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Peter Cochrane tells House of Lords committee BDUK funds are petty cash
Tuesday 20 March 2012 18:05:14 by Andrew Ferguson

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications has been listening to Peter Cochrane present evidence as part of the inquiry into the Government's superfast broadband strategy.

Peter Cochrane was not holding back when talking to the committee, saying that the current BDUK level of funding is petty cash, and would only be approaching a sensible amount if a zero was added to it. He personal view is that Fibre to the Premises is the only real solution, and that any roll-out of Fibre to the Cabinet is a big mistake, that will require re-engineering in a couple of years. He did point out that he does understand why companies have opted for FTTC in the UK and around the world.

Rather than being purely an assault on what the commercial market and Government have done to date, he does make some points that could take the UK forward.

  1. Pursue unbundling of the duct network
  2. Unbundle fibre
  3. Empower Ofcom to regulate wavelengths over fibre, in a similar way to which it regulates the wireless specture
  4. Assist startups, to provide a third competitor and disrupt the cosy duo-opoly

Whether the House of Lords will be able to force any changes of direction upon the Government in the broadband direction is a big unknown, in some ways the call for evidence is three to four years late. Pausing or re-aligning the current BDUK projects would cause disruption meaning any 2015 deadlines are missed. Where things could be turned around is how the £300m earmarked for 2015 to 2017, and decisions on how the UK should move forward from 2015.


Posted by herdwick over 5 years ago
Noteworthy that he's failed to procure himself and his neighbours a solution of the type he promotes.
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
We can all look forward to saving 20 minutes travelling between Birmingham and London...
Posted by zemadeiran over 5 years ago
Maybe we should force Openreach to completely split from BT.

That way we can have a publicly backed infrastructure provider tasked with implementing a future proof national fiber network fttp/ftth.

BT can then be relegated to being what it truly is, a phone and broadband provider.

Every quarter that passes, Britain gets left behind further and further which is hitting the countries bottom line.
Posted by ahockings over 5 years ago
Cochrane can see it, I can see it, why can't BT or the Government? FTTP & FTTH IS the only solution that makes sense. Lost count of the amount of times I've said this but BT are spending Billions putting in a system that will have to be ripped out in the near future.
Posted by ahockings over 5 years ago
If we all had FTTH none of the babies born today, the 20th March 2012, would live long enough to see the next upgrade!!
The current approx speed record for squirting data down a single fibre optic cable is about 70 Terabits or 70,000 Gigabits or 70 million Megabits. Roughly enough to supply every house in the UK with a 2meg connection!!!! Those speeds were achieved over 240Km. Most phone lines are less than 20Km. Clearly today’s tech/Internet isn’t that fast but it would completely remove any upper limit from Exchange to Home for the next 200 years. Why, oh why, oh why aren’t we doing this???
Posted by uniquename over 5 years ago
SO the News Article about FTTP on demand, building on the major part of the cost of the FTTC rollout, which is the installation of fibre feeds to local nodes, is fiction?
Posted by ahockings over 5 years ago
No it's not fiction and one would hope BT are bringing enough capacity to the cabinet to be able to upgrade the FTTC connections later on. But they are wasting money on hundreds of thousands of Mini DSLAMS it just seems silly. Also what about the situation where someone on a cabinet 3 miles out can get 40/80meg but someone directly connected to the Exchange on a 500 metre line just gets ADSL2+!! What exactly is that all about?? I would hope their plan is to upgrade these poor people to FTTH sooner rather than later. Does anyone know if this is the case?
Posted by timmay over 5 years ago
"Empower Ofcom to regulate wavelengths over fibre, in a similar way to which it regulates the wireless specture" ... what on earth does that mean, how would it help?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
Hundreds of thousands mini DSLAMs - really? There are only 85,000 street cabinets in the UK.

Exchange Only lines sit in a great unknown, watching Cornwall to see what happens there.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago

By Ofcom regulating it, they can say that provide A will use xyz wavelengths, and another abc, thus allowing a fibre to carry many different signals with no interference.

This is the beauty of fibre, i.e. carrying many different wavelengths. Usually used on backbone networks.
Posted by FlappySocks over 5 years ago
Is BT's FTTC rollout really a waste of money? Isn't it just a stepping stone to FTTP? The cost of Mini DSLAMS must me a tiny % of the cost. The question is, does each cabinet have enough capacity?
Break up Openreach I say. Make it non-profit.
Posted by undecidedadrian over 5 years ago
The thing is there is a small hard core of people screaming for FTTP usually publicly on forums, how many people in the UK really want it and at the price that would make ecconomic sense.

People say that £20 per month is too much for broadband so how could you sell FTTP at possibly twice that?
Posted by Hubz over 5 years ago
I do love good 'ole Cockrane getting in the mix.

@andrew I believe for some EO they are putting FTTC cab outside the exchange yard. Also, I wouldnt underestimate benefit in having 85k powered cabs, regardless of the guts bolted inside it.

@ahockings About need for post-FTTH upgrade, what about if we need dispersion shifted fibre or somethingelse to cope with newer PON tech?, would be ripping out fibre4fibre! dont be so sure that the current FTTH is end game!

I'm getting Fibre in EAWDB in a couple months time, and about time too since I started trialling, designing the thing in 2007 !
Posted by themanstan over 5 years ago
OR is currently an artificial entity. Parts of it are actually BT the ISP. How do you say which bits of the network are BT the ISP and which would be the demerged OR? Additionally, costs would rise as OR would not be able to tap BT global for capital. So margins would need to increase for later investment in the network. OFCOM would have to drop it's much cheapness model for BB.
Posted by themanstan over 5 years ago


Cochrane can see it but he doesn't say how BT would pay for it... Plus the timescales for FTTH nationally would be that even if BT had started it in mid-2009, the majority of us would still be waiting for faster BB in 2025! France who started long before the UK hope to have 60% coverage in 2020, in the meantime bit of wet string BB
Posted by chrysalis over 5 years ago
if the government disagree enough they can probably overule the house of lords the same way they did on welfare using that finances loophole.
Posted by dustofnations over 5 years ago

That approach is significantly less efficient though, as you lose the large economic benefits of being able to respond to overall demand rather than just ISP's worth of frequency being their hard limit (you can see a variety of issues, like some areas being slow because the ISP's frequencies are full, or other areas inefficient because nobody uses said ISP). Generally, unless there is a hard requirement for constant dedicated bandwidth, the current multiplexing approach is better.
Posted by chrysalis over 5 years ago
Btw I do agree with the guy, especially when the government have pissed money on that silly HS rail link which is 10 years too late and now far less beneficial than a national FTTP rollout would be.
Posted by dustofnations over 5 years ago
I'm also not sure if he is alluding to allowing OFCOM/BT to auction off bandwidth to raise capital (for BT or Gov?); if that is the intent then it will be ruinously bad for internet users. You just need to see the horrendous expense and low bandwidth allowances of mobile services required to recoup the crazy amounts expended at auction.

With regards to competition, this approach would seem to be problematic for smaller ISPs who could not afford, or would not want, dedicated frequencies.
Posted by dustofnations over 5 years ago
Lastly, I would note that new techs are coming along frequently to improved WDM approaches. Currently companies just use them immediately. If it was regulated with the existing approach, it would have to go through OFCOM's approval processes first, which takes *ages*.

Directly involved government regulation can be extremely stifling to technological improvements.

There are just my initial thoughts, but I find the approach potentially worrisome.
Posted by farnz over 5 years ago
If the government really wanted a future proof network, they could do it. Spend state money on "exchange" buildings and on running home-run lengths of OS2 fibre suitable for 1000BASE-LX and 100GBASE-LX4 (futureproofing).

Auction leases for rackspace, cooling and power in the exchange buildings, and rent the fibres for a nominal £1/year/premises served.
Posted by Markak over 5 years ago
While the CONs are in control you are not going to see an improvement within ANY SECTOR OF ANY BUSINESS UNLESS RUN BY THE MONARCHY OR POLITICAL SYSTEM/LAW SOCIETY.

Get with it and wake up.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
£1 per year per premises connected payback. 100 year or more payback period in cities, and milleniums in the rural area.

Also exchanges are so 20th century, I've said before BT itself is looking to reduce the number of them. A fibre only exchange can be a lot smaller and serve premises tens of km's away.
Posted by farnz over 5 years ago
andrew: £1 per year per premises minumum payback, plus the earnings from leasing out exchange space (needed if you're to connect to that fibre).

And you will still need exchanges - you might call them datacentres, or carrier hotels, but these fibres lead somewhere, and you will need buildings to house the carrier equipment in.

Plus, if the state thinks such a network is needed, it can take a loss on it. If it doesn't, why's it making such a noise about how private firms should pay for one?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago

How is what you propose any different to the GEA Openreach situation? Other than rather then £80 to £120 a year, its £1 per year.

The exchange costs are currently on top of the the £80 or so.
Posted by farnz over 5 years ago
It differs because instead of relying on private industry to provide, the state is putting its money where it's mouth is.

If superfast broadband really is an essential for the UK, the government could choose to make it happen - and for less than it spent bailing the banks out of trouble. The fact that they're not putting forwards billions of tax money to make it happen suggests that it's not as important as the noise they're making suggests.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@farnz now there I will agree, look at the money invested in other projects, and then the small crumbs broadband receives.

We just need to be better at producing studies that show the economic benefits, i.e. how bypasses get their funding.
Posted by farnz over 5 years ago
@andrew Exactly - for less than the cost of the bank bailout, with similar expectations for ROI, we could use taxpayers' money to set up a country-wide dark fibre network. Private industry can then light that fibre as needed - to speeds of 100G if there's demand.

If this isn't worth doing, why are politicians getting involved at all? The free market will get there eventually, if there's a business case.
Posted by herdwick over 5 years ago
Don't see why the State should spend anything on broadband, other than as a user. The State doesn't have any money, it just takes it off me and you and business. No thanks.

Apparently we're the leading e-commerce nation despite the allegedly inadequate infrastructure.
Posted by c_j_ over 5 years ago
"how bypasses get their funding."

By the people who build bypasses "having the ear" of people in the Millionaire's Cabinet, and its predecessors too? Allegedly.

"The free market will get there eventually, if there's a business case. "

You mean the same way "the markets" are doing so well with rail transport and security of energy supply?

The "free markets" in the UK generally only work when there is a business case AND a worthwhile profit within a ridiculously short timescale. When the return on investment takes longer, it may not happen. [Except for 3G licences :)]
Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago
Lets take Peter Cochrane's points one at at time, in summary, his ideas do not stand up to any sort of scrutiny or conclusion that it will help improve network connections in Urban or rural locations.

1: Unbundling of the duct network will give everyone access to ducts that in many cases are blocked or require lots of effort to push fibre through. This is true for BT and many other carriers including C&W and COLT.
Conclusion - will not help push more fibre broadband out to user unless massive massive investment is made.

Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago

2: Unbundle fibre will make no difference unless the fibre reaches peoples homes, which currently today it does not. There is huge evidence that this is not needed given There are at least 3 national fibre networks and many more regional fibre networks. There is also evidence that Virgin, COLT, C&W provide significant competition in the fibre space.
Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago

3: There is no need to regulate wavelengths when one can purchase them from a variety of operators. If one was to regulate wavelengths it would drive the cost of bandwidth upwards. Again If you look at the pricing of wavelengths there has been massive reductions in price of wavelengths. Additionally if the fibre does not reach home users, then its irrelevant whether waves on the fibre are regulated. It would make the FTTX 3 or 4 times as expensive if wavelengths in this way where used to deliver services.
Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago

Finally, More competition is welcome but they need to have seriously deep pockets if they are going to dig fibre to peoples homes. There is no cheap solution to this.

The simple fact is that FTTH is expensive for the majority of buildings and homes in the uK, there are exceptions of course but they are in the minority. 80M for a lot of people will be plenty for a considerable time.

Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago
and remember fibre life is around 20 years, maybe 30 at most...
Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago
and the platform BT is building would have to be built irrespective of fibre or copper use and this infrastructure can be extend to deliver fibre using GPON as and when it becomes economically viable to pay men with spades the thousands of pounds needed to run a fibre to your home.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
Mr Cochrane made no claims to rollout being cheap, figure of 10 to 15 bn mentioned
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
£15b. You could build a 100 mile railway line for that amount...
Posted by neil123 over 5 years ago
andrew, but he did not substantiate his claims about how his crazy ideas would help either.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago

To be honest I think the ideas arise partly from his work with community led schemes.

In theory shared fibre access should mean less dig to reach homes, as most homes are close to fibre, be it BT, C&W, Sky, or anyone elses

UK has a great fibre backbone, just access over that first mile onto it is expensive, due to the civil works. He appeared to support a DIY approach, but I can understand most people not wanted that.
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