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Public Accounts Committee expresses outrage at all things broadband
Wednesday 17 July 2013 18:41:54 by Andrew Ferguson

Following on from the National Audit Office (NAO) report Margaret Hodge MP has chaired a meeting of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to delve into the issues raised by the NAO report and the myriad of other concerns about the progress towards a Digital Britain. The four hour meeting was streamed live online and at this time is still playable online.

Those attending included Sean Williams Group Director Strategy, Policy and Portfolio, British Telecom, Sir Jonathan Stephens, Permanent Secretary and Jon Zeff, Senior Responsible Officer, Department Culture Media and Sport, Dr Robert Sullivan, Head of Broadband Delivery UK who got a fairly tough grilling verging on bullying at times to give the right answer. Other witnesses who got seemed to have got an easier time were Malcolm Corbett, Independent Networks Co-operative Association, Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, Nicholas James CEO UK Broadband and Stuart McIntosh, Director of Competition, Ofcom.

Was there an outcome worth mentioning beyond a few laughs and embarrassing moments, mainly that BT has stated it has no objection to the local authorities releasing the planned intervention area data. This means that the rest of the projects can follow the lead of Northamptonshire and places like Surrey that have published detail on where services will actually be delivered, and thus allow the public to be angry they are missing out and thus pursue other operators and projects to help them get better broadband.

One further item confirmed, though it took a lot of time to confirm was that the national 90% target for superfast broadband only includes those who can actually connect at superfast speeds. Some projects have reflected this by giving figures like 95% connected to fibre broadband, but 92% with speeds above 24 Mbps.

The abiding memory for many will be Malcolm Corbett describing BT as a Vampire Death Squid for the way it can be seen to be behaving at times. Just in case anyone from the BDUK reads our news we would like to point them to our fibre broadband guide, which half way down the guide gives a good guide on the speed distribution for FTTC in the UK and is based on line length data from Ofcom a few years ago and VDSL2 performance charts that take into account crosstalk.

We will end with an offer, if your local authority has published its project coverage data as a simple data dump and you want something that is more searchable then get in touch with us, we can easily enough produce a searchable page.

As with other events there was a lot of live tweeting going on, the hashtag being #pac.


Posted by Apilar over 4 years ago
Silverlight is required. ROFL.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
Or WMP, look for "try windows media player" below video window. PITA either way :-(
Posted by WWWombat over 4 years ago
So this is the political tool that gets to make soundbites out of the inaccuracies in the NAO report.

I've always felt Margaret Hodge to be overly political when chairing the PAC, so I'd love to watch this to see how cringeworthy it is (especially talking technical stuff with politicians). Shame I don't have 4 hours to spare right now...
Posted by Bob_s2 over 4 years ago
The information to date is highly critical of the BDUK project and there are very clear indications of a lack of completion and over charging by BT

Examples are BT's Street Cabinet Bids. These are 12.5% higher than the NI costs

BT's Project Management costs are double those of NI for the BDUK bids

Opaque data and limited benchmarks for comparison mean the Department has no idea if BT is being reasonable or adding in big mark ups
Posted by Spud2003 over 4 years ago
@WWWombat - I watch the PAC quite often on BBC Parliament and wouldn't really say Hodge is particularly political. She is a bit of a cartoonish battle-axe at times but then she does have to deal with some fairly slippery characters.
Posted by GMAN99 over 4 years ago
Other providers with genuine concerns about value for money for the tax payer, or other providers with sour grapes that they didn't get anything out of BDUK

Posted by cooperfarncombe over 4 years ago
"This means that the rest of the projects can follow the lead of Northamptonshire and places like Surrey ----"

Can you please provide a link to the Surrey Speed and Coverage Templates (SCT)?
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
MrS has a postcode tool based on the Surrey data not sure exactly what level of detail.

Many of these plans are not finalised, while Northants has published a map it also has a live consultation to 30th Sept on demand assessment that will steer the actual detailed deployment.

Not sure I'll be able to eat turkey again after watching Hodge for 4 hours.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
The level is postcode level and an estimate of delivery date.

As yet in terms of speed people have to work that out based on distance from the cabinet.
Posted by cooperfarncombe over 4 years ago
@herdwick Thank you for the link. However, it is not the SCT data that was referred to at yesterday's PAC meeting. The MrS version is based on the same data available at I do not believe Surrey have published any SCT data since the contract was signed with BT. It was a shame that the video stopped abruptly.
Posted by cooperfarncombe over 4 years ago
Of course, (tongue now in cheek) in the case of Surrey it may be academic as they have declared that their contract provides for 99.7% superfast coverage (with superfast initially defined as greater than 24Mbps, but it is not clear what the contract now defines as superfast). Do the 0.3% know who they are? See here for more where local people are asking the very questions asked at the PAC;
Posted by mikejp over 4 years ago
In view of the appalling speeds being received by some Surrey BT 'superfast' customers, it will be fascinating to see how SCC achieve their stated aim and how big 0.3% grows............anyone asked SCC what superfast means?
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
Is the assumption that there is a definition of speed and coverage embedded in the signed contracts ?
Posted by JNeuhoff over 4 years ago
It’s a bit late now lamenting over giving BT so much of taxpayer’s money in exchange for nothing. It was just plain stupid giving money away in exchange for no shares or a ROI.

This country will suffer the consequences, old copper will now be around for many more decades to come. And with the ever growing digital divide, many businesses will be forced to move.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
/many businesses will be forced to move./

Nah. BT can install a leased line almost anywhere and for most businesses it will be cheaper than relocating. We are 4km outside a town and install cost was £12k including all the hardware. It's actually split between four businesses so only £3k install.

If a business can't justify that kind of expenditure it has other problems to worry about.
Posted by AndrueC over 4 years ago
(cont'd) oh and that was for BT to blow fibre to our site. In fact the BT charge was very low. As a converted farm yard they rated us as a brown field site and only charged a flat £1k. The remainder of the charge was our ISP's set up costs including running fibre around the office park.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 4 years ago
@AndrueC: Glad to hear things went well with your leased line. Your example of sharing the leased line costs with other businesses shows how it could be done in many other business parks or smaller towns.

However, for many small businesses a leased line is not an option. In most cases it is simply cheaper to rent office space in another place where proper telecom services exist, e.g. FTTP, rather than paying for a monthly leased line.
Posted by Michael_Chare over 4 years ago
So if Gigaclear decide to install fibre in a particular area should this exclude BT from receiving state aid to improve their broadband facilities in that area.
Posted by mdar5 over 4 years ago
Michael, that is indeed the question I've been pondering.
I think it does.

See, if Giga set up shop in a village and then if this then precludes any BDUK funds being spent in the village then Giga' have just in effect become the total monopoly supplier.
You will have no option other than Giga' at whatever (vast) price they feel like charging you.

In fact it's even worse as you have to receive everything from Giga' who are you compulsory ISP, wheras with BTOR FTTC service or FTTPoD you can use whatever ISP you like.

Posted by GMAN99 over 4 years ago

Why do you think the altnets are so keen on getting access to BT's plan. As you say, state their own intention in an area, set-up get the customers in with an attractive price and they've created a mini monopoly for superfast services, an ISP choice of one who can increase their costs year on year and leave the customer with no-where to go for super fast access.
Posted by Michael_Chare over 4 years ago
I think it not unreasonable for the likes of Gigaclear that they should not have to compete against companies (i.e. BT) who are receiving state subsidies. No reason for BT not rolling out an NGA network at their own expense. If Gigaclear were to know that would have to compete with a subsidized BT they might not start in the first place.
Posted by GMAN99 over 4 years ago
Of course there's a reason, its not commercially viable hence the funding.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
If Gigaclear had notified the county council of its intentions in the "open market consultation" then just like areas with VM or OR presence, or OR intention to supply commercially, those areas become grey or black and ineligible for state subsidy. So a planned and declared deployment is not at risk of a subsidised competitor.
Posted by mikejp over 4 years ago
herdwick - not so simple, unfortunately - the big problem there is that BT simply need to untick the 'state aid' box for the area, make it a 'commercial roll-out' despite their earlier declaration, and spend the state money elsewhere. Simples. Thank you HNG.
Posted by mikejp over 4 years ago
HMG of course..............
Posted by WWWombat over 4 years ago
Yes. A commitment from Gigaclear to definitely cover an area during the OMC period would prevent state-aid. The current activity to "sign-up, but we won't install until you hit the target" won't be enough.

That's essentially why the BDUK bidders have to have open-access at wholesale level.

Eh? Not sure how your example works there - how does BT's actions (as you describe) cause a competitor to end up competing against BT's subsidised rollout?

If BT swapped to a commercial rollout for the area, hasn't it become unsubsidised? Even assuming then *can* swap.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
"the big problem there is that BT simply need to untick the 'state aid' box for the area" - don't see how that works, the maps are published (in many cases) and all operators had the chance to declare plans. Had Gigaclear done so then it would be a State Aid grey area and not eligible for subsidy. BT can of course elect to compete, that's the intention.
Posted by mikejp over 4 years ago
herdwick/www - the OMR was set to establish areas that cannot be funded by state aid. That is essentially all. No mention of 'commercia'l Roads to Damascus (eg Dolphinholme) moments. Are you both CERTAIN an OMR declaration blocks a change of mind on commercial grounds in an area? I'm not.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
I believe Dolphinholme is a white area, but the map is poor. So BT will be subsidised to cover it, it's fed from a cab on an exchange planned for FTTC under BDUK. If it's grey they won't get the subsidy and BT and anyone else can choose to enter the market there commercially at their own expense, as I said.

I thought your point was about protecting from subsidised competition ?
Posted by mikejp over 4 years ago
No. Not sure how you got there.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
So you want protection from competition in general based on the OMR ?
Posted by mikejp over 4 years ago
No. You are missing the point. Only from state funded 'competition' as per the OMR. It is the ?'commercial'? actions of BT in Dolphinholme that I find so bad. If the Dolphinholme postcodes were defined by BT as 'grey' in the OMR then there is no complaint. If it was a 'white' area then it was not so defined and there is. Likewise if B4RN did not declare it in the OMR then they have no case against state-funded FTTC/X there.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
If white then subsidised BT investment allowed under BDUK / Council project.
If grey from BT plans then BT commercial investment expected.
If grey from B4RN plans then no subsidised BT investment allowed.
Grey does not prevent any other suppliers investing on commercial basis ie without subsidy AFAICS.
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