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Heated exchanges on broadband at Worcestershire County Council
Wednesday 19 February 2014 10:44:27 by Andrew Ferguson

The BDUK process was never going to be smooth sailing and the way the process was constructed meant that all but the largest telecoms operators in the UK fell by the wayside and the stalking horse of Fujitsu faded away. Critics have often cited bully boy tactics from BT officials but without having been privy to every conversation and email it is hard to tell gossip and rumour apart from reality.

Stepping into the ring now on the debate of good or bad project is Worcestershire County Council where councillors have been debating the wisdom of the County investing £8.5 million into a project with no return (BDUK put £3.35m in and BT stumped up £8.9m).

What is interesting is the quotes by various Councillors in the Malvern Gazette. The comment about 75% of premises getting superfast broadband was almost a fact in 2013, when Ofcom reported 72.3% of premises in the county had access to superfast broadband via Openreach or Virgin Media. The question really is whether 55,000 premises that should benefit from the investment would have seen a commercial led roll-out or not. These 55,000 are the number needed to hit a 90% superfast coverage figure for the county.

Council Median Download Speed %'age under 2 Mbps Median Upload Speed
Bromsgrove District 6.7 Mbps 19.7% 0.86 Mbps
Malvern Hills District 5.8 Mbps 21.9% 0.68 Mbps
Redditch District 18.5 Mbps 8.8% 1.6 Mbps
Worcester City 13.8 Mbps 11.1% 1.51 Mbps
Wychavon District 4.1 Mbps 27.6% 0.55 Mbps
Wyre Forest District 9.6 Mbps 7.8% 0.94 Mbps
Speed test results from thinkbroadband speed test January 2014

The digital gulf is illustrated by the above results which are based on what people have actually experienced on their broadband connection, and illustrate the difference between the areas with better broadband services and those areas which appear to be struggling e.g. Wychavon District Council area.

There is no doubt that technically better solutions are available than the predominantly FTTC roll-out by Openreach (both in the commercial and gap-funded projects) the issue though is not technical but a matter of who pays for it and who benefits from the investment in the future. The project works out at £380 per superfast premise (actual figure is less as to get superfast to 90%, there will be thousands more enabled but at slower speeds), with the gap funding being £215 for each one.

Would BT have rolled out to these premises? Yes but probably across a five to ten year period in our opinion, so the public money is really just accelerating what would probably have been inevitable. The return on investment (ROI) for the councils and government is that as more people are online and have better connectivity that the e-commerce market can thrive and councils can make savings as more people interact online rather than trying to communicate through safety glass at a council office.

The question councils should be asking, is this money and project enough to ensure we don't have to spend in the same areas again in ten years time and would there be extra benefit in spending public money on more future proof solutions e.g. increasing the proportion of FTTP in the roll-out.


Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
"The question councils should be asking, is this money and project enough to ensure we don't have to spend in the same areas again in ten years time" - for Councils read everyone?

Yes, and far less than 10 years, I fear. I believe the EU said 100% at 30mb by 2020? We are WAY off that and still will be in 2017 when the BDUK scheme is done.
Posted by mervl over 3 years ago
I seem to live in a parallel universe to you, Andrew. Along with most of my rural neighbours we haven't visited the Council for well over a decade. Even before dial up we used post and telephone and direct debit. But sometimes we want a meeting, and don't have the hardware to cope with lots of A3 plans. So perhaps it'd be better to talk about getting rid of the physical post service. Thought not.
Posted by New_Londoner over 3 years ago
Currently there is nothing behind these EU "targets" as the budget that was originally allocated to aid their delivery has since been scrapped. So it's really questionable whether the targets have any value, other than as aspirations (it could of course take some of the £billions spent on the CAP and spend that on something useful!)

The other one by the way was that 50% would be *using* 100Mbps+ services. I'm not sure I want the EU mandating what I use, I'd prefer to decide how I spend my own money, not leave it to some bureaucrat!
Posted by Ardua over 3 years ago
I am surprised that the median speed for the Malvern Hills District is so low given that Malvern is now fully FTTC enabled.Two reasons: elderly population who see no need for higher speeds and not many people who can be be bothered to run a TBB speed test.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
@Ardua Suspect Malvern itself is good, but areas around it are pulling it down.
Posted by chilting over 3 years ago
The whole BDUK scheme seems to be full of empty promises. Taking the roadworks information at face value the BDUK money is only actually being spent on supplying and installing the fibre. The cabinets seem to be funded commercially by BT. With initial cabinet capacity only about one third of what is actually needed it would seem to be up to BT what eventual coverage is achieved. 33% is a bit different to 90%+
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
There's no point in installing more cabinet capacity than is needed to cope with initial take-up forecasts; expanding capacity then only needs to happen when take-up gets sufficiently high... In 3 or 4 years time.

Such expansion of the cabinet is then all about capacity, not coverage.
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
@wwwombat there is also no point installing more cabinet capacity if a big chunk of the premises attached to it are more that 1Km away
Posted by chilting over 3 years ago
That may well be the case but my point is that there is no actual commitment to increase capacity by BT. They could in theory ask for more public money to increasee capacity if they don't consider more capacity to be commercially viable in BDUK areas.
Posted by Gadget over 3 years ago
You could speculate BT could do many things, but if a BDUK cab has reached its limit rather than its initial provisioned capacity then a) the clawback mechanism is virtually guaranteed to be in operation and b) not only is a lot of the infrastructure already in place but it would be the same argument about adding an extra cab in an non-BDUK area and other posters has already indicated that second cabs are being provided
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
@chiltling Same issues would arise even if Fujitsu was doing FTTP in area, e.g. new house built, does council part pay to link it, or householder have to pay full fee?

Fixed wireless who pays for extra sectors/backhaul as take up increases?

If we don't want to waste public money, easy answer don't spend it.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Actually, I think BT do have commitments to install more equipment. There is certainly a commitment to provide improvements over a 7 year period.

Remember that adding a cabinet, where one already exists, has almost no extra cost - a couple of £1,000 for the cabinet itself. The will be no extra cost for the back haul fibre, as it is already there.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
You're right in a limited sense - there's no point added capacity in today's cabs for premises too far away. But they can add cabinets to help those lines by adding small cabs deeper in the network.

Oh, and the limit that BT applies today, for superfast, seems to be around 1250 metres, and if/when they choose to deploy vectoring, that range will increase too, probably by 200-300 metres.

But people further than that are subscribing, so still use cab capacity.
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
@wwwombat - 1250 metres is probably less than 1Km as the crow flies. We are on a fairly straight road 1.5 miles from the cab but the Openreach engineer says the line length is 3.5km. I suspect also BT might be hoping they can get away with say 15-20mb and hope customers accept that is superfast
Posted by revdfg over 3 years ago
@andrew wrote:
@Ardua Suspect Malvern itself is good, but areas around it are pulling it down.

"Malvern itself is good". That is not entirely true. Whenever commenting about Malvern, please make it clear that you are talking about that part of Malvern that lies within the MALVERN TOWN BOUNDARY AND NOT THE DISTRICT. And then make it clear that there are at least 1000 residents WITHIN the town boundary who are lumbered with the 01886 code. No fibre to our cabinets - in fact no cabinets!
Posted by ValueforMoney over 3 years ago
If 55k premises translates to c300 cabinets, 5 handovers points, with a 70% re-use of network, 15% refurbishment and 15% new build, then BT Capital costs (kit and labour) will be no more than £11m.

Apart from the 70/15/15 split these numbers align with BT commercial roll out, so the councillor has a point.
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