Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘RCBF

Real fibre broadband comes to 500 Northmoor homes

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In a rare bit of good news for the altnet community, Gigaclear announced it has won funding from the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to design, build, implement, and operate a fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband network to serve around 500 homes in Northmoor, Oxfordshire.

Just weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped a planned rollout in Dun Valley, Wiltshire after it discovered BT planned to use taxpayers’ money to provide a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service to the area.

Gigaclear won the contract in an open procurement by West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) after the parish secured an RCBF grant from the Department for the EnvironmentFood and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The value was not disclosed.

In a survey of residents’ needs, 14% of respondents said they could get no broadband service at all. A quarter of responses were either from business premises or from residential premises used by people to work from home and/or run their own businesses. Better broadband was high on their priority list.

Graham Shelton, chairman of the parish council and leader of the broadband group, said talks with Oxfordshire County Council revealed the parish would be likely to fall outside the area covered by Oxfordshire’s £4m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) subsidy. “That freed us to pursue other options. We were aware of Gigaclear’s work elsewhere, so were delighted they won on merit.

“The network will ensure that everyone can obtain equally superfast broadband and that it will be available to all properties in the parish – including a number of caravans.”

Gigaclear is expected to finish the network in September.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/04 at 00:26

Government delays Final 10% details; why?

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Questions have been raised over the government’s delay in publishing the speed and coverage details of BT’s roll-outs under the £1.8bn BDUK framework procurement of next generation broadband for the country.

Responding a Freedom of Information request, the department of culture, media & sport, the BDUK’s political parent, admitted taking legal advice on the publication of the so-called SCT figures. It refused to disclose the advice, saying it is legally privileged.

BT is the only supplier pitching for state funds under the BDUK framework. Sources close to the department say they believe the legal advice was that a case could be made that the public interest in offering contracts to provide broadband access in areas where BT will not build outweighs BT’s commercial interests.

DCMS confirmed that the details were kept secret under confidentiality clauses in the contract between the local authority and BT. The contract partners each kept the details, and DCMS did not keep ‘the maintained details”, it said.

“As the supplier progresses its roll-out we would expect the deployment data in the SCT to become less commercially sensitive and local bodies will publish details of the roll out,” it said. In other words, once it’s too late to do anything about it.

Publication of these details is crucial for more than 50 applications for funds from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund to go forward.  Applicants must fit in with the local council/BT roll-out, and BT has an effective veto on council approval of such applications.

Sources with knowledge of the situation say that delays in publishing the SCT details allow BT to  adjust its roll-out plan. It can ensure that no competitor will be able to service a contiguous area large enough to be economically viable. This leaves BT free to back-fill its coverage at leisure, or not.

DCMS said “The populated SCT is effectively an initial planning document, which is subject to alteration. Sometimes significant changes are made to it during delivery and its use by another commercial organisation or the general public could carry significant risk.”

It is unclear  who carries the risk. Indeed it is hard to see that the contracting council takes any risk; whether BT or a competitor provides the network is irrelevant as long at the specified service is delivered. DCMS surely has no business protecting the shareholders of private companies that wish to compete to supply councils.

If alt-nets (competitors) wish to build in places where BT has not indicated a desire to build, then the council,  voters and  taxpayers win. If BT wishes to close out competition by building everywhere, the same applies. If BT decides to build where a competitor has already built, the council and voters win because he or she then has a choice of broadband suppliers, and the same is true if a competitor chooses to build where BT has built.

The state aid money is a distraction. The local authority can spend it only once. It should make no difference whether it spends it with BT or with an alt-net, as long as the specified service is delivered. But it is illegal to give the aid to one supplier who can then use it to compete against a privately funded company, particularly one with an existing network. (This is the objection raised by BT and Virgin Media to block the government’s original £150m Superconnected Cities project.)

That is why it is important to clarify early what BT is contracted to deliver and where so that others can take their chance. Or perhaps no-one is looking after the subscribers’ needs in this matter

It is not clear why BT is being allowed so long to plan its roll-out after signing the contract. Does it not know what assets it has in these locations, and whether they are fit for purpose? Was there not an inventory taken before it was privatised? Were these assets not maintained in the following years? Are there no records of what was done, when, and by whom? And if the work was outsourced, can BT not reconcile the suppliers’ invoices against internal audit reports to establish what it should have?

Cynics will say that’s hard work; it’s much easier to keep going back to the taxpayers for hand-outs, and managing the brand and perceptions. But it’s not a viable long term strategy in a competitive market.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/28 at 22:51

BT has a veto on RCBF rural broadband projects

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BT is determined not to allow competition in rural areas. That’s why the speed and coverage details of their NGA contracts are kept under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and why would-be RCBF-funded community networks in the Final 10% are not allowed to see them.

This is clear from BDUK’s guidance to local authorities who may have eligible RCBF projects in their area.
In addition BT is permitted to do an impact assessment on RCBF projects, and hence holds an effective veto on them. Or it can use its own taxpayer-funded roll-out to ‘white-ant’ the projects’ coverage areas, making sure it will be hard or impossible for the projects to attract enough subscribers to be viable.
Will the NAO enquiry at least glance at this situation? I’m hoping DCMS will reply to my FOIA question on it in time to do some good.
It seems an awful lot of trouble to go to over £20m, but it demonstrates BT’s attention to detail.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/12 at 21:27

Did DCMS get legal advice on Final 10% NGA borders?

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Br0kenTeleph0n3 has used the Freedom of Information Act to ask the department of culture, media & sport whether it has sought and received legal advice on the publication of speed and coverage details contained in next generation broadband contracts now kept secret under non-disclosure agreements between local councils and BT.

You can follow its progress here.

It is hoped that DCMS responds quickly, for these details are essential to help communities finalise their bids for the third round of applications for funds from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), whose deadline looms.

Applicants are not presently allowed to know what areas BT has agreed to cover, or what speeds it will deliver to those areas. Recent guidance to local councils stated, “Local Bodies must note that under the terms of the (BDUK Framework) Call Off Contracts the elements of the SCT (speed and coverage template) provided by the Supplier (including the ‘no build’ tags) cannot be disclosed to any Community Project.”

This means would-be community operators must work blind in making their proposals. Nor are local councils allowed to say where or by how much a community proposal overlaps a planned BT area.

According to the guidance, BT is allowed to conduct an impact assessment of the proposal on its own roll-out. If most of the homes in the proposal will be covered by BT, the application will fail and those homes will receive a service from BT.

If the proposal has a ‘material impact”, the local authority can either negotiate a variation to BT’s contract or run a new procurement. This could pit BT against the community project, but with asymmetric knowledge of each other’s speed and coverage plans. For the community project to go ahead at all, it must “be clearly established that premises are eligible premises for funding under the RCBF”.

The RCBF hopes to cover 70,000 homes in the so-called last 10%. These are homes that will not receive a broadband service of at least 24Mbps download either from BT’s commercial roll-out or the local county council’s NGA procurement, all of which so far have gone to BT and cover half the country.

So far just four RCBF applications of around 80 have been approved, and 52 have been asked for more details. Some have been waiting 18 months for approval. The approved schemes, covering 1,537 homes, are Rothbury, Northumberland, which will get £460,000, half the total project cost; Tove, Northamptonshire, £117,000, also 50% of the total project cost; and two in Cumbria.

In essence it means RCBF is rapidly becoming another fund for BT as BT alone can determine the impact. Why would BT  demonstrate a low impact for handing over the reins to a community, thus creating a competitor, when it could have the money itself?

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/05 at 06:00