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.  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.