Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Superfast Cymru

ICO to vet Welsh broadband dispute

with 4 comments

wales-welsh-flag-16-pA decision by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to not release the test methodology and raw test data for the £425m Superfast Cymru broadband project has been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The complaint stems from a claim by a junior minister that the project had led to more than 100,000 premises being connected at an “average speed of 61Mbps”. It is part of long-running scepticism that the contract will deliver what the WAG has claimed it will, and now subject to audit.

The claim, by deputy minister for skills & technology Ken Skates, was challenged by broadband consultant Richard Brown. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Brown asked the WAG to supply the methodology and the raw test data on which Skates based the claim.

The WAG refused, saying the information would be published at a later date. Brown asked for a review of the WAG’s decision.

Rob Hunter, director of finance and performance in the department of economy science and transport, again refused Brown’s request. He referred to the earlier reason for non-disclosure and added that the information, together with an explanatory narrative, will be published, “probably in summer”, together with a ministerial announcement.

“I am of the opinion that publicly releasing the raw material at this time, without the explanatory narrative and accompanying explanatory ministerial announcement, would cause disruption to the Welsh government’s pre-set programme and the ministerial process in relation to this work in that the raw information, if released prematurely, may be misconstrued and re-published by some, or extracts of the information re-published, in such an ambiguous way as to cause confusion amongst the public and cause disruption to the effective conduct of public affairs.

“To that end, I do not think it is reasonable in all the circumstances or in the public interest to release this information prematurely. Rather, I believe the public interest would be best served if the information were released alongside the ministerial announcement and consultation participation report so that the public can review the information in context. I am satisfied therefore that the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding the information.”

In his complaint to the ICO, Brown said, “It does not serve the public interest that a junior minister can make claims in a press release (that is subsequently printed in the press), [but] that the information for testing those claims is withheld until a later date.

“I have been separately informed that the test data is not formed in the manner that has been described, in so much as that the 100,000 connections are not live connections (as described by the junior minister in his release), but are (in the majority) simply theoretical tests that have taken place to establish the possibility of these connections and their speeds.

“Such theoretical connections belies the claim made by the junior minister that the connections are ‘live’ with an average speed of 61Mbps. As such the public interest is in fact damaged due to the claim likely being both false and misleading. The determination to publish the data at a later date, simply moves the ‘proof’ to a later date in an effort to minimise its relevance in informing the public interest.”

Brown noted that WAG had waited until the last possible day to reply to him. “I am of the opinion that this is contrary to the spirit of the act, and is contrary to the commissioner’s guidance, and furthermore is a deliberate attempt to prevent access to information that would be appropriate to informing the public interest.”

In support of his complaint Brown claimed that Hunter’s statement that premature publication could confuse the public was “simply without merit”.

He said, “If this were indeed the case, then a programmed press release by the junior minister would not be possible for precisely the reasons given for not substantiating the claim made by the same junior minister. Further, had the junior minister not made such a wildly unsubstantiated claim in the press, the public interest would not need ‘early’ access to the data to test the claim made.”

Brown believes that Skates’ claims cannot be upheld using the withheld data. The denial on the grounds of future publishing and the unnecessary use of the total time allowance for responses were an attempt “to obfuscate the correct and appropriate informing of the public interest” rather than trying to preserve such public interest as Hunter claimed.

“The commissioner will be aware that such actions are contrary to the act and the deliberate attempt to prevent the legitimate release of information that informs the public interest remains an offence under the act,” Brown said.

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Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/06/30 at 22:38

Questions raised over double-funding of Welsh broadband networks

with 38 comments

Fibrespeed's potential coverage area back in 2012. Source: WAG.

Fibrespeed’s potential coverage area back in 2012. Source: WAG.

Maps showing that the Welsh Assembly Government’s (WAG) publicly-funded Superfast Cymru project supplied by BT will overbuild an existing publicly-funded network have led to questions about the legality of the £425m next generation broadband project.

Using post code data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act with the help of the Information Commissioner’s Office, broadband consultant Richard Brown has identified post codes included in the Superfast Cymru roll-out that are already covered by the £30m Fibrespeed network. He has asked the European Commission to investigate whether there has been a breach of the regulations.

Where BT plans to roll out Superfast Cymru.

Where BT plans to roll out Superfast Cymru. Source: WAG

BrokenTelephone reported in November last year that the WAG was seeking ways to overbuild Fibrespeed. At the time business, science and transport minister Edwina Hart said a change in the guidelines governing state aid for broadband might allow the overbuild, and promised to report back to WAG members.

Fibrespeed is owned by the WAG but supplied and operated under a 15 year contract by independent dark fibre network operator Geo (sold last week to US-based Zayo). It was to service 14 business parks in north Wales with an optical fibre trunk network at prices equivalent to London and the UK South-East, according to assembly member Lesley Griffiths, speaking in 2008. Local ISPs tapped spare capacity in the network to provide local residents with wireless connections starting from 2Mbps, providing a service BT could not match.

Brown asked Hart a year ago if Superfast Cymru would overbuild Fibrespeed. “At that time I received a statement from the business minister that she was satisfied that there was no overbuild, and the EU Commission received a similar reassurance that there was no overbuild and so chose not to pursue the matter any further,” he wrote to the commission.

On receiving the post code data for Superfast Cymru coverage areas, he tested them against those covered by Fibrespeed (see table).

“The original statement issued to me by the business minister, and subsequently affirmed by the EU Commission, was that the Fibrespeed project was specifically targeted at business parks in the north of Wales and, whilst resellers of the Fibrespeed capacity may have extended this network using alternative connection methods (wireless appears to be prevalent), no business park was to be covered by Superfast Cymru, and so no overbuild of the original public funded project would take place,” he said.
“LL17 OLJ is St Asaph Business Park. It is where Fibrespeed have their principal office of operations.”

Brown said, “It is clear that a deliberate attempt appears to have been made to misrepresent both the Fibrespeed and Superfast Cymru projects to the EU Commission for the purposes of securing additional (duplicated in part) public funding.
“Whilst the declared outcome sought (increased access of citizens to superfast broadband speeds) is of course laudable, the Superfast Cymru project itself is under scrutiny as to whether it can indeed deliver on this.”

Postcode Served by Fibrespeed Served by Superfast Cymru
LL77 7UR Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
LL65 4RW Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
LL12 0PG Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
LL13 9XT Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
CH5 2NR Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
CH7 6HB Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
LL57 4YH Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*
LL17 0LJ Yes (case study) Yes – released postcodes*

*released postcodes refer to a document which is the 54k (approx) postcodes that the Information Commissioner compelled the Welsh Government department to release to Brown that detail the target intervention areas of the Superfast Cymru project.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/06/03 at 06:55

Auditor General seeks value in £425m Welsh broadband projects

with 6 comments

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

BT changes cut off Welsh ISPs from ABC grants

with 25 comments

Changes in the status of BT exchanges that coincided with the launch of the Welsh Assembly Government’s  (WAG) Access Broadband Cymru (ABC) programme may stop BT’s competitors from accessing grant money of up to £1000 per home.

Stakeholders are meeting the WAG today in Cardiff to discuss the ABC, Richard Brown of Wispa reports. “Basically, it’s a ra-ra session for the scheme and an attempt to keep the smaller ISPs onside whilst BT solves the problems of Wales en route to delivering 95%+ superfast coverage,” he says.

The ABC scheme, which kicked off on 1 October,  contributes up to £1000 per premises to home owners and SMEs who may miss out on the £425m joint WAG-BT Superfast Cymru programme or where its roll-out has not yet started.

It appears that, just as ABC went live, BT changed all the UE (under evaluation) exchanges to FE (future exchanges). “Under ABC, FE exchanges do not qualify for grant… two days ago those exchanges did qualify,” Brown says.

What a difference a day makes.

What a difference a day makes.

The timing looks suspicious when one looks at the map. Brown points out the dotted line on the map is the border between Wales and England.

“All the ones on the Welsh side now mysteriously don’t qualify for support from the Welsh government. This is simply an extension of BT announcing that they are ‘coming soon’ when a small ISP announces an installation in an area – much like they tried to do to B4RN,” Brown says.

“This is a nonsense. Someone – anyone – but someone, has to start taking this seriously.

  • BT is being paid handsomely to promise to deliver.
  • The contracts are secret.
  • The delivery mechanisms and roll-out plans are secret.
  • No one is allowed to scrutinise anything – but we all have to shut up and suck up the BT goodness…”

Brown earlier started a satirical website, SuperFarce Cymru, that mocked the WAG’s programme and earned him letters from BT’s lawyers that alleged he used copyright material without permission. It’s still there.

BDUK is holding a similar talk-fest on Monday 7 October to find out what plans would-be altnets have to provide the Final 10% with next generation broadband connections.

Not for the first time BDUK is unable or unwilling to provide videoconferencing, or even a webcast and phone-in facility. This would save hard-up farmers,  country pub owners and wanna-be altnet operators a long trip to London to attend and exploit the benefits of superfast broadband at the same time.

Oh, wait…

For an invitation email Andy Carter at bdukf10@culture.gsi.gov.uk or call him on 020 7211 6043. While you’re at it, ask him to webcast the meeting.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/10/04 at 05:45

BT in gagging order to parody website

with 6 comments

BT’s legal department has sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to the satirical website superfarce-cymru.com, claiming it breaches BT copyright and giving it seven days to take down the allegedly offending material before it starts legal proceedings.

It accuses site owner Richard Brown of copying “a substantial amount” of the content of the superfast-wales.com website, including the design of the home page and BT’s logo, “which although blurred, is easily recognisable”.

Brown appears to aim as much at the Welsh Assembly Government as at BT’s marketing hype about superfast broadband.

In answer to the question “What’s Superfast Cymru all about?” the home page says, “If we can convince you that we are doing a decent job by claiming that this is a pioneering multimillion pound programme to bring nationwide superfast broadband, there’s a chance you’ll overlook the millions wasted on RIBS, Fibrespeed, PBSA, buying Cardiff airport etc and still vote us back in.”

BT is spending some £220m inWales, with most of it going towards Superfast Cymru. The WAG is contributing £58m, BDUK £57m. with £90m coming from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The default installation will be  fibre to the cabinet, which offers a nominal 80Mbps download and 20Mbps upload, but BT indicates it will also offer a 330Mbps download, 30Mbps fibre to the premises wholesale product. It aims to cover 96% of Welsh homes and businesses.

The Superfarce Cymru site reflects a sceptical view of the £425m roll out. “FTTC provides wholesale download speeds up to 80Mbps and upload speeds up to 20Mbps, so if you are a long way from the exchange or the cabinet, this won’t make any difference to the speed that you will be able to get. If you have a nice view or not very many neighbours, this won’t make any difference to the real speed you can get.”

Under the contract, the largest next generation broadband deal in the UK, BT says it will install 17,500km of optical fibre cable and around 3,000 new fibre-enabled street cabinets.

The first eight regions to benefit will be Bangor, Caernarfon, Dolgellau, Menai Bridge, Porthmadog, Pwllheli, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar.

WAG business minister Edwina Hart unveiled the first Superfast Cymru cabinet in Bangor in February.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/03/10 at 18:51