regard.

In closing I would draw your attention to section II (4) of the Practice Direction which gives the courts the power to impose sanctions on the parties if they fail to comply with the direction including failing to respond to this letter before claim. I look forward to hearing from you within the next 28 days, should I not receive a response to my letter within this time frame then I anticipate that court action may be commenced with no further reference to you.

Yours sincerely

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/05/10 at 21:36

Chat-up lines in Whitehall

with 5 comments

Professional nosy parkers like Br0kenTeleph0ne and GCHQ are always keen to know who’s talking to whom, when and about what. So it was with interest that we learn that in June culture minister Jeremy Hunt had a meeting with “Hua Wei” to discuss “telecomms issues”.

This revelation is part of the government’s transparency agenda, so that we can all, if we can be bothered, find out who’s been polishing the chairs in Whitehall and Westminster.

Equally interesting was communications minister Ed Vaizey’s visitor list. How one would have liked to be a fly on the wall in one or two of the meetings. His guests between April and June were

Authority for Television On-Demand

To discuss the smaller operators

Taylor Herring

To discuss the internet

Save Kids TV

Follow up meeting


To discuss the Digital Economy Act

Cisco. TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Fujitsu

To discuss Intellect/Cisco Broadband

Broadband Stakeholders Group

To discuss open internet issues


To discuss emergency calls


To discuss emergency calls

Torres Strait Delegation

To discuss the repatriation of human remains

Classic FM

To discuss the Music Review

Cable and Wireless

Catch up meeting

Ironbridge Gorge Museum

To discuss Renaissance Core Museum proposal

Ikon Gallery

To discuss possible new gallery in Birmingham

Literary Heritage Group

To discuss Literary Archives and Philanthropy


To discuss issues around industry

Boster Group

Introductory meeting

My Cake

To discuss the creative and cultural sectors


To discuss the new Mulberry factory

UK Music

To discuss funding and Enterprise Finance Guarantee


To discuss arts organisation

Three and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd

To discuss Ofcom spectrum proposals

BT, TalkTalk and Universal

General discussion

Film Matters

Introductory meeting

Warner Music

Introductory meeting

Faber & Faber

To discuss businesses and activities

Touring Partnership Theatres

To discuss Regional Theatre


Update meeting

Everything Everywhere

Catch up on Ofcom proposed spectrum auction rules


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting

JF Kennedy Performing Arts Washington

Introductory meeting

Finch and Partners

General discussion

Film matters

Introductory meeting

Warner Music

Catch up meeting

Faber and Faber

To discuss brand related business and activities

Touring Partnership Theatres

To discuss Spending Review

Power to the Pixel

Introductory meeting

Turner contemporary

Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting

Prudential Security

Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


Introductory meeting


General discussion


Introductory meeting

Imagination Technologies Ltd

Introductory meeting

Reach Global

Introductory meeting

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/12/17 at 21:43

Have your say about what to put in the Communications Act 2015

leave a comment »

Six weeks is not much time to consider the ground rules “to establish UK communications and media markets as amongst the most dynamic and successful in the world”, but culture secretary Jeremy Hunt would like you to try anyway.

He is asking pretty much anyone with an interest in the internet to give their thoughts on what he should include in the new Communications Act, which he hopes Parliament to pass before the next election in 2015.

In an open letter inviting answers to 13 questions, Hunt said he wanted to keep an open mind about potential outcomes and also about the mechanisms needed to deliver them. “A new Bill is the end point of whole process, but we are willing to take action sooner where primary legislation is not required,” he said.

Hunt asks that proposals to change the present dispensation be supported by “strong and persuasive evidence”, but in no more than four or five pages.

Contributors can answer online, where the page limit may be non-existent, but before 30 June 2011.

Hunt is probably right to set an early date. After all, the memory of the 300 amendments to the Digital Economy Act, passed in controversial circumstances a year ago, is still fresh in many memories. All the arguments made then will doubtless be repeated in the next three years. How one’s spirit soars at the prospect.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/05/17 at 14:30