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Prime Minister confirms BT asked to provide more detail on roll-out
Thursday 03 April 2014 11:22:31 by Andrew Ferguson

Broadband is usually considered so technical that it is avoided in Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, but the 2nd of April changed that.

"Q12. [903454] Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Bringing superfast broadband to rural areas is vitally important, and the Government are rightly spending over £1 billion on it, but my constituents are very frustrated that BT cannot tell them when, or even if, their home will be connected, which makes alternative planning impossible. Will the Prime Minister tell BT to produce clear plans for the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money it is getting?

The Prime Minister: I have had this discussion with BT, and I am happy to hold it again. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), will take up the specific point, which is that we have asked BT to give more detail in their roll-out plans about which homes and areas will get broadband so that other companies and organisations are then able to see whether there are different ways of filling any gaps. However, I do not agree with some who think that BT has somehow not been putting its shoulder to the wheel. A massive investment is going into broadband: 10,000 homes and businesses are being connected every week. This is a real success story for our country."

So there we have it, the Prime Minister has delegated the pressuring of BT to Ed Viazey, so the question now is what extra detail will BT be forced to publish and to what time scale?

BT has generally followed the same methodology as the commercial roll-out of not announcing areas until it was definitely on the to-do list, but even then sometimes things happen that create delays for specific cabinets, hence the quarterly complaints when some cabinets slip their estimated service date. BT at the central London based core of the company seems happy for better information to be available, hence why some local authority projects are producing maps, along with details of which cabinets are to be enabled and which are under consideration. Alas this is rare, and the question surely has to be what guidance and help has central Government given to the local authorities?

We have not carried out extensive research, but generally the council's with better information on broadband also seem to be those offering better information on other areas of council operation, i.e. have embraced the Internet as a public information resource.

Our current poll which will have its results published next week should offer some insight into what people have to say about council and broadband provider information provision.

One massive £250 million sized spanner that the Government has thrown at the County Council's is the extra funding for 2015 to 2017 and the tight timescale to set-up plans. This funding to reach at 95% superfast target means that even if BT had been 100% open and published every potential coverage scenario on contract signing day for each authority, that these plans would be worthless due to extra money changing what was possible in terms of coverage.

All of this debate and shouting could have been avoided if rather than drip feeding funding and creating mini funds to try and appease smaller operators if the previous and current Government had all along committed to a 100% coverage plan. You could suggest the 2 Mbps USC is precisely that, but ask anyone with a 2 Mbps connection and they are looking for faster speeds in the same way as many of us did when stuck on dial-up a decade ago.

We try and give as much detail as we can when extra areas are announced by the various BDUK projects now, trying to figure out where new cabinets may be going, whether Exchange Only lines will see an uplift and even what level of superfast coverage will result.

"We are pleased that the Prime Minister has acknowledged the success of the BDUK programme and the good progress that’s being made up and down the country.

On the subject of roll-out plans, it is up to each local body to decide whether to publish maps illustrating the indicative roll out plan for the area.

Most have already done so and we continue to support those remaining councils who intend to publish more details over the coming weeks.

New locations to benefit from the BDUK programme are being revealed by BT and its partners every week. This activity will continue to ramp up as the roll-out progresses and surveys are completed."

Statement from BT on PM Questions

We added the above statement at 1:45pm after it arrived from BT, and it summarises what we have been covering for some months, that the level of information is varying from council to council when we have the same BT behind them all. One question we won't know the answer to is whether a different commercial partner would mean better or worse information. While BT winning all of the contracts so far means the illusion of competition has failed it would never have been real competition as each winner had a unique section of the UK to itself. If you are wondering which two projects are still to to be signed they are the Black Country and South Yorkshire.

Comments

Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
The transcript of the exchanges in PAC highlight the confusion on this point. Margaret Hodge believes that the "speed & coverage templates" must be released, while BT says that they hold commercial information.

It turns out that the sensitive information is for things other than coverage data, and that BT are happy for the coverage data portion to be fully published, down to 7-digit postcode level, by the councils.

It seems that the onus really lies on the councils now.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
BT are less happy to release the speed data early; they want to wait for the survey & planning data before releasing this - and that happens in the first 6-9 months of each phase.

If we want speed data published, and have it accurate, it seems that some compromise is going to be needed.
Posted by Koppo over 3 years ago
Shame it's always been the case that politics have played a huge part in which areas get done first, to the detriment of the consumer in "rural" areas. Case in point: Superfast Cymru, which to date has been a joke with regards to which areas were cherry-picked to be 1st. No plans to date for a vast swathe of the North Wales coastline, nothing new from BT there though.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Dead right that a joined up plan was needed.

The councils, forever seeking value for money, will be trying to reduce the funds needed for the USC portion allowing the SFBB portion to be extended.

What we're seeing happen in North Yorkshire, with their bonus funding for phase 1 (USC portion likely to be delayed by a year, and £2m freed from the budget to spend on SFBB instead) is likely to be repeated by the phase 2 funds everywhere.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
Didn't BT just fall foul of the ASA for basically giving out too much information? Sometimes you just can win :)
Posted by mhc over 3 years ago


And how many spanners will the local authority throw into BTs works?

For example, if they are blowing fibre and find a blocked duct which need a road closure for maybe 1/2 day, will the LA allow it? or will they, as they did here for a 1 hour task, require 16 weeks notice?

Posted by cyberdoyle over 3 years ago
All the altnets need is to know which areas BT can't do. Then they can do them. It isn't of any interest to them to know they areas BT have cabinets in, they already know that. They know where the cabinets won't reach to. So do the residents. All they need are those postcodes descoping and then they can apply for funding for them. BT and councils withholding this info means nobody except BT can access the funding, and BT will only waste it on the 2Mbps or satellites.
Posted by prlzx over 3 years ago
re "You could suggest the 2 Mbps USC is precisely that, but ask anyone with a 2 Mbps connection and they are looking for faster speeds".

TBB will have better poll responses on this than my guess, which is if you ask around today, many would find 4M down / 1M up acceptable as a minimum universal service (e.g. 1x iPlayer HD) but if you ask in 2020 opinions on a suitable "starter" broadband package could be nearer 10M/10M.
(not ADSL-based so unlikely to be achieved without a fresh approach to the problem).
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
A USC of 2Mbps, that stays in place right until we get "ubiquitous 30Mbps" (which ought to be 2020, by the EU DA) is kinda pointless.

On the other hand, 2Mbps was fine until people started putting decent video applications through the same pipe - by which I mean the likes of iPlayer or Netflix, not YouTube.

Surely it should change, as expectations, applications and usage increases.

Doesn't Ofcom have to come up with a longer-term broadband plan for the UK later this year? Hopefully they analyse the USC numbers as part of it.
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
I would not hold your breath for any sensible from Ofcom on the USC. Remember this quote from their last infrastructure report? "Approximately 3% of UK households are currently receiving speeds less than 2Mbit/s and do not have the option of switching to SFBB."
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