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The Connecting Cumbria scheme with its map that was published earlier this week caused a bit of a stir amongst the Internet world as many are unable to spot the difference between this and previous maps other counties have published in terms of the level of detail published. What made this map different was that it claimed to follow the approach approved by the DCMS and more importantly the Public Accounts Committee.
It seems that the published map may not have been approved by the Public Accounts Committee, but was more likely the projects interpretation of what the PAC and DCMS want the counties to publish. Certainly when asked by @RuralChris on twitter on what basis did PAC agree the level of detail in the map Margaret Hodge replied:
"@RuralChris We didn't - thanks for bringing to my attention"Margaret Hodge MP on twitter
So it is possible that rather than this map being the final coverage guide there may be further revisions if PAC and maybe the DCMS decide that more detail should be released. We have seen the problems of releasing more data i.e. people don't remember the caveats so get very upset when plans change and an area is delayed or missed out due to challenges that did not arise until final planning work was done and conversely there is the more obvious problem that people do not know what is coming to what area they will get angry and upset.
With UK local elections due to take place on 22nd May 2014, and a General Election in 2015, we can expect to see a lot political discussion around the gap funded projects. Of course we will not know whether another bidder would have provided much clearer information and rolled out exactly what people wanted, or whether given the fixed funding pot would have also tried to ensure the most premises covered as BT is doing rather than starting with the hardest to reach 5% and risking running out of money before the coverage targets were hit.
For those chasing the broadband offers around here is a round up of the offers that have been extended until 31st March at Primus.
East Sussex it would appear is ahead of schedule if the county council is to be believed. The first areas of East Sussex to benefit from the joint project with BT in the country have their work underway and the first areas should go live before Easter, which will hopefully be Burwash, Etchingham, Hadlow Down, Heathfield, Horam, Mayfield, Robertsbridge and Rotherfield
Other areas that should have their broadband improvements by the end of the year are Chelwood Gate, Danehill and Nutley. An update on the goesussex website also confirms the areas for phase 3 of the project namely Alfriston, Barcombe, East Dean, Glynde, Isfield, Plumpton, Ringmer, Ripe. There will also be some infill in exchange areas where cabinets failed the criteria under the commercial roll-out and are within the scope of the project.
As with all the roll-out announcements, while you may see your town or village mentioned it does not guarantee you will get an improved service, it is not uncommon for a couple of cabinets to be missed out from the initial roll-out, since to ensure the maximum number of premises are covered by the projects they are working through the easier areas first. While starting with the most rural premises might have made some different people happy, we are sure that those missed out in the middle ground would still be complaining, i.e. until the gap funded projects or commercial roll-outs guarantee 100% absolute coverage with a particular technology there will be winners and losers.
On one hand we have the Government telling us all is well and we are on track for 95% superfast broadband coverage by some point in 2017 but the balance is often very passionately stated, and in coverage of a NFU Mutual survey the head of policy has made an interesting statement about FTTC based services.
"Our own research suggests that rural households are less likely to use 3G and 4G but these networks are coming sooner than fixed line broadband and represent a good alternative.
If you live 600 metres or more away from the cabinet you might as well be on dial-up."Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance talking to the BBC
Saying FTTC runs out to dial-up speeds at 600m is only likely if the 600m of cable is aluminium with a great number of aging joints, or the 600m is a straight line distance and to reach the property the line meanders for around 3km of distance. Our own estimates of FTTC speeds over varying distances show at 600m speeds of 35 Mbps or more should be possible, at even allowing for a reasonably level or wiggly cable at 1km you are expecting speeds of 24 Mbps (an actual copper line at 1.1km with no special assistance has been tested in the real world at 21 Mbps). The speed table takes into account a fairly pessimistic level of cross-talk with the line data coming from old Ofcom information shared as part of the original approval process for VDSL2.
We are waiting on seeing more on the NFU Mutual survey results, as commenting based on the limited information available may result in a misinterpretation of the survey. The suggestion from the survey is that one in five rural families have poor broadband links and its interpretation depends on whether those who cannot get broadband at all are included, plus some families may NOT want broadband at all. As things stand 1 in 5 rural links being poor actually sounds a pretty good figure, unless you are one of those of course.
The Countryside Alliance is not the only people making claims about FTTC speeds this week, a blog entitled the 'The Occasional Berk' has claimed FTTC has a speed limit of 350m ("the real world of old cables of mixed types is just 350 metres").
What is clear is that the UK broadband battle to improve broadband speeds is not a technical issue, but rather a battle of wills and personal experience. Of course once you remove the passion of personal experience you get the sort of statements from the BDUK about coverage targets and progress, at least the BDUK so far appears to have been only counting those postcodes which are likely to get superfast broadband speeds in its occasional coverage figures. Of course the debate then moves onto the one where the UK has backed the wrong horse in the form of BT and we are perpetuating a decades old monopoly. In an ideal world even if two or three firms had won the various BDUK projects, each firm would have effectively been gifted a monopoly superfast franchise for the final third of each local authority area, the same thing that happened in the 1980's when cable TV started.
So the closure of BBC3 as a broadcast channel looks to be confirmed, unless campaigns to save it succeed, but given the size of the saving at £60m it looks like only money will talk.
It would appear that one of the reasons BBC3 was chosen for closure was that with its 'youth' audience there is the perception that viewers are more than ready to watch the content online and BBC iPlayer statistics suggest many millions do exactly that for specific shows, but it is not clear if many people actually use iPlayer for a whole evenings viewing.
The problem with moving content to online only is that age old complaint of my broadband not being fast enough. The timing to move the channel online dove tails nicely into the original Universal Service Commitment for us all to have 2 Mbps, but the changes to increase the proportion of the UK with access to a superfast connection from 90% in 2015 to 95% by 2017 appears to have also pushed back the USC.
So what speeds do you need for BBC iPlayer? Well we used an Asus RT-N66U cable/fttc router which has Quality of Service (QoS) built into it, allowing us to slow down a fast connection and see how iPlayer performed. We verified that the QoS was working by using our own broadband speed checker and the following refers to the experience when using an Xbox 360.
We also gave the streaming a quick run on a NOW TV box, and found the same sort of experience as the Xbox 360. There are changes that the BBC could make to allow the BBC iPlayer to run on slower connections, e.g. NOW TV was able to stream a Sky Movie at 600 Kbps, though the quality was blocky with lots of compression artefacts.
Looking at the latest broadband map for Cumbria it is clear that those approving the latest map do not suffer from colour blindness, as the choice of green shades makes it difficult for those who do to discern the various areas.
ISPreview spotted the new Cumbria map but given its low resolution it is not worth reproducing in our news, so head over to Connecting Cumbria to take a look and hope you have good local knowledge to tell which areas are which.
- The level of detail provided on this map is as agreed with the Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Public Accounts Committee. No further detail will be provided.
- Planned coverage for all areas is subject to survey and may change.
- Coverage may change as new technology is introduced and with the project aim to extend coverage as far as possible. As this is a county wide deployment, it may be that coverage for individual postcodes increases or decreases as the deployment progresses.
- The map is not currently 100% compatible with mobiles and you may experience issues if viewing on a mobile device.Connecting Cumbria Final Coverage Guide Details
For all the bluster during the PAC sessions, one has to question the value of the taxi fares for those giving evidence if this is the end result, as to be frank we are having difficulty telling this map apart from any other map a BDUK project has released. We have tried overlaying our usual postcode layers but the low resolution of what has been published by Connecting Cumbria makes it useless beyond confirming that there are very few postcodes in areas like Buttermere, Borrowdale and Wasdale.
The warning about the map not being compatible with mobiles is very odd, but we have checked and it appears that the Cumbria website is a responsive design and no-one asked the developer to make the map responsive too.
Cumbria is stating it is on track to take fibre based broadband to 93% of properties (no figure published for their estimate on superfast coverage) but previously they have talked of "project’s ambition is to bring superfast broadband to around 93 per cent of Cumbrian homes and businesses". It is not clear then whether there has been a downgrade in expectations or just clumsy wording when people are not aware of the significance of the statement, i.e. superfast implies a connection faster than 24 Mbps or 30 Mbps (UK versus EU definition) and fibre based simply means a line connected to a VDSL2 enabled cabinet and speed is irrelevant.
We know how everyone loves an infographic, so it is time to tell you all about the Q1 2014 edition of our broadband factsheet that is now online, and the old versions are still available for those wanting to see how various metrics are tracking over time.
We have updated our analysis of the actual broadband speeds recorded across the twelve UK regions and also updated the ten fastest and ten slowest postcode regions. Alas none of the regions look close to hitting our projection of the UK speed for 2015, but with the BDUK projects ramping up we may start to see increased take-up impacting the overall results for regions.
The one projection we made for 2015 of their being 23 million fixed broadband lines in the UK is looking to be the one factor we got spot on, as at the start of 2014 there was 22.3 million lines based on the financial reports from operators. It will be interesting to see what effect the Virgin Media speed uplift programme has on average speeds the effect of upgrading over 4 million customers should be clearly visible. An additional advantage to our testing is that it encompasses well over one hundred broadband providers including alt-nets. If you are an alt-net whose service is not automatically detected by our tester, then get in touch to add your IP blocks to our database.
YouView view TalkTalk just got a little bit cheaper with the promotions that TalkTalk has running until 13th March 2014.
Both products require voice line rental, which is £15.40 per month, or if you pay annually in advance reduces to the equivalent of £10.50 per month. Shopping voucher is only available to those ordering online and who do not require a new telephone line or telephone number.
The idea of closing one of the main BBC TV channels may have been seen as a step too far a short while ago, but it appears that the BBC is to move the BBC3 off of Freeview, satellite and cable platforms to make it only available via the BBC iPlayer which for those who have yet to embrace OTT TV is as good as a closure. Confirmation via a BBC statement is expected Thursday 6th March.
The shift of BBC3 to an online only channel is part of the savings that are being explored to create a target of £100m of savings by 2016. The £85m that is the BBC3 budget currently it will be another lump of cash towards the target, though since it will still be on air, the savings will only be a fraction of the channels budget.
The debate over the effect on the commissioning of new shows for the channel will run on and on and while not every show on the channel is to everyone's taste the channel has acted as the test bed and proving ground for a good number of comedy and drama shows. There is also the question mark about those shows that currently are transmitted on BBC3 but not available on iPlayer due to rights holder restrictions.
While many decry the state of broadband in the United Kingdom it appears that the BBC believes that enough people can access BBC iPlayer to justify keeping the channel alive, or an alternative view is that once it vanishes from TV channel listings that viewing figures will plummet and a full closure can be justified.
The move is intended to help the BBC meet targets for £100m savings by 2016 and while moving the channel to online only will not save all of the £85m that the TV guide viewing figures will drop to the extent that viewing figures plummet and the channel closed totally.
The gradual move of TV channels from satellite and other transmission media has been predicted previously but the expectation was that it would be the smaller niche channels that would be the first to move.
The current position around the TV Licence Fee is that you do not need one so long as you do not watch a TV show at the same time it is being transmitted on Freeview, satellite and cable. If BBC3 moves to online only then there will be increasing pressure to revamp the terms of the licence to cover online viewing even when outside the transmission window.
The current broadband improvements across the UK are also partly to blame for this sort of thing, since the 2015-2017 funding is from the Licence Fee and the original BDUK projects obtained a large chunk of their money via the surplus left over from the Digital Switchover Fund.
Broadband has always been a world of acronyms and technology buzz words and squaring that up with the boring world of advert regulation is always a challenge. This week sees Gigaclear who one of the firms building FTTP networks in the UK presenting there case to the ASA after a complaint.
The complaint was around whether customers would always receive the stated speeds on the Gigaclear website, and that additional factors would kick in. The ASA has upheld the complaint with the assessment as below:
"The ASA understood Gigaclear was a niche provider, serving a geographically defined customer base. We also understood they had a significant backhaul capacity in proportion to the relatively low numbers of customers. We acknowledged their belief that the structure of their network ensured users could achieve the stated speed capacity.
The ad included details of the stability of Gigaclear's network; noting that the network ran at 1000 Mbps for uploads and downloads regardless of time of day, weather or distance from the cabinet. The ad also made no reference to the speed of the service being 'up to'. In that context, we considered consumers would understand the ad to mean that customers would always receive the stated speed capacity for the service they purchased.
Whilst we acknowledged that the majority of the line-speed data demonstrated that the advertiser's customers received the stated speed capacity, we were concerned that a number of instances, in the relatively small data sample, showed that Gigaclear's customers did not achieve the stated speed capacity. Because we considered the speed claims were absolute in nature and because we had not seen sufficient evidence to support those claims, we concluded that the ad breached the Code."Upheld assessment from the ASA
The current advertising code requires providers to only advertise an up to speed that at least 10% customers can get, and when challenged to have the data to demonstrate this. For the slower Gigaclear products with the provided speed set at 10% more than the purchased speed this is easy enough, but on the 1000 Mbps service things are a little more difficult. Since the fibre itself may be running at 1.1 Gbps or faster, but once you allow for a NAT router which even if it has GigE LAN Ethernet ports will never produce a speed of 1000 Mbps for TCP/IP data then life is much more complex. The fastest speed from GigE Ethernet is 941 Mbps (if jumbo frames are enabled for TCP data, slightly higher for UDP traffic).
At the end of the day it is impossible to guarantee speeds across the Internet, even expensive leased lines only guarantee speeds while inside the providers network, once you hit shared peering links you are fighting with potentially millions of other users. The Gigaclear website appears to have adopted the ruling, as its fastest product is now listed as up to 1000 Mbps.