Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘wireless broadband

WSCC/BT roll-out to duplicate wireless broadband coverage

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that BT is prioritising rural areas where it faces competition for its initial taxpayer-funded roll-out of next generation broadband.

The latest example comes from West Sussex, where BT has already upgraded the coastal belt in its commercial roll-out, and is now moving inland.

The official West Sussex County Council interactive map (which is not up to date in terms of its colour-coding; it still says the coast is “under evaluation”) does not reflect any choice of suppliers of high speed broadband.

BT's taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma's privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

BT’s taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma’s privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

However, BrokenTelephone has made a more up to date map which shows roughly how BT’s taxpayer-funded coverage maps onto the coverage provided by wireless internet service provider Kijoma (outlined in black).

Interestingly, the WSCC says that two of the exchange areas shown as pink are “partly in the commercial roll-out”.

“These are Billingshurst and Bosham. The rest are outside of the commercial roll-out and therefore in the area eligible for funding by the project.”

When the BDUK procurement framework was first mentioned, wireless was excluded as not being capable of meeting EU targets of 30Mbps for all, and 50% of the population on 100Mbps service. The European Commission later relaxed its stance on wireless, but BDUK and local councils appear to ignore the change in contracting for next generation broadband networks.

We have asked WSCC for clarification as to precisely which areas in Billinghurst and Bosham (bottom left of map, just south of Kijoma coverage) are in the commercial roll-out, and what the time-frame is for the roll-out to the non-commercial parts are. We’ll update this story if we get a reply.

This is not the first sign that BT is being allowed to use public money to overbuild privately-run networks. The most egregious so far is BT’s roll-out of a fibre through the

Lune Valley, Lancashire - site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle.

Lune Valley, Lancashire – site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle. (Click to open.)

Lancashire village of Dolphinholme, where residents have spent time, money and effort digging towards the B4RN network to ensure that their village doesn’t miss out.

While BT’s Dolphinholme roll-out looks good in terms of “homes passed”, the actual availability of a fibre connection to those homes not on the road appears slight. The more likely reason for the fibre link is that the road through Dolphinholme leads to a radio mast, and the fibre is there to backhaul mobile radio traffic, not to carry residential broadband traffic. But its presence is a threat to B4RN, which, try as it might, is unlikely to persuade mobile network operators to use its fibre, at least in the short term.

Tunstall, another Lancashire village in the B4RN coverage area in BT’s sights, is on the road to Kirkby Lonsdale and there is already fibre in that road. BT is also targetting Whittington, which is the hamlet after Arkholme and Docker on the way up to Kirkby on the opposite side of the Lune valley to Tunstall.

Two weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped plans to roll out a 1Gbps-capable FTTP network in the Dun Valley, Wiltshire, after the Wiltshire County Council said it would apply BDUK money to BT’s “up to 80Mbps” FTTC roll-out in the area. This followed months of discussions between residents, Gigaclear and the council as to their roll-out plans for the valley.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/20 at 07:01

BT to broadband councils: Ask yourself – do I feel lucky?

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PAC chairman Margaret Hodge: seeking direction

PAC chairman Margaret Hodge: seeking direction

So, what did we learn from Round 2 of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) v BT/BDUK (rural broadband division)?

Hopefully not as much as we shall learn in the promised Round 3, but it had better come soon before we all lose interest and find better things to do with our lives, like learning macramé.

What did emerge were clearer reasons for BT’s secrecy. Former Ofcom official Sean Williams, who spoke for BT, said that the equipment BT is installing in the BDUK intervention areas is exactly the same as that which it is installing in its commercial roll-out. Therefore revealing the price it pays for equipment in the BDUK areas would help its competitors in the rest of the country.

This is disingenuous, perhaps delusional. No-one wants to duplicate BT’s copper network, so the price of a DSLAM and its path is irrelevant to competitors. The few firms that do want to provide connectivity in rural areas want to run fibre to the home or to a distribution point (call it a digital village pump if you will), and from there use high speed wireless to the home.

They would find it helpful if they could use BT’s ducts and poles and cabinets to do some of it, but as they would be able to offer faster speeds than BT’s copper, BT wants to keep them off its passive infrastructure at all costs.

Most would also like BT to backhaul their local traffic, but few can afford to pay the charges BT is asking to build (or light) the connecting fibres.

Someone should be checking these costs, because Ofcom has allowed BT to set its own prices for wholesale fibre access. In consequence Ofcom is now having to investigate a TalkTalk complaint that BT has run a margin squeeze on the product.

More to the point, in many cases BT fibre already goes to rural villages and towns, but only to schools and other public sector enterprises like hospitals and clinics. It would have been extraordinarily short-sighted of BT to run only a single fibre pair to each of these places, so there are likely to be spare unlit fibres in the neighbourhood. These could be put into service in short order at marginal cost. If someone was paying attention.

Even if BT was that myopic, there is likely to be spare capacity on the fibre pair due to different peak times for business and recreational traffic. Even if this got congested, well, BT now knows how to make ordinary fibre carry 1.4Tbps over distances of more than 400km. That should be enough for most rural communities, at least in the short term.

The other thing we discovered is BT’s employment of Catch-22 with respect to post codes. Williams said BT’s policy is that local councils are free to publish maps that contain BT’s proposed speed and coverage data down to seven-digit post code level. This is precise enough to say what upload and download speeds each and every premises in the country will be able to get. Two, Northamptonshire and Dorset have apparently done so. But it’s up to councils to decide.

Most other councils have published speed and coverage maps down to five-digit post code granularity. This is because, Williams said, the finer details revealed in the seven-digit post cost templates are secret and covered by the non-disclosure covenants in the contracts councils have signed with BT. Publishing them would break the contract and theoretically open them to legal action from BT.

Catch-22, or as Dirty Harry said, “You have to ask yourself a question – Do I feel lucky? Well, do you?”

Unfortunately none of the MPs on the PAC sought an assurance from Williams that BT will not exercise its rights if councils publish the speed and coverage details at the seven-digit resolution. Hopefully they will do so in Round 3.

One bit of good news that almost got lost in the noise is that BDUK’s analysis of early roll-out invoices suggest that BT has over-estimated by about one-third the associated management overhead costs.

It’s early days yet, and as the BT installation teams gain experience, those savings should grow. One hopes that they will not be used to finance the new £50m expansion of BT’s city fibre networks.

See the Round 2 video here starting at 16.53.20.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/31 at 06:54

Just one broadband village left to resist BT pressure

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If BT is the Roman empire, then Tove Valley is looking like a small Gaulish village filled with indomitable villagers.

The red line indicates where TVB plans coverage.

The red line indicates where TVB plans coverage.

Tove Valley may soon be the only one of the six proposed rural broadband projects invited to talks with culture secretary Maria Miller to get funding, and BT is so determined to get it to throw in its lot with the monpolist telco that a BT manager has at best misrepresented an earlier rural project.

The Abthorpe Broadband Association (ABbA), which has run a wireless broadband service in the Tove Valley area in Northamptonshire for 10 years. Following discussions with the local parish council, it has asked DEFRA/BDUK for money from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to fund a superfast broadband project, Tove Valley Superfast Broadband (TVB) . It has also asked  the county council to cut out its postcodes from the proposed BT coverage footprint.

The service, which went live in May, is based on a fibre optic feed into the Lois Weedon school. This is then transmitted via Wi-Fi to nearby villages and properties. TVB is charging £120 a year for up to 30Mbps, plus £175 for sign-on and equipment.

Following a meeting between Giles Ellerton, business development director NGA for BT Group, and TVB chairman Eric Malcomson, Ellerton wrote to Malcomson on 14 June 2013 to confirm the risks of going it alone. BrokenTelephone has seen the letter, which is marked “Strictly commercial and in confidence”.

Ellerton wrote, “If Tove Valley Broadband is not able to secure an ISP partner to offer value added services to end users, there is a real risk of a digital divide occurring again among the different communities in which neighbouring communities will have access to a range of services offered by a choice of ISPs…BT Retail(which manages BT Sport) has not to date used networks similar to Tove Valley Broadband network because of the costs and complications as discussed… Experience has shown that where independent small fibre networks have been deployed, large national ISP’s (sic) have failed to engage or use the network for the reasons already discussed.”

(This is the same issued highlighted by New_Londoner, believed to the Twitter ‘handle’ of Openreach CEO Liv Garfield, in relation to fibre altnet Gigaclear in an ISPreview interview in which it claimed to have had more than 400 enquiries.)

Ellerton went on to say that if Northamptonshire agrees to cut the Tove Valley postcodes out of the BDUK intervention area (the area which BT is contracted to supply) the change would be “irreversible”. If the project was later found to be “not compliant” with state aid funding rules, ABbA would be responsible for repaying DEFRA in full.

“In the case of an application by the Rothbury community in Northumberland for the RCBF scheme, it was felt by DEFRA that the financial risk of failure by the operator (Grey Sky (sic) Consulting) was too great and the funding conditions required that the project then had to be novated (a new contract substituted for the old one) into the Local Authority BDUK project.”

GreySky’s CEO James Saunby concurs with the risks BT identifies, but provide a different picture as to what happened.

“Although GreySky acted as the ‘accountable body’ throughout the development of the project, we are a consultancy company. With the addition of the RCBF funding, the project took on a scale that would never have been appropriate for GreySky to take any financial risk associated with its delivery,” he says.

“GreySky is a consultancy, not a service provider or network operator. To achieve the preferred solution, the council needed to take responsibility for the project. Because of the way the project had developed, this presented some challenges to the council. This solution (novation) was encouraged by Defra as a means of most effectively managing the risks of the project. However, I am not aware of any statement from Defra that ‘the funding conditions required it.’

“It is also not clear to me that this would apply to other projects where they had been developed by communities with the intention from the outset of maintaining an ongoing involvement with the project.”

BT did not respond to requests to explain its use of the language used in Ellerton’s letter to ABbA.

Ellerton wrote that BT’s solution for Tove Valley is to keep all but “the final 10%” of homes inside the BDUK coverage area, and to use RCBF money “to go as far as possible” into the remainder.

“The community can (then) use a Build and Benefit model to provide payment in kind through items such as self-dig or access to way-leaves. You might also be able to contribute through your own locally branded Demand Stimulation programme to achieve 60%+ take up through a pre-registration exercise. A final option could be the community provides private funds to procure a fibre cabinet(s) to service the Tove Valley Broadband project area, along the same lines as Islip in Oxfordshire.”

Malcomson referred BrokenTelephone to a flyer prepared for the 2013 TalkTalk Digital Heroes awards in which he said the project had already connected more than half the 400 potential customers in its area at speeds above 30Mbps. “Supplying 200 households and businesses reflects the levels of take up we predicted in our business plan. It goes to show the demand there is for superfast broadband.”

Nearby villages have asked to join the Tove Valley scheme. “Bradden and Helmdon would nearly double the potential size of our market, but the community model we already have in place will work on a larger scale. It will also give us the opportunity to significantly increase our bandwidth and supply yet faster broadband. The future is very exciting.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/11/07 at 06:35

VOA seeks info to tax wireless access points

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The Valuation Office Agency, which is responsible for valuing non-domestic property for business rates purposes, has written to network operators asking for details about their “occupation” of wireless broadband and fibre networks.

Operators already pay business rates taxes on sites and masts used for mobile networks and microwave backhaul ; this is a long-expected attempt to subject fixed wireless broadband networks’ passive components  to business rates taxes. Previous attempts have foundered because of a dearth of information available to the VOA.

The covering letter and forms are available Letter Area list Form Page 1 Form Page 2 Form Page 3 Form Page 4.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/10/17 at 11:10

Kroes dodges tough questions over UK broadband

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The European Commission faces tough questions over its role and commitment to an open, transparent and competitive market for next generation broadband.

News that the Valuation Office Agency is assessing how it plans to tax wireless broadband infrastructure prompted one Br0kenTeleph0n3 reader to ask the European Commission what it thinks of the move.

Mike Phillips of West Chiltington, West Sussex, has been battling to get high speed broadband into his village for years. He wrote to Neelie Kroes, the commission’s Digital Agenda champion, to question the apparent growing bias against fixed wireless broadband. He also asked Ms Kroes what she thought of Fujitsu’s decision not to bid for BDUK contracts, leaving BT with uncontested access to BDUK’s treasure, when EU state aid rules require a competitive process.

The reply came from DG Connect. It noted that nine firms had expressed an interest in BDUK’s money, but “seven of them withdrew during the selection process due to e.g. financial difficulties, change in strategy or preference for different intervention model than investment gap funding”. Fujitsu’s withdrawal would be “unfortunate”.

DG Connect went on to say that local councils can step outside the BDUK framework but still have access to state aid, including BDUK money. “In such cases the local authorities shall comply with the conditions of openness, transparency and non-discrimination when conducting the tender procedure in line with the principles of the national and EU public procurement rules,” it said.

Phillips is not leaving the matter there. He has written back to DG Connect to ask, “Does the EU agree with the principal of state aid being given to an incumbent telco to provide, at best, an overall maximum of 24Mbps, and often less, whilst an established fixed wireless NGA network is available and can be expanded at far less cost?

“Why has the Commission given the fixed wireless industry in the UK a far greater challenge than that given to BT, namely to provide a minimum of 30Mbps and to revisit served premises to upgrade then to fibre when available? BT have publicly stated they will not undertake the latter and cannot provide the former under FTTC.”

There are other questions one should ask. DG Connect’s reply does not mention the main reason BT is the only recipient of BDUK largesse: the game was rigged. Geo’s Chris Smedley, Vtesse’s Aidan Paul and others have been explicit and public on this: the Ofcom-approved terms and conditions attached to third party access to BT’s poles and ducts in rural areas make it impossible to compete against BT. Why does DG Connect ignore this?

In practice BT has made its NGA proposals to local councils subject to non-disclosure agreements. This has hidden the terms and conditions under which BT could receive up to £1.3bn of taxpayers’ money. Is this what DG Connect means by open and transparent?

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/04/09 at 06:56

VOA seeks info on wireless broadband networks – to tax them

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The Broadband Stakeholders Group is hosting a meeting at which the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) will set out its views on the potential application of the non-domestic rating regime (aka ‘business rates’) to wireless broadband network infrastructure.

This meeting marks the start of a public consultation before the VOA publishes a Practice Note to clarify the valuation for non-domestic rates of wireless broadband network infrastructure. It is looking for inputs from industry on rental values and costs of installation.

The meeting comes less than a month after Vfast withdrew its proposal for a wireless broadband network for Tunbridge Wells, saying the VOA had told it the scheme would be subject to business rates taxes.

The VOA is the same organisation that saw fit to subject lit fibre to business rates and introduce three different ways of valuing it, two of which favour BT and Virgin Media. A recent Ofcom report on the market for >1Gbps services found the fibre tax is a serious inhibitor for investment.

Alan Bradford, head of telecoms at the VOA, will provide an update at the BSG meeting and there will be time for Q&A.

The BSG says this meeting is the VOA’s first opportunity to begin this industry consultation. However, Vfast’s reaction to its meeting with the VOA suggests that the VOA has already made up its mind to tax wireless networks. It is now just trying to fix the rate.

The meeting will take place from 10.00 to 12.00 on Monday 22 April at the Intellect offices, Russell Square House, 10-12 Russell Square, London WC1B 5EE.

The BSG thinks this will interest mobile operators, fixed wireless providers and other stakeholders with an interest in the non-domestic rating regime.

RSVP to by Tuesday 16 April.  Places are limited so early registration is advised.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/04/05 at 07:46

Rates threat scuppers wireless broadband in royal town

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Vfast, a wireless broadband provider, has withdrawn a proposal to supply Royal Tunbridge Wells because the Valuation Office Agency has told it such as service will attract business rates, making Vfast’s offer commercially unviable.

In a letter to Hilary Smith, the Tunbridge Wells’ economic development officer, Sean Doherty, Vfast’s strategy and business manager, said,”I am very sorry to say that we are unable to continue with the tender for Tunbridge Wells.  We had a very exiting (sic) package put together and are really keen to do this however after our meeting today with the head of the telecoms team at the VOA it means that it will not be viable for us.

“We have been told quite clearly that the Tunbridge Wells project will incur Business Rates.  The cost of this added to the cost of the franchise added to the share of revenue added to the start-up costs mean that we have regrettable (sic) decided not to proceed.”

Tunbridge Wells is not short of broadband. SamKnows says some parts can get Virgin Media and FTTC, not to mention Sky, Tiscali, TalkTalk, C&W, O2/Be and AOL.

Why does the town feel the need for a wireless option? Will BT offer the town a wireless service based on its new 2.6MHz mobile licence? If so, what business rates will BT’s new service attract?

Smith and Doherty did not respond to requests to comment. Nor did HM Revenue & Customs, which speaks for the VOA.

This is not the first time Vfast has been denied wireless business in Kent. It was gazumped by BT in Iwade when the incumbent unexpectedly offered to upgrade three of the four cabinets that serve the village for free. This let parish councillors spend £13,000 to upgrade the remaining one, rather than the £49,000 originally promised by Kent County Council for the whole village.

INCA CEO Malcolm Corbett, who attended the Vfast meeting with the VOA, described it as “exploratory”.

“The meeting was exploratory in the sense that VOA are trying to work out where FWA (fixed wireless access) providers fit in their scheme of things. If you read the VOA practice notes they either cover mobile operators where masts/towers form part of the hereditament or fixed line NGA providers charged either per user connected or under a receipts and expenditures regime. FWA doesn’t fit neatly into either category. Essentially the VOA are going to think about what it all means…”

Given that the European Commission permitted wireless access for state aided next generation projects last year, and that in February BDUK issued guidance to local authorities regarding the use of wireless, the VOA’s unsettled position is inexcusable.

Br0kenTeleph0n3 has already highlighted the double standard BDUK is applying to wireless broadband operators. BDUK asks them to meet higher performance targets than BT for NGA and to commit to a fibre to the home roll-out at some point in the future, unlike BT. Further uncertainty due to VOA prevarication begs the question, what is the game here?

Many existing wireless broadband operations are run by volunteers for their communities at cost or less, solely because it is the only way to provide a more or less acceptable and affordable broadband service in those areas. Adding a tax burden would immediately kill most of them.

The few remaining commercial wireless operators would be hard-pressed too, and likely forced to raise prices. If they went out of business, taxpayers would have to give more money to BT’s rural roll-out to resupply the service. It is unlikely that the money raised by taxing wireless access would cover the cost of rolling out FTTC to areas currently being served by wireless.

The only party that stands to benefit from a tax on wireless broadband access is BT.

Is that what this government means by a competitive market in telecommunications?

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/04/03 at 07:53