Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Openreach

PAC opens Act 3 of superfast broadband enquiry

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PAC chairman Margaret Hodge: show me the money.

PAC chairman Margaret Hodge: show me the money.

There are still some people who are interested in seeing what’s happening to the near £2bn of taxpayers’ money given to BT to roll out next generation broadband in the “Final Third”. Many of them probably sit on the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, which is taking its third stab at finding if BT is delivering value for money this coming Wednesday.

The PAC, chaired by Margaret Hodge, was previously frustrated by the answers it received (here and here), and vowed to keep asking questions until it was satisfied. BT’s director of strategy, policy and portfolio, Sean Williams, who was the source of much of Ms Hodge’s frustration, gets a third act in front of the committee.

Supporting players are DCMS boss Sue Owen, BDUK CEO Chris Townsend and superfast broadband programme director Andrew Field, and Openreach MD for infrastructure delivery Kim Mears.

In its preamble the PAC said its reports on the rural broadband programme in September 2013 and April 2014 “raised concerns over lack of published information on BT’s plans for superfast broadband coverage, the availability and transparency of cost data and the level of competition secured throughout the programme. This recall session will examine the transparency of cost and rollout information and explore whether the department has done enough to promote greater competition for phases 2 and 3 of the programme.”

The curtain for the hour-long show goes up at 2.15pm on Wednesday 28 January 2015, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster. If you can’t make it in person you can follow on Parliament TV: Rural broadband: progress update session.

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Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2015/01/27 at 06:05

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  

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

What does BT’s bikini broadband budget reveal?

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It’s always interesting to play with numbers, and few are as interesting to this blog’s readership as BT’s. As someone once said of bikinis, the figures they reveal are interesting; what they conceal is vital.

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

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

Of special interest at present is BT’s capital spending plans. As we can see from the graph, which is compiled from BT’s annual reports and analysts’ estimates, BT spends around £2.5bn a year on capital goods. Of this, Openreach is responsible for around £1bn a year, so we can assume that’s what BT spends on its network infrastructure.

To put that into perspective, Vodafone plans to spend £900m this year to bring its network up to speed with 4G/LTE technology and 98% national indoor coverage. Mobile rival EE spent £606m in 2012 and another £583m in 2013.

Back to BT. On page 76 of a presentation to shareholders in May last year, which accompanied BT’s 2013 annual report, BT sketched the scenario shown at right.

Openreach believes superfast broadband take-up will reach at least15% in 3-4 years. It's already 11%.

Openreach believes superfast broadband take-up will reach at least 15% in 3-4 years. It’s already 11%.

This suggests that of the billion quid a year that Openreach spends, some £300m to £400m will go on General Ethernet Access, which we all know as Next Generation Broadband. Keep that up for four years and BT will have invested some £1.4bn getting its fibre network to “pass” more than 90% of the population. After that, its ongoing GEA capex drops to “tens of millions” a year, but its revenue rises to £350m to £400m a year. Which looks like a nice little earner for BT from Year 4 on.

That’s very interesting, especially to shareholders and the government, which has at least two different reasons to be interested – the resulting contribution BT could make to BT pension deficit, and the £1.4 billion it is giving BT to roll out next generation broadband in those areas that BT deems uneconomic.

Hang on a sec. BT says it will invest £1.4bn to cover more than 90% of the population, and the government is giving BT £1.4bn to cover the one-third of the population that BT claims it can’t afford to cover. Now that’s really interesting. It rather looks as if BT has managed to redefine matched funding as meaning it has matched the government’s supply of money with its demand for money. Alternatively, that taxpayers are paying for BT’s commercial roll-out as well the Final third.

And, lest we forget, what happened to the £2.5bn former CEO now trade minister Ian Livingston was keen to say BT was spending on its next generation broadband upgrade? Where’s that now? Did he mean BT’s commercial upgrade or the total upgrade?

This might offer a clue. BT has around 55,000 street cabinets to upgrade. If we assume that 50% of the £1.4bn is overhead, contingency and profit, that works out to capex of £12,727 per cabinet and its associated fibre “path”.

Which is not a million miles from  the £12,667 Iwade paid for its single cabinet and path, nor the £13,000 average it cost Northern Ireland in its BT-run NGA roll-out.

Iwade's cabinet cost £13k. Lucky them.

Iwade’s cabinet cost £13k. Lucky them.s single cabinet and path, nor the £13,000 average it cost Northern Ireland in its BT-run NGA roll-out.

The vital information that is still hidden are the numbers that persuaded the National Audit Office that BT has to spend an average of £28,900 per cabinet and path in England’s Final Third, likely to be the cheapest

Nevertheless, one can now start to see how BDUK can claim to be able to cut 30% out of BT’s invoices for non-hardware items in the few framework invoices it has seen.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/17 at 06:58

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

Gulliver in Lilliput: BT and its rural broadband competitors

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The WordPress.com stats helpers have produced an annual report for BrokenTelephone. It shows that it was viewed about 41,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 15 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

So, BrokenTelephone is small but perfectly formed, judging from the people who subscribe and comment regularly, to whom BrokenTelephone owes whatever relevance it has. Thank you all for reading, your comments, your suggestions and your support.

I would like to single out Somerset, the nom de plume of retired BT engineer Peter Barrington. He is by far (219 times) the most frequent commenter, more than three times the next most frequent correspondent. He has irritated many BrokenTelephone readers but I have resisted calls to ban him, and I would like to explain why.

Primarily I believe Somerset has a right to express his views. That they are so one-sided tells you that he is not impartial. He doesn’t have to be. As he operates in social media spaces, he is less constrained than BT’s official spokesmen. For all I know, he believes this is the best way of protecting his BT pension.

BrokenTelephone is not the only online forum to attract Somerset’s contributions (is there only one Somerset?), nor indeed does BT’s propaganda depend solely on Somerset. Other BT officials have also taken advantage of the quasi-anonymity afforded by social media conventions. Bill Murphy, who is in charge of BT’s next generation roll-out, has found plenty of time to push the BT line on Twitter under the Bill Broadband handle from the nominally impartial @WatchingtheFlow position.

New_Londoner is another frequent contributor on Twitter and other forums. This is believed to be the handle of Openreach CEO Liv Garfield, who is leaving BT for Severn Water after Gavin Patterson was picked as group CEO.  Another well-informed and highly paid contributor is BT’s chief network architect Neil McCrae, who at least writes under his own name, and about more than next generation broadband.

Very often they have spotted inaccuracies in reports or questioned tenuous lines of argument. That is good, because it has led to greater rigour. It has also opened up new avenues of investigation, which have often shed more light on what are often complex issues.

That said, BT’s use of social media is designed to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt in alternative proposals for rural and indeed national broadband access.

There is without doubt an argument for doing things the way BT wants them done.

BT’s social media correspondents have chosen neither to make it nor to win it on its merits. Instead they have tried, in disguise, to undermine the credibility those who propose alternatives or question BT’s plans.

That suggests that their argument may be threadbare at best. BT’s refusal to reveal its planning assumptions on rural roll-outs suggests that it indeed has something to hide, and that its “competitive intelligence” argument is a fig leaf.

This would be less important if there was a better balance in the sector. Instead we have Gulliver in Lilliput, thanks to Openreach’s near monopoly over last mile access outside towns, and the common insistence that a broadband account requires a parallel phone service.

There are new faces at BT and at Virgin Media, and Vodafone is, or soon will be, flush with cash. Will this lead to fresh thinking? The hope for 2014 is that BT’s competitors – mainly Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone – can, possibly together, create a platform that offers real national competition to BT at local access level.

Despite the dangers of duopoly, that is the surest way to extract better performance from BT.

Everything of the best for 2014.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/12/31 at 11:44