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Black Country signs on dotted line with BT for improved broadband
Tuesday 30 September 2014 10:25:37 by Andrew Ferguson

Some £12 million of investment is to be made improving broadband speeds across the Black Country and fingers crossed by being the last of the projects to sign the lessons on how to communicate plans and strategy will have been learnt.

The collaboration between the City of Wolverhampton and the district councils of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall has seen the councils put £2.9m towards the project, matching £2.9m from Westminster and another £6.4m from BT. Interestingly back in June 2014, the LEP was talking of a 95% superfast target, but if the quotes are correct the project has signed with a more impressive 98% with superfast speeds target.

"Today marks the beginning of an incredible transformation of broadband in the Black Country.

Government fully appreciates that access to fast and reliable broadband is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, which is precisely why we are funding projects like this one all over the UK.

As a result of this £12m investment, 98 per cent of the Black Country will be able to access superfast speeds by 2017 and this will provide a terrific boost to the local economy."

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid

The councils did not sign up to the original BDUK projects because of the already high superfast coverage in the area, but the 2017 target shifted targets such that the councils have gone ahead. Delivery should start late in 2015 and is planned to be complete by 2017. Our speed test gives us an insight as to the median speeds across the four councils.

Local Authority Median Download Q1 2013 Median Download Q2 2014
City of Wolverhampton 17.1 Mbps 30 Mbps
Dudley District 13 Mbps 15.6 Mbps
Sandwell District 14.7 Mbps 23.5 Mbps
Walsall District 14.7 Mbps 20.6 Mbps

We will keep an eye out and verify the coverage target, to ensure that it really is 98% with superfast speeds, rather than a 98% on fibre based service with 95% at superfast speeds. The official announcement does not appear to have made it onto the LEP website yet.

Update 7:30pm The full press release is now online at the BT site. We have also had a response on the coverage levels and the 98% refers to availability of a fibre based service, i.e. includes no speed qualification. No exact figure is available (yet) on the contracted superfast coverage, but we would expect 95% to be the goal. A little embarrassing to have the Culture Secretary saying its 98% with superfast when it is not, but then long time followers of the BDUK story will know the problems with people misinterpreting figures and what superfast, high-speed, fibre based means, a classic was a minister once announcing a Universal Service Obligation with advisers having to quickly correct this to a USC.


Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
It might be one of the last projects to have signed anything at all, but does this make it the first BDUK project to have confirmed a SEP project? I can't recall any other county having quite reached this status.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
I'm also intrigued at the details of the story. Does it really take 400 cabinets to extend coverage from 90%+ to 98%?

400 cabinets for a subsidy of £5.8m doesn't sound too bad - less than £15k each.

And no mention of the USC component.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
BT is saying 92% current fibre coverage and the 98% is fibre based. Awaiting confirmation on what the superfast figure actually is.

Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
If the figure is correct of 200 Cabs at 15k standing with power Openreach is getting the units for free they only require to provide the Fibre and pay for the ducts to be unblocked as I expect all the other infrastructure is there.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
The local plan, prior to consultation, predicted 7% without NGA and 0.4% without USC. The consultation changed these figures to 9% without NGA and 0.1% without USC. Presumably this did apply the 24 & 2 speed thresholds.

The project will have about 45,000 properties within the intervention area, so averaging 110 properties per cabinet ... definitely the small ones, then.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
(Trying hard to not get riled at the smug, repetitive, greeting)

You make it sound easy.

As these are the last 9% of properties, you have to assume that these are the ones that have expensive problems. Blocked ducts; "other infrastructure" not actually being there; "other infrastructure" in the way underground, making siting difficult; EO conversions.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
@blackmamba The 15k and 400 cabinets from £5.8m does mean the cabinets are free. Just that defines the subsidy level to BT, BT is putting into £6.4m too.

The projects operate around a GAP FUNDED system, so cabs that are nearly commercial should receive less gap funding.
Posted by ValueforMoney over 2 years ago
Communicate plans? 1m population = c350,000 premises -9% intervebtion area = 31,500 premises / 200 premises per cab = 157 cabs ish = public subsidy of c £37k.

It would be good if intervention area and the number of cabinets and the BT capital investment was made clear.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
@ValueForMoney now redo your sums with 400 cabinets, which is what the press release estimates is the number needed.
Posted by TheEulerID over 2 years ago
Indeed the press release actually says "more than 400 cabinets". I've learned to treat VFM's assumptions with due caution.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi broadband Watchers and Wombat.
In Surrey at a meeting at Dorking we were told the total Cab,s 620 but not the locations plus a list of the Post Codes and total customers in the Intervenshion area 84000 The only figure that was vague waa 99.7% that would receive speeds over 15 meg and this is still open to interpretation this was give via Openreach Bill M.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
Estimate for number of properties:
Households in
- Dudley 127k
- Sandwell 121k
- Walsall 103k
- Wolverhampton 99k
Total: 450k
Can't get actual number of businesses, but it is generally about 10% of the number of households... so total premises is roughly 500k.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
Those counts of households are a mix of 2008 and 2011 figures, so are likely to have changed a little since then (probably going up).

The PR indicates a population of 1.14m, which at the standard 2.4 multiplier, would make for 475k households. However, I did see Sandwell had a 2.5 multiplier; using that throughout would make for 456k households.

We're in the right ballpark at 450k.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
On the update:
That is indeed an embarrassing slip from Sajid, if it turns out to be the case.

As these 4 councils are predominantly urban, perhaps they will turn out to have a low percentage of long lines.
Posted by ValueforMoney over 2 years ago
@wwwombat But the intervention is 9% premises of 450/500k. If the subsidy dropped back to £15k from £46k average identified by NAO, then all other contracts would need to be re-written.
BT Framework points to fixed(with some variation) milesone payments per premise passed.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago

What does the black-country-average of £15k have to do with an "NAO identified" national-average-of-projects-looked-at-so-far of £46k?

Surely being "NAO identified" doesn't mean that BT have to charge precisely £46k for every single cabinet? Surely prices, and therefore subsidies, can vary from cabinet to cabinet?

So you'd expect the average for a nearly-urban area like BC to be much lower than a truly-rural place like NY. Wouldn't you? I would!
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
BTW, the news now showing on the LEP website has a quote from Bill Murphy, suggesting that 92% coverage amounts to 468k premises. That makes a total of nearly 510k.
Posted by ValueforMoney over 2 years ago
@wwwombat 92% mixes equals commercial and intervention area. Intervention area identified as 9% of total.
No BT do not have to charge but will be billing miletsone payments as per the BDUK Framework and in theory reconciling on actuals. That's the rural rip off. But zero transparency on actuals hence 300 + questions in parliament so far on this matter.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
How much does it cost to retain a team of accounts to go over the BT receipts and charges and clarify whether they are correct.

Does every invoice from every project need to be scrutinised, and what is the cost?
Posted by Gadget over 2 years ago
I have to say the Isle of Wight public domain contract suggests that each milestone is paid based on documentary evidence provided of actual spend (as long as the milestone coverage target is achieved) so I don't understand a) why a rewrite is required and b)why you consider it a rural rip-off and c)Given there are also independent audit clauses what exactly would you like to see in terms of transparency btw this is the doc
Posted by ValueforMoney over 2 years ago
@Andrew - your do as originally requested and deliver a reference cost set as per commercial rollout, netting off commercial investments and manage exceptions like additional dig and power.
@Gadget 31 - milestone payments per premise passed increaed from c£70 (NI rural) to >£170 (see NYorks reports)
More a reset that a rewrite so the funds could go further.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers even Wombat.
In Surrey each Cab is costed to the customers if crossing the county line they are charges to that county if it is not above 15 meg down BT takes the Charge hit so all costing are on the Cab in detail. The main problems are on the edge (pericherique or periphery) of the exchange area to get the required results above 15 meg.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
The total customers in Surrey was stated at 450k and 99.7% would have access to fibre date 1915 phase 7. 2015 Q1 over 15 post code.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Not 1915 but 2015 sorry the DLM reset.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
Every county will have a different average figure.

The actual payments require documentary evidence; invoices. Each county will see theirs, and judge if they match the contract.

That was one of NAO's valid points: that achieving transparency (to the government, not the public), and getting the best clawback, required a good audit team scrutinising the invoices coming in from BT; that good teams weren't necessarily available to LA's in the latter stages of the projects.
Posted by ValueforMoney over 2 years ago
@WWWombat vaiation per premise passed was low more related to the monies to be absorbed.
IT would be good to see some place like Rutland fully reconciled, with subsidies alongside verified BT investment.
2 years in and no reported savings on any of the early phases, nothing on the future proofing costs and nothing on USC costs.
Posted by fastman over 2 years ago
i would suggest will here will be a number of no build exchanges in the boack county and there weill be a high number of low coverage build in the commericial -- i woud also expect a reasonable amount of EO as this woudl be former industial / Factory and high density communities
Posted by fastman over 2 years ago
VFM my understand is that Rutland potentially have more fibre premises than orignally expected and less premises needed to be USC - (see some recent annoucement around additional communties which are not to benefit-- these were expected to be Sub 2meg but a number of them are now greater than 30 .m/bts at a network level as better use of the available technology and seme investgatkion of some specific communities to see what was orignally through possible
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
Today's results in Surrey customers passed 75k out of 84K on 550 Cabs total to do 620 and most are standing.
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