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While the number of people with the option of a native FTTP connection via the Openreach GEA-FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) roll-out is still low, we have spotted that BT Consumer has started to offer reduced prices for the first 12 months in an attempt we presume to tempt more people to try out the faster 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps options that Infinity 3 and Infinity 4 provide.
The usual Infinity 1 and Infinity 2 options are of course still available.
Limited numbers of other providers do sell the Openreach FTTP service, and once product of note is the up to 76 Mbps FTTP service from Zen Internet at £46.99 per month on a 12 month contract. It is a little bit more expensive than BT Infinity 2 for the first 12 months, but after the 12 months the standard Infinity 2 price of £53.99 means you get a cheaper service from the smaller provider.
NOTE: The products mentioned above are nothing to do with the Fibre on Demand FTTP option that many will see on the BT Wholesale checker and is potentially available to many more who can already get VDSL2. The Fibre on Demand service at the wholesale level carries a 36 month contract, and setup fees are custom based on your exact circumstances and will be in the £1000 and higher region with a monthly fee in the area of £150 to £300 per month. This means it is aimed at the business market but in more urban areas due to the competition in the Ethernet marketplace you might find that cheaper.
For those people who have seen Virgin Media engineering teams come and go in their area the news that Virgin Media is investigating itself over exaggerated coverage claims for Project Lightning according to reports in The Telegraph may not be too much of a surprise.
It appears reports that Project Lightning had delivered new coverage to some 718,000 premises are being revised down to a new figure of 567,000 and four staff have been suspended with disciplinary action a possibility which might even go as far as dismissal.
So what has gone on? Put simply it seems that premises were being optimistically added to the coverage totals when significant further work was still needed to enable cabinets in area.
"It should be noted that any estimate involving new build activity of the magnitude of Project Lightning and our other new build programs is inherently difficult to determine and is dependent upon multiple factors impacting construction.Virgin Media
Thinkbroadband coverage analysis is based on analysis of where people can order a Virgin Media service and generally lags the expansion work by Openreach, KCom, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic. One reason for this is that the press releases in 2016 were well ahead of people being able to order and in 2017 so far the focus has been on making sure our data takes into account all of the new housing that appeared in 2016, and this explains why we've not been querying any coverage figures from Virgin Media. As 2017 progresses the areas where Virgin Media is delivering via Project Lightning will form a small but important part of the 95% UK superfast broadband target. It is 'small' as much of the build is overlapping with VDSL2, including some cabinets likely to have been gap funded.
The key thing now is, with the management shuffle, to get the project back on track and deliver the 1.3 to 1.4 million premises expected in 2017 and push on towards the eventual goal that might see the cable footprint reach two thirds of UK premises, and once DOCSIS 3.1 hits the ground, that means Gigabit coverage at that level too.
Ofcom has got out the big stick today to beat up BT Group, and has issued a record breaking £42 million fine due to BT breaking rules around how extensions to the 30 day install period for Ethernet services should have been handled between January 2013 and December 2014.
"These high-speed lines are a vital part of this country’s digital backbone. Millions of people rely on BT’s network for the phone and broadband services they use every day.
We found BT broke our rules by failing to pay other telecoms companies proper compensation when these services were not provided on time. The size of our fine reflects how important these rules are to protect competition and, ultimately, consumers and businesses. Our message is clear – we will not tolerate this sort of behaviour."Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Investigations Director
The basic install period given for an Ethernet leased line is 30 days, but when problems are encountered extensions can be granted (e.g. wayleave is taking time to negotiate) but if the 30 working day rule is broken when no extension was agreed compensation is due, no matter whether that business is a big company like Vodafone, or a medium sized company seeking to install reliable business broadband. It seems BT was making some assumptions based on carefully worded contracts that meant it thought customers had agreed to the time extension, thus reducing the compensation due.
The fine would have been 30% higher but BT has accepted full liability and is in the process of setting up a scheme to compensate companies affected and this must be completed within 12 months. The ubiquity of the BT footprint means that even for many Ethernet services sold by third parties the actual physical connection is via BT but this is slowly now changing as more options appear.
There is also a £300,000 fine for not providing Ofcom with information that was complete in its Business Connectivity Review 2016, and this once paid to Ofcom will be passed onto HM Treasury. There will no doubt be a lots of analysts looking to the financial results to see if this record fine does make an impact on the profit margins which it should do, increasing the price for Ethernet services is something that cannot happen as Ofcom has been pushing down the prices of the product for sometime.
So how did BT let this happen? Difficult to know for sure, but if you rewind your memory to the 2013 and 2014 period it was a time when lots of third party contractors were being used and consumers were complaining about the standards Openreach was delivering, plus the commercial VDSL2 roll-outs and BDUK projects were at peak delivery volume. So perhaps someone took their eye off the ball and diverted resources to hit some metrics in one area, but failed to appreciate the eventual impact on other areas of doing so.
This record fine helps to underscore why there was so much campaigning for the full breakup of Openreach away from BT Group, i.e. the other communications providers were viewing things in light of what they knew about this on-going investigation. The real question is whether Openreach has actually turned the corner now and changes of the last 18 months plus the new board mean that once people stop beating them up other past transgressions that things are materially better. Though ironically for those that want a less powerful national telecoms operator, a Laurel and Hardy delivery service with a sea of calm visible PR veneer might be an easier market for others to compete in and undercut on the four key metrics of speed of service, delivery time, reliability and pricing.
Ofcom has started the formal consultation period on a set of proposals that will see consumer and SME telephone and broadband customers receive automatic compensation for things like slow fault repairs, missed engineer appointments and service activation taking longer than originally promised.
The telecoms industry has laid out its own proposal in the of a voluntary code of practice but is saying that this proposal does not sufficiently meet their concerns. Thus the consultation and an increased likelihood of something being mandated by the regulator.
The Ofcom proposals as they stand mean:
"When a customer’s landline or broadband goes wrong, that is frustrating enough without having to fight tooth and nail to get fair compensation from the provider.
So we’re proposing new rules to force providers to pay money back to customers automatically, whenever repairs or installations don’t happen on time, or when people wait in for an engineer who doesn’t turn up. This would mean customers are properly compensated, while providers will want to work harder to improve their service.Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director
Crucially the compensation would be paid automatically as a cash payment or a credit on your bill, meaning that while there will be frustration over the fault or missed appointment still you will not have to keep chasing the provider for compensation.
This removal of the ad-hoc arrangements that are currently in place and a clear set of rules across all providers will make it easier for the public understand what their rights are.
The exact amount of compensation that will be paid out has been estimated based on past performance of operators across the UK broadband industry by Ofcom at £185m per year, but we would expect that if compensation was made automatic that the industry would do more to ensure that faults and provisions levels were reduced further.
The finger of blame and chinese whispers can sometimes play a part in how broadband faults (and to a lesser extent telephone faults) are dealt with currently, particularly with the multiple tiers of retail and wholesale arms involved. Some operators have also quietly in the last year or two downgraded their service level options with Openreach, and once you add the time lag from the consumer reporting a fault and Openreach attending to fix it if a local loop fault this would make the fully fixed in two working days limit very tight. An additional point of contention in the new rules is the 'fully fixed', since after some faults the broadband speed takes a period of time to recover depending on how operators Dynamic Line Management systems work, so hopefully once the consultation is all over and anything concrete is published there will be a clear consumer definition of what 'fully fixed' in terms of broadband means. One can envisage a scenario where a provider has an issue with a major node in its network, knocking a large proportion of its customers offline for an hour or two, but by re-routing traffic people can get connectivity, but this may be at the expense of things like latency and throughput. Another scenario is a business or gamer that is reliant on reasonable latency but while their connection is working to some extent, or congestion is so bad that web pages are timing out which many will say is a broken connection but a provider may consider it not to be, hiding behind the contention ratio magic and stating its not them but what other users are doing.
These proposals do apply to all the broadband operators in the UK, and while the larger operators can more easily absorb the charges, Ofcom should work to ensure that the same automatic compensation applies to wholesale providers when dealing with the retailer i.e. ensures that wholesale providers who often sit between Openreach and smaller broadband providers are doing their part. Virgin Media of course as a full vertical operation should have an easier time.
The broadband market in the UK has been price sensitive right from the get go, as many early adopters jumped at broadband as it was cheaper and faster than many dial-up plans some seventeen years ago, and then there was the excitement as Pipex started the price wars with the big bang moment being the TalkTalk phone and broadband bundling in 2006. The Ofcom consultation if you dig deep does explore these areas and looks at how for many (including the SME market) are much more driven by headline price rather than quality of service, low fault rates and how good or bad an operator is in dealing with compensation.
Will automatic compensation drive prices up? Well £185m shared between 23 million connections works out at £8 each or 70p per month, but just like house insurance which we all hate paying but gives us piece of mind, if guaranteed compensation is in place it will be a good thing and for infrastructure operators it will mean more of an incentive to ensure adequate staff levels to deal with faults, though there is bound to an accountant somewhere running the figures to see if there is more profit in keeping the current staffing levels and paying more compensation versus employing more engineering staff.
Virgin Media has always worked to retain its crown of being the fastest widely available broadband provider and news today indicates that the 100 Mbps product is set to become the standard entry level service and 300 Mbps as the top speed.
Update: 7pm 27th March 2017 Someone spotted that the upload speeds have changed in the press release on the Virgin Media site, so we have copied the table over again:
The product tiers will be (as published by Virgin Media on 22nd March 2017):
"By beefing up our bundles we’re leaving our competitors in the rear view mirror, starting where they finish. Eye-watering speeds, a better box and top-notch TV is a winning combination.
More and more switchers tell us they are joining Virgin Media for our faster speeds and we understand why - whether it’s 4K Netflix, box sets in multiple rooms or online gaming, the best entertainment requires the best broadband and we’re making sure our customers are covered with these bundles at incredible value.Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media
We feel that the CEO missed an important point when drafting his comment, since a key point of ultrafast broadband is the ability to let you do multiple things, so surely one would expect Virgin Media to be promoting doing 4K streaming, box sets and online gaming all at the same time?
Pricing is of course important to people and also given the size of Virgin Media will have some influence on what prices its competitors feel they will able to charge. Products apart from Solus which is the broadband only service include voice line and are based on 12 month contracts.
We presume the press release has omitted the classic 'up to' since it is promoting the connection speeds rather than the peak time experience and the behaviour of different areas that Virgin Media cover can be the problem, thus while many are perfectly happy there is it appears a constant churn of people who are chasing reliable jitter and latency performance moving to the slower VDSL2 products. If Virgin Media can get a firm grasp on capacity planning and combine this with an increasing footprint it stands a good chance of heading off any G.fast product plans that BT Consumer, Sky and TalkTalk have.
It is not clear if there will be any pro-active upgrade programme as used to happen a few years ago for Virgin Media customers, only time will tell on that topic but we know for sure some will chase to be the first to try and get upgrades and the usual advice of make sure you know what contract changes you are agreeing to applies. Our product listings still feature the old speed points since Virgin Media has not updated its own packages yet.
Over 1,000 people who had been Plusnet customers were overcharged by the broadband provider Ofcom has determined after a lengthy investigation with the 1,000 customers affected covering a four year period from May 2011 to September 2015.
Ofcom has now levied a fine after closing the investigation, and this means the Treasury gains £880,000 as a result of the fine Ofcom has imposed, assuming Plusnet pay it within 20 days. In addition Plusnet did make efforts to track down those owed money (over £500,000) and some 356 customers were refunded £212,140 (figure includes 4% interest), in the case where contact was not made with old customers the balance has been donated to a dozen local charities.
The fine would have been another 20% higher but apparently Plusnet was willing to enter into a formal settlement which reduced the fine, as by playing ball it saved time and money on the side of Ofcom.
The investigation started by Ofcom on 27th May 2016 and while the Ofcom investigation talks of 'the telecoms company broke a fundamental billing rule by continuing to charge a group of customers for landline or broadband, after they had cancelled their service' it is not totally clear if they mean people left via the preferred migration route or this just affected people ceasing their broadband due to moving out of a property.
We feel we should highlight one aspect of changing provider, the Ofcom mandated migration process means you do not need to contact your old provider when switching provider (and the switch is to a provider that runs over the Openreach local loop), and in cases where people have done this some providers actually interpret the contact as the consumer trying to cancel the service. Why is this distinction important? Because a migration is cheaper than a cancellation and provision due to the cease fees that a cancellation can trigger, additionally cease and provide can mean you are without broadband for an extended period compared to the 30 minutes to 1 hour for a migration. For those worried about billing, the solution is to allow your migration to go through and double check the leaving letter you will have received from your old provider to make sure any amounts owed are correct and then once the switch has completed check that any payments taken are correct.
Update 8:50am 23rd March The offer has now expired, so for anyone who signed up remember to claim the reward once your service is live, and for those who missed out the previous offer of £18.99/m for 12 months on the ADSL2+ service is still running.
If you are in the market for an ADSL2+ service, then Sky has just added a big incentive to its broadband offers in the form of a £100 PrePaid MasterCard on its ADSL2+ service for those who order it online before the end of Thursday 23rd March 2017 and don't bundle it with a satellite TV service.
The ADSL2+ service is the same price as the existing offer was, i.e. £18.99 per month for the 12 month contract term, and if you stay beyond that the phone and broadband bundle costs £28.99 per month. There is a £9.95 set-up charge that also covers the delivery cost of the Sky Hub.
The information revolution started in earnest when the first printing press was created, but the creation of the Internet and subsequent invention of the World Wide Web has accelerated that pace significantly. Into this rapidly changing environment there are those that worry about the impact on children and the House of Lords has published a lengthy report on 'Growing up with the Internet' (full 100 page PDF document).
There are various recommendations in the report, but one that is likely to draw the ire of many adults is a recommendation that parental control filters be made mandatory for ALL Internet Service Providers and any service/website/application that is likely to appeal to children should be designed specifically for the younger audience.
ISPA has issued its response and while we usually just quote a paragraph, we felt the full text was a good summary as an industry response.
"Online safety is a priority for the Internet industry and our members have long been committed to providing advice, tools and support to help parents and carers protect children on the Internet.
We believe that self-regulation is the right approach to dealing with this complex and challenging area and so disagree with some of the report’s conclusions. The current self-regulatory regime has led to the UK being a world leader in online safety, with up to 95% of consumer customers having free access to a parental control filter, the virtual eradication of child images hosted in the UK via the Internet Watch Foundation and an industry-funded public awareness campaign and one stop shop advisory site. ISPA is further committed to raising awareness of online safety with its members, including a guide for its smaller members and information at sign up on parental control filters.
However, filters are not a panacea and are only part of a solution that includes digital literacy and sensible policymaking. We therefore agree with the report’s recommendations to improve digital literacy’s standing in the curriculum, commission further research to inform policy and see a joined-up policy from Government that we hope a new Internet Safety Strategy will deliver.
Unfortunately, the report has not understood the full breadth of the ISP market. It would be disproportionate to mandate filters for ISPs providing services to business or machine-to-machine services or those who make it clear that they offer an unfiltered service.
In response to today’s report, ISPA Chair, James Blessing said: “The Internet industry has long been committed to keeping children safe online and the UK is regarded as a world leader in this area. We believe the most effective response is a joint approach based on education, raising awareness and technical tools. The Internet industry is constantly reviewing how it helps customers manage online safety and so look forward to being part of the discussions to inform the new Internet Safety Strategy”.SPA response to House of Lords Report on Growing up with the Internet: Industry self-regulation has led to the UK being a world leader in online safety
A lot of responses in the report seem to revolve around the concept that children are automatically digital natives and that they are somehow different from the millions of people for whom their lives already are lived in a digital world. The author of this news item has been using the Internet long enough to remember when the WWW appeared and compiling C code when the JPEG standard emerged, and thus has seen things evolve rapidly and whereas the worry of his parents was the violence of kids comics and the number of hours spent watching TV late at night, parents now are worrying about the hours children spend with their phones and tablets.
Looking at the online world as a whole, if we as adults want to demonstrate to the next generation that we are responsible guardians perhaps we need to consider how we ourselves are using the Internet and how the last 12 months or so has it would seem seen a large shift in how adults interact online, the rise of the troll and the politics of fighting it out online without the safety net of the curated press to temper an individuals vitriol.
Many of the tools for ensuring that online social media does not become a drunken corner of a local bar with all the problems that brings are more critically needed in the adult world than the world of those under the age of 18. Or put another way, if children grow up in a world where we adults and those in charge are setting the example of being tolerant, responsible and respectful then children will have the role models to aspire to and emulate, thus ensuring we avoid a dystopian future.
A trial has been running looking into whether Openreach can squeeze more speed out of VDSL2 for some lines with no hardware changes in the cabinet or by the customers VDSL2 modem and it seems on Monday 20th March, this limited area trial is set to go national.
The trial involved the Openreach DLM system identifying lines that were stable at a 6dB target noise margin, and then lowering the target noise margin in 1dB steps over an extended period and monitoring the error rates and connection speeds. The monitoring is not new, the Openreach DLM (Dynamic Line Management) is constantly running, the change is that while 6dB is currently the lowest target noise margin modems are told to negotiate the connection at and now for lines that look like they can cope with lower margins without undue numbers of errors lower margins will be allowed. The bonus is thus more download speed without any cost.
It is thought the trial involved some 40,000 lines and we presume Openreach has seen positive results from the trial, we are monitoring what we believe is the trail area but to date have not seen an observable difference, but this may be that the 40,000 lines is swamped by those not in the trial but still in the area we've been monitoring. It may be once we run the Q1/2017 analysis in a couple of weeks we can see some indication of a difference, or it may take many more months once things go national.
The way the target noise margin's work mean that if your line is stable, then it does not matter if you connect at 21,232 Kbps or 44,536 Kbps its all about if the DLM thinks the line is stable and suitable for trying a lower margin, what will differ is the amount of benefit different people see and many people may see no change at all. Its important to emphasis that the drop is in 1dB steps down to a minimum of 3dB, and the margin may return back to the 6dB level if things do not look stable.
Sweating the assets to squeeze what might be just be a 2 Mbps average increase seems like a lot of work for little extra speed, but for individuals it might be worth much more speed, and given that across the UK if most users getting 24 Mbps were to see speeds jump to 30 Mbps this could mean that models on performance versus distance would have to change and a 6 Mbps jump for lines in the 1km long region would be worth 0.6 percentage points to the UK superfast total. CAUTION Don't take the 0.6 change as been what we expect from the roll-out, it is just an illustrative figure and we will only change our model if we see a significant change, in the past monitoring experience against our model was more difficult but since Autumn 2016 we have automated this so we can keep a better eye on how all the various changes are affecting the model we use.
Update 7pm While the trial is moving national, it is not happening overnight, but will be done in phases. The phasing is to allow Openreach and the broadband providers to assess how things are progressing. The phased roll-out should complete by September.
The East Sussex BDUK project with BT working to deliver its phase I and phase II have declared successful completion of phase I, which means its our chance to look at what has been delivered.
The BT press release talks of the project making fibre broadband available to some 73,000 premises, and its should be highlighted that the project area is East Sussex plus Brighton and some cabinets have been delivered in Brighton in areas where commercial operators had previously declared they were not planning to venture when the original Open Market Reviews took place.
There is also the claim that the project when combined with the commercial footprints has made fibre broadband available to 380,000 premises. The eSussex website talks about some different figures, such as 66,500 premises passed (we are assuming the 66,500 postcodes is a mistake) and will install 400 new fibre cabinets.
So what does our tracking show, well we can see 347 VDSL2 cabinets delivered by the phase I project with an additional 45 FTTP areas, so the 400 is pretty good (our aggregation of FTTP in some areas may merge some areas. It has taken a day longer than we expected to start writing up this news, as our initial run was not attributing all the FTTP delivered to the project, and we should add we can see from the eSussex website that more FTTP is on the way that may boost figures by several hundred premises more.
|thinkbroadband analysis of
USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage for East Sussex and The City of Brighton and its component district councils
Figures 16th March 2017
|Area||% fibre based
FTTC, FTTP, Cable
> 24 Mbps
>= 30 Mbps
>= 100 Mbps
|Openreach FTTP||Under 2 Mbps USC||Under 10 Mbps USO|
|Combined Area City of Brighton and East Sussex||99.1%||95.5%||94.7%||32.3%||1.0%||0.5%||1.7%|
|377,794 premises for combined area||374,299||360,648||357,672||121,992||3,818||1,758||6,577|
|Delivered via Phase I contract
Excludes cable overlap
|Premises for Phase I||62,685||53,789||51,971||3,382||3,382||1,039||3,896|
|The City of Brighton||99.6%||99.4%||99.4%||90.9%||0%||0% (***)||0.1%|
(*) while this is 100%, there are still additional premises where FTTP appears to be planned from phase I, our coverage tracking does not include FTTP until such time as it is live within each postcode.
(**) There is an additional 3.5% (2,272 premises) of cable coverage but as BT should not be paid for overlaps with Virgin Media premises we exclude these from the figures. It is possible given the Virgin Media expansion that some of these cable premises were delivered after the project enabled a VDSL2 cabinet, and thus may account for some of the difference with the BT figures.
(***) while 0% due to the rounding, there are 23 premises we believe with access to only 1 Mbps broadband in the City of Brighton and in Eastbourne just 6 premises sub 2 Mbps.
The difference between the 73,000 of the BT press release and our 62,685 premises for phase I, is a fairly large gap, but given the eSussex project is talking of 66,500 premises it seems there is a not a total consensus and the wording of the BT press release is such that the 73,000 may include phase II which looks like it has addressed some 1,281 premises so far, add the variation due to the 2,272 cable premises and maybe another 800 to 1,000 FTTP on the way things are looking a lot closer. Other factors such as the potential for home based businesses to count as just one premise in our data, does a hospital count as one premise or a premise per building or premise per distinct department to be included in the BT data but excluded from ours may also explain some of the gap between the combined total of 380,000 fibre based premises and our 374,299 VDSL2/cable/FTTP premises passed. Another factor may be conversions of single premises dwellings to multiple dwellings, which with no new postcode being issued are much harder to spot.
Something we would ask BT Group to be better at doing in their press releases is to make it clearer that areas such as Brighton are included are in the figures, it confused us as for a while and may well be misleading the public as to the scale of what is being delivered.