Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘NGA

Broadband is ‘national embarrassment’ – MP

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Meg Hillier wants to make urban broadband a discussion topic.

Meg Hillier wants to make urban broadband a discussion topic.

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
2 Metronet (UK)
3 Spectrum Internet
4 AQL
5 Unitel One Source Ltd
6 Tibus
7 CFL
8 Atlas Communications
9 Venus Business Communications
10 ITC
11 BT plc
12 Optimity
13 Unique Network Solutions
14 Qubic Group Plc
15 Exponential-e Ltd
Source: DCMS  
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Common sense challenge for Cotswold Broadband roll-out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/05/14 at 06:58

Auditor General seeks value in £425m Welsh broadband projects

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wales-welsh-flag-16-pThe Auditor General for Wales has begun a review of Superfast Cymru, the Welsh government’s £425m investment (half from BT) in high speed broadband infrastructure, seeking value for money.

He has postponed a study of public sector broadband aggregation (PSBA) in favour of the value for money review, which is due out by the end of the year.

The study will try to answer three questions:

  • Does the Welsh government have a coherent strategy for investing in high speed broadband infrastructure in Wales?
  • Does the Welsh government have robust contractual arrangements for Superfast Cymru?
  • Are the Welsh government’s high speed broadband programmes likely to achieve the intended benefits?

In scope is the effectiveness of the government’s strategy and targets; the programme’s financial planning and governance; the contractual arrangements with BT; the procurement processes, risk management arrangements, and the monitoring and evaluation of the contract.

Not in scope is the propriety of having BT staff represent the Welsh government’s fund-raising effort in Europe, says Rachel Moss, head of communications at the Auditor General’s office.

The question of a possible conflict of interest in having Ann Beynon, BT director of Wales, sit on the European Programmes Partnership Forum in the Welsh European Funding Office was questioned in March 2013. £90m of the money for Superfast Cymru comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF.)

At the time the Audit Office said, “We need to establish the risks arising from any real or perceived conflicts of interest, how they have been managed and the extent to which appropriate declarations of interest have been made.”

The value for money review follows the National Audit Office’s scathing review of the UK government’s next generation broadband programme overseen by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). The NAO said there was no clear way to assess whether taxpayers would see value for money, and the £1.2bn they were giving BT would strengthen BT’s monopoly.

The review also follows a damning critique of the Superfast Cymru contract with BT by broadband consultant Richard Brown. “BT will deliver exactly what it contracted for, which is 95% of homes passed,” he said.

BT’s local network subsidiary Openreach is expected to lay 17,500km optical fibre and install around 3,000 new fibre broadband cabinets in parts of the country not covered by BT’s commercial plans. The government hopes to cover 96 per cent of the population.

Asked why the study is being done now, despite criticism of the project and its process before the contract was awarded, Moss said, “It would have been premature to carry out a review of this nature before the contract was signed – this would be straying into policy decisions which are not matters for the Auditor General, and limited evidence would have been available on the likelihood of the project delivering its intended benefits. The current timing of the study allows for a broader examination of the likely impact of the Welsh Government’s investment in broadband infrastructure.

Part of the report will compare the Welsh project with that of England. “The NAO’s work in England and that of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is certainly helpful in enabling us to compare the situation in England with Wales and this will be reflected in the final report,” Moss said.

The PAC has said it will recall BT a second time because it is unhappy with BT’s answers to its questions at two earlier hearings to discuss the NAO’s findings.

The Welsh Auditor General will survey around 1000 businesses and households in Blaenau Gwent and Gwynedd, the two areas where there has been “significant progress”, to see what difference access to BT’s Infinity product is making.

The general public can also recount their experiences of the Superfast Cymru programme by emailing broadband.study@wao.gov.uk. The auditors will not able to take up any complaints about BT or other broadband service providers and may not be able to reply to individual correspondence, the Auditor General’s office warned.

Note: Brown has submitted a Freedom of Information request for the test data and methodology that led the Welsh deputy minister for skills and technology Ken Skates to associate himself with press claims that over 100,000 premises are now able to access fast fibre broadband as a result of Superfast Cymru.

“The houses have been tested and verified as being able to receive superfast speeds. The average download speed of 61 Mbps is also more than double the contractual minimum for the programme,” the News Wales web site said.

It then went on to quote Skates as saying, “The fact that where premises are already benefiting as a result of the programme, with an average speed three times the UK average, shows the positive impact it is having as roll-out continues.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/05/09 at 06:59

MPs, lords to face anger over failing UK broadband roll-out

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Sweating the physical network assets since 1997. Source: ONS

Sweating the physical network assets since 1997. Source: ONS

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.

The average line length of Openreach's network is around 3.4km. The average length from street cabinet to a premises is around 420m. This is enough for 40Mbps download speed provided BT implements vectoring on its VDSL lines. Not every line in every cabinet is being so enabled in its next generation roll-out, and at least 10% of cabinets are unlikely to be enabled.

The average line length of Openreach’s network is around 3.4km. The average length from street cabinet to a premises is around 420m. This is enough for 40Mbps download speed provided BT implements vectoring on its VDSL lines. Not every line in every cabinet is being so enabled in its next generation roll-out, and at least 10% of cabinets are unlikely to be enabled.

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).

How broadband peters out. Source: Alcatel-Lucent http://bit.ly/OO9Ovy

How broadband peters out. Source: Alcatel-Lucent http://bit.ly/OO9Ovy

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.

BT's capex spend shows a gentle but steady decline.

BT’s capex spend shows a gentle but steady decline.

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.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/23 at 18:17

Broadband talk sparks questions over BSG lobby role

with 12 comments

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

Broadband buyers need to get their hands dirty

with 8 comments

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

Red letter day for two rural broadband projects

with 9 comments

A now derelict BT microwave tower has been superceded by fibre in the countryside. Pic by Peter Barrington via Wikimedia.

A now derelict BT microwave tower has been superceded by fibre in the countryside. Pic by Peter Barrington via Wikimedia.

B4RN and Thurlestone have had their applications for funds to build fibre to the premises (FTTP) networks in remote rural areas approved in principle by BDUK, the government’s broadband delivery agency.

They are expected to receive their confirmation letters today. The only thing stopping the projects now is their local county councils.

BDUK’s approval is expected to increase pressure on Lancashire in B4RN’s case, and Devon and Somerset in Thurlestone’s case to remove the proposed coverage area post codes from their BT contracts.

BT effectively has a veto on such deals. BDUK guidance says it may choose to assess the impact of removals on its existing plans before claiming compensation for the smaller contract or proposing a new deal that includes some or all of the altnets’ areas.

Michael Armitage, who speaks for the Thurlestone project, confirmed that BDUK has made a “conditional award”. “The key condition is that Connecting Devon & Somerset (CD&S) has to agree to de-scope (exclude) the Thurlestone project area postcodes from the BT procurement, which so far they’ve been ‘reluctant’ to do.”

The Thurlestone community is to meet on Tuesday evening to compare two network proposals, but Armitage says CD&S and BT are refusing to attend. CD&S and BT plan to hold a separate public meeting on 22 January 2014, at which BT Next Generation Network boss Bill Murphy and Devon Council leader John Hart may speak.

Thurlestone plans to use money from the DEFRA-controlled £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to back bank loans plus Enterprise Investment Scheme equity plus private equity to fund a FTTP network to 1,300 premises across Thurlestone and South Huish (Hope Cove) parishes. This could be extended to Salcombe and the rest of the South Hams over time, Armitage says.

Christine Conder, who has been the public face of the B4RN project, says she hasn’t seen confirmation of BDUK’s approval.

“As with all the community/altnet projects it’s the lack of data from the councils/BT that is blocking DEFRA from releasing the money. That is a fact that won’t change. Some councils release ‘maps’ but without the data they are meaningless. I believe some councils are actively working with their communities but ours don’t seem to want to. Our original plan was for eight parishes, but I believe we are up to 21-23 now wanting to join the network, and the RCBF would have facilitated that.”

That would more than double B4RN’s original footprint of around 1400 homes/businesses to over 3,000.

Funded originally along the same lines as Thurleston, B4RN has been waiting years for RCBF money to fund the bigger project.

Well-connected blogger Philip Virgo reported correspondence from B4RN’s CEO Barry Forde that suggested Lancashire had reneged on a deal to exclude B4RN’s coverage area from its £130m next generation broadband deal with BT. Project director Andrew Halliwell refused to speak to BrokenTelephone about the alleged agreement, or a controversial fleet management deal that BT has with Lancashire County Council via a joint venture, which attracted a police investigation.

If Thurleston and B4RN get their money, they will join Rothbury in Northumberland and Fell End in Cumbria, both of which have contracted with BT for their networks, as the only RCBF beneficiaries so far.

Others are trying to join in. There are reports of more than 50 RCBF applications, nearly all of which have been turned down. One of the survivors, the Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe Community Broadband Project in Oxfordshire, has just issued a state aid consultation on its plans to deliver 100% coverage at >24Mbps by 2015 with RCBF backing.

“We have some 520 homes and businesses in the project area, which is now descoped from the county plan by Oxfordshire County Council,” says spokesman Graham Shelton.

Shelton’s group has worked with West Oxfordshire District Council to manage the grant and the various steps to procurement and delivery. “(Councillors) have been, and are, hugely supportive. Ours is a very rural district with 25% home working or businesses run from home, so this initiative is highly significant to support our community,” he says.

Current broadband speeds in the Northmoor coverage area vary but are often below 1Mbps when homes are far from a street cabinet, he adds.

So far he has had expressions of interest from two network operators. “There may be scope to connect with neighbouring villages which are also outside the first phase of the county plan, and it will be for the successful bidder to follow up from the community contacts that we can provide. At this stage those villages are not descoped.”

Shelton estimates that state aid intensity to be no more than 50%. That is in stark contrast to some BT contracts where the state contributes more than two-thirds of the costs, and may run above 90% in some cases and deliver less than the altnets promise, according to Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Network Cooperative Association (INCA).

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/12/10 at 06:54