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Rural broadband issues brought into focus by another committee
Wednesday 24 July 2013 00:21:27 by Andrew Ferguson

The House of Commons has published another report that covers broadband issues, but this report is a little different as it comes from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee which has produced a report on rural communities covering broadband, mobile coverage, housing, fuel poverty, transport and the general rural community.

The report is covering the real rural UK, i.e. not the fake rural that is often used when talking about delivering superfast broadband, where the main BDUK project should raise coverage levels from around the current two thirds to 88% in May 2015. The real rural areas make up just 14% of England, and comprise some half a million businesses contributing £200 billion to the economy.

"40. The Universal Service Commitment of 2 Mbps is a big step forward for households and businesses currently with no or slow broadband. This part of the rural broadband programme is crucial and it should not be undermined by the ambition to roll out superfast broadband to those who already enjoy an adequate service. It must be the priority, particularly if there is a risk of funding not stretching as far as originally hoped. However, given the delays to the Programme, the Committee is unclear when those currently without any access may benefit. 2 Mbps must also be the minimum speed that users receive during periods of peak demand, not a headline 'up to' figure that is rarely achievable. Not that we consider 2 Mbps good enough; while it may be sufficient to stream video content for one device, households increasingly have a number of devices that compete for internet connectivity - this needs to be recognised in future plans to move beyond the USC."

Extract from EFRA report on rural broadband

The report calls for the Rural Community Broadband Fund to be made more accessible to community projects. In effect rather than make these areas wait until at least 2018 when 98% of the UK if the political statements are to believed is, will have superfast services. Of course the reality is that in some areas simply enabling superfast even if via FTTC (which many are critical of) it may help to pull people into the 2 Mbps and faster zone.

One aspect still woefully neglected in any statement from the Government and people have been asking for this since the first Digital Britain report and that is for the USC to include a minimum upload speed target and one that is suitable for SMEs for who the ability to upload and share documents is becoming ever more critical.

The burden does not completely lie with the politicians and local authorities, rural communities have a part to play and they are encouraged to be less passive and actually go seek out solutions and pester those in charge in the BDUK project in their area.

The recently announced extra funding for superfast broadband between 2015 and 2017 comes in for some attention, and as we pointed out when it was announced this was not new investment, simply an announcement of what the £300m from the BBC will be used for, and it appears that the DCMS will receive this money as a £12.5m payment every month for two years. The Committee was unable to find out what the spare £50m has been held back for, and goes as far to suggest that the funding would be better aimed at the RCBF scheme which currently has just £20m and only releases its funding after a project is able to produce the invoices. While payment on results may be a good mechanism to avoid vapourware projects, it does mean any project needs to find an alternative short term loan or some other form of finance beyond the base funding.

The mobile infrastructure project gets more than a passing mention and while some are parading 4G mobile as a solution for rural areas, when we are in the position that 12.8% of the UK landmass has no 2G signal yet and if you look at 3G which should be able to offer better than dial-up speeds this increases to 24.3% of the landmass or 0.9% of premises. The choice is limited too with 3G only 77.3% of premises have coverage from all the mobile providers. After the original grand announcements of £150m investment in capital spending to virtually eliminate all the not-spots, this has been scaled back to 60,000 out of the 80,000 that exist and the timetable is slipping, the original timetable called for benefits to appear in 2013, but the first towers are not expected until 2015 when seven masts will be erected in Cumbria (Cumbria is set to get another 17 after that). There is also the danger that Arqiva who have the contract may build the masts, but the operators delay actually offering services even longer.

All in all the report can be seen to paint a pessimistic picture, but after the showboating of the Public Accounts Committee this is a much more measured report on the state of broadband in the rural parts of the UK. The question is will it change anything?

Comments

Posted by cyberdoyle over 3 years ago
The public affairs committee wiped the floor with BT, and its patently obvious now what is happening, the funding is being wasted on copper patch ups. It is now clear that cabinets in business areas don't get enabled either as the incumbent holds on to leased lines. At last the politicians are seeing the truth, but I agree, 'will it change anything?" We will have to see if they have any moral fibre. Margaret Hodge seems to have some... and some grit.
Posted by GMAN99 over 3 years ago
You seem to have your guns focused on the wrong area cyberdoyle, the reason alnets and communities cannot access BDUK funds to build networks isn't BT's fault, it is BDUK/Government.

As for "copper patch ups" we've been over this many times. You seem to believe its better to spend a pot of cash on FTTH for a small amount of people (the pot runs dry very quickly) vs spending on FTTC which can bring better speeds to the masses.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
Andrew "Of course the reality is that in some areas simply enabling superfast even if via FTTC (which many are critical of) it may help to pull people into the 2 Mbps and faster zone."

I cannot see how? If someone is so far/poorly fed from an ADSL cabinet that they are sub 2mb, BT are NOT going to give them a fibre feed are they? Apart from anything else we now know there will not be enough ports. The only solution is more cabinets, sans FTTC if necessray.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Adsl is not fed from the cabinet plenty of 7km+ lines may be under 1km from cab so get 20 to 24 Meg from fttc. Rough stat is that 90% of cab to home lengths sre under 1km
Posted by Somerset over 3 years ago
So business areas are not enabled because there are relatively few customers on a cabinet?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Correct, so the cost per customer fails the spreadsheet checks. The commercial roll-out is about getting the most connections for the money, not about benefiting the national economy.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
Andrew: "Adsl is not fed from the cabinet plenty of 7km+ lines may be under 1km from cab so get 20 to 24 Meg from fttc."

Having a bit of trouble following that! How does ADSL get to my house, then? Please explain magic of making '7km+' into '1km'?
Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
@mikejp

"Adsl is not fed from the cabinet plenty of 7km+ lines may be under 1km from cab so get 20 to 24 Meg from fttc."

ADSL is always from exchange, the cabinet plays passive role, i.e. just part of the pathway, unlike FTTC where the cabinet is an active part of the product delivery. Where 90% of premises are within 1km of a cabinet.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
themanstan: I think this is pedantry gone mad! The cabinet is part of the delivery path since the voice line is connected to it. Thus a subscriber 5km from a cabinet which is 4km from the exchange has a 9km line-length. Still not sure how Andrew shrinks a 7km ADSL line to 1km or how installing a fibre cabinet will 'lift' dial-up customers to 2mb? Any ideas?

For reference I referred to an 'ADSL cabinet' to distinguish it from a 'FTTC cabinet' and those cabinets on exchanges that have no ADSL.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
A 7km ADSL line from the exchange where the cab is 1km away does what Andrew suggests.

Your 5 + 4 example is 9km for exchange based services and 5km for cabinet based. You can do ADSL from a cabinet, and it has been done.

An FTTC cab can provide 2M download to customers at say 5km from the cab.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
What's confusing you, mikejp? Total line length for ADSL could be 7km including 1km from cab to property. Installing an FTTC cabinet effectively reduces the line length to 1km. VDSL2 would get you above 24Mb/s on that length.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
At Essendine Rutland Telecom don't provide dial tone from their cab, only VDSL broadband services and VoIP.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
AndrueC: The 'confusion' is that the 'Rural issue' is partly intended to lift those on dial-up with line-lengths from their cabinets of 5km+ (which is probably why they don't get ADSL). You can stuff fibre into that cabinet until the cows come home and it will not make a scrap of difference. Only an extra cabinet will do the trick.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
My original comment was "If someone is so far/poorly fed from an ADSL cabinet that they are sub 2mb", and that is what I am talking about, not those '1km' from a cabinet - who should be getting >2mb on an ADSL exchange, should they not? These people will need to be within a reasonable distance from their cabinet to be 'served' with FTTC which many are not.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
ADSL cabinets do NOT exist. To be sub 2 Mbps means over 60dB attenuation, which is measured from the exchange to the premises. The distance from cabinet to premise is irrelevant for ADSL.

Define MANY, I say that 98% are within 1.5km of the cabinet which should be 10 to 15 Mbps with VDSL2.

That 2% may need another solution, 4G, FTTP, regenerator, fixed wireless.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
The cliff for VDSL speeds is fairly steep, but until you try it on a line due to the variation in crosstalk issues, you cannot be sure of performance on long times.

The problem is not technical, it is time (read cost) to determine which solution is the best for each house. Where as EFRA are saying lets not panic about best, but get something that is 2 Mbps and better to people.

Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
"ADSL cabinets do NOT exist." There are some actually, or at least were. Trilogy Telecom et seq. Pre-date VDSL.

But in any case ADSL from the cab remains an option should we need it and should it be any better than VDSL at longer range.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
"not those '1km' from a cabinet - who should be getting >2mb on an ADSL exchange, should they not?"

Your communications are scrambled. The distance from a cabinet has no influence *at all* on the speed you get from an ADSL exchange.

If I am 1km from a cabinet that is 10km from the exchange I probably won't get ADSL from the exchange but would get a decent VDSL service from the cab. Ashby de la Launde is like this.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
I would expect cabinets to be nearer the premises than the exchange in most cases. It doesn't really make sense any other way.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@cyberdoyle: "funding is being wasted on copper patch ups" Totally agree. And what's worse, the public taxpayer's money will never be seen again, it was given to BT in exchange for no ROI.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
Andrew: "The distance from cabinet to premise is irrelevant for ADSL." - oh! So, if one house is 1km from a cabinet and another 5km from the same cabinet, they both get the same speed on ADSL? Revolutionary stuff! I wonder now why friends 5km away from the cabinet are on dial-up whereas I am on 4mb........................
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
herdwick: "If I am 1km from a cabinet that is 10km from the exchange I probably won't get ADSL from the exchange but would get a decent VDSL service from the cab. Ashby de la Launde is like this." - and if you were 5km from said cabinet? Would you achieve the minimum 15mb on VDSL?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Mike take a look at the picture I posted on twitter https://twitter.com/MrSaffron/status/360029043191586818

Yes if exchange to cab is 10km and then another 1km to premises ADSL would be slow, but if that cab got VDSL you'd get around 24 Meg see table down the page at http://www.thinkbroadband.com/guide/fibre-broadband.html
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
For ADSL it is total distance that matters, i.e. exchange to cabinet PLUS cabinet to home.

For VDSL only cabinet to home counts.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
No, you wouldn't get 15M at 5km from a cab. You might at 1.2km but it wouldn't matter whether the cab was 1m or 10km from the exchange.

The total distance from end user to DSLAM is what counts, to the exchange for ADSL and the cab for VDSL.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
Andrew: The point surely is that a property now getting <2mb and a long distance from the cabinet will NOT benefit at all from an FTTC cabinet, so it is not by any means the 'cure-all'. The only premises that will benefit there will be those on relatively short cab to premises lines. Many, many rural properties have long cabinet feeds - 5km is not unusual. They will require new PCPs.
Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
@JNeuhoff

That's why it's called a subsidy.... and not a loan. Complaining that a subsidy will result in money not being seen again is pointless as the purpose of a subsidy is seed/incentive money. The "return" is product.
If you want FTTP all round then £530m is not going to induce any supplier as it is not going to offer any incentive... see France with their 10B euro incentive and they have far more FTTP?H coverage than the UK.
Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
@Mikejp

But that is then what has been said all along, FTTC is a cure (until the next technology cycle demands faster speeds or FTTC evolves) for the majority and not the minority. Another solution will need to be found, that might be FibreOnDemand or wireless. The customer might not like the cost involved (FOD) or the solution (WIFI), but if there is a solution and the customer chooses not to take it...
Posted by Michael_Chare over 3 years ago
@AndrewC I live in a rural area. The cable to the cabinet is 5km long, and there is a further 1km of cable to the exchange. This situation is not uncommon in rural areas, and I wait to see whether Kent CC will use BDUK funding to bring the speed up to 2mbps which they ought to do.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
The long tail of D-side lines is indeed long (and in the public domain), but the number of homes involved isn't massive. Nobody is claiming anything is a 100% solution that I've seen.
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
Michael_Chare: As I have been saying, the only way I can see this happening is by BT putting in another (one or more) cabinets to connect you to ADSL. At a rumoured BT price of £30,000 per PCP plus the ducting and cabling needed it will not take long to drain resources for the rural areas.

I believe Kent have stated '100% at =>2mb'?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
@mikejp Correct it won't benefit all, which solution would benefit all?

I don't think I've said it will benefit ALL, but it is one solution among many, and where funding is limited, you do the bulk with the easy/cheap option, and hope enough is left to handle the difficult cases.

So ignoring our own personal situation, which is better enable 1 million homes for £1 billion, or enable 4 million for same money?
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
herdwick: "Nobody is claiming anything is a 100% solution that I've seen." I thought that nice Mr 'unt did?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Care to find a quote for what Mr Hunt said?

We have followed the comments fairly carefully in the news.

Remember best major EU country only needs you to beat them by 1 point once averaged across the various metrics.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
Nobody has said >=2M to every single household that I can recall, let alone anything faster, but I'll look up Kent.

BT data :- The most common D side (cabinet to property) line length is in the 200-400m band at ~32% of lines. About 93% of D side lines are below 1.5km. About 84% below 1km.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
"every property in the project area able to access download speeds of at least 2mbps" - watch out for careful mapping of the project area perhaps. Or it may indeed be a commitment.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
In Kent you have a reasonable presence from VFast for fixed wireless and for 2 Meg USC nothing stopping them saying satellite can give basic access.

Our news in March has a good summary that fits into the current definitions
http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/5753-kent-county-council-sign-bduk-contract-with-bt.html

91% get superfast speeds
95% connected to a fibre service of one sort or another
The rest will be probably be an unannounced mixture of options.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 3 years ago
Andrew - in answer to your question, it would be better to enable 1 million homes with real fibre for 1 billion than do 4 million on fttc for the same money, as that is just a waste, most of those can already get a service they find acceptable at this moment in time. Far better to help those without a service and with a solution that will in time work inwards and speed up the others in a futureproof way. Cabinets are so yesterday.
Posted by Somerset over 3 years ago
So FTTP for £1000/property and how do you decide which ones to do?
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
Dear 3 million broadband users, you have been specially selected to not receive a broadband upgrade under the BDUK initiative. We will not be able to give you a substantial improvement in broadband performance both upstream and downstream at this time, as a technological bias and zealotry leads us to believe it is better to give the other 1m users a way better service instead.

Please vote for us in 2015. Then we can blow another £3bn of your money. You know it makes sense.
Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
@Cyberdoyle

In the event of a plague where you could have a
vaccine that was 100% effective and another which was 80% effective, costs would mean you could only give 1 million doses of the 100% effective and 5 million doses of 80% effective.
Based on your logic it would be better to save 1 million people rather than 4 million people... because 100% effective is better...

Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
@herdwick

you forgot to mention that the 1 million users will be using on average only 20-30% of the this better services' capacity...
Posted by locris over 3 years ago
The solution already exists - DSL Rings: It's cheap, demand led with a return on investment within 2 years, Superfast, environmentally and architecturally friendly, requires no digging or new cabling, uses the existing copper (Plain Old Telephone System) and happily co-exists with other services. Best of all it enables exploitation of the potential in VDSL2 which BT (& others) have installed, but not enabled. DSL Rings can deliver up to 400Mb/s over the existing copper network either from DSLAMs in the exchange or in the cabinets (FTTC). Find out more: www.DSLRINGS.COM
Posted by New_Londoner over 3 years ago
@Herdwick
The actual ratio might be 4 million vs 400,000, oh and don't forget the 4 million would almost certainly be enjoying service on FTTC long before most of the 400,000 were connected to FTTP. You've only got to look at the pace of installation in B4RN for evidence, and this in a rural area where it is much easier to do works than say a city centre.
Posted by GMAN99 over 3 years ago
"Andrew - in answer to your question, it would be better to enable 1 million homes with real fibre for 1 billion than do 4 million on fttc for the same money, as that is just a waste,"

Was that really posted?
Posted by GMAN99 over 3 years ago
At last cyberdoyles true colours are shown. Spend 1 billion on fibre for farmers and sod the rest. What a lovely plan, I'm sure many would disagree that their current ADSL solution is "acceptable" but you'd just leave them on that knowing that the farmers have their fibre. Your superfast broadband plan only covers 1 million homes, thank goodness you are not in charge
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
Have to say I'm shocked by CD's response. Here we all were trying to find some way to help everyone and she just wants fibre for the elite few.

Charming!
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
Andrew: "Care to find a quote for what Mr Hunt said?" - no, I cannot - just 'weasel words'. However, someone appears to have convinced you! From your latest blog (£100 million spent on broadband network to serve just 3,000 customers)
"the coverage targets the Government was chasing then of 90% with access to superfast and EVERYONE ELSE getting 2 Mbps or faster." - typo or did SOMEONE actually say that in government to make you write that?
Posted by Somerset over 3 years ago
Devon & Somerset say:

Will deliver broadband (greater than 2Mbps) for all by the end of 2016, and superfast broadband (greater than 24Mbps) to at least 90% of homes and businesses by the end of 2016; we aim to achieve 100% superfast broadband coverage by 2020.
Posted by dragon1945 over 3 years ago
I have no idea where my nearest cabinet is. We have an underground junction box outside next door's house. For 2 glorious weeks I got 2.1 MB after a local VIP got fibre and ours was tacked on to his fibre. Then it slipped back to 1.3 MB. Every so often I complain and miraculously the 2.1MB is restored - for a few weeks. Not a hope in hell of fibre or even a copper patch up. The cables have been here at least 47 years to my knowledge.
Posted by BTfanboy over 3 years ago
Posted by GMAN99 5 days ago
thank goodness you are not in charge.
Thank goodness neither of you are in charge.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Oh the joys of holidays - which means I'm so late to this party, but I had to comment on @cyberdoyle's comments there...

Her true colours are indeed shown, and appear to be extremely self-centred. However, the truth is that the *truly* rural population - the ones that cannot hope to ever be served by a cabinet-based DSLAM - will only ever be brought into the digital revolution by use of fibre.

At some point, the "final N%" *will* need to have a disproportionate amount of money spent on them. I agree with her on this - I just disagree on the value of N.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
What I don't understand about the "FTTP for all" advocates - especially those who advocate FTTP because they've been left behind by FTTC - is that they fail to realise they're last on the FTTP list too.

If they want FTTF (field, or farm), they'd be in a much better position, economics-wise, if they sought a parallel solution that gave FTTC to 95% *and* FTTP to the remainder, even if it cost a lot.

In other words - stop poo-pooing FTTC, because it *is* good enough for everyone else. Start advocating for an "in addition to FTTC" policy instead.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
And being honest, it is an "in addition to FTTC" policy that is exactly what is needed to achieve the EU's 2020 goal of ubiquitous 30Mbps.

Sometime in the next 5 years, the government has to turn a BDUK objective on its head: The final few are currently being targetted with a USC of 2Mbps. For 2020, those people left without superfast broadband will *need* to be given fibre.

For me, the goal is simple. Once we get N (in the "final N%") small enough, we *can* afford to subsidise FTTP for them. So right now, lets get FTTC working well for as many as possible.
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