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BT berated for not going faster in Suffolk
Tuesday 14 July 2015 20:22:31 by Andrew Ferguson

Suffolk has featured prominently in complaints over the BDUK process, with complaints about areas that were believed they had been promised coverage missing out, and promises made over speed that some people living a long way from their cabinet feel have been broken. What is interesting as the debate on 13th July 2015 in the House of Commons reveals is that the project is on budget and ahead of timescale and if this was almost any other infrastructure roll-out that involved public money it would be celebrated as a success, but since BT is involved it is often talked about as a failure and a farce.

"Suffolk and the Broadband Delivery UK rural broadband programme has had some great success. Suffolk was one of the first two local authorities, with Norfolk, to sign a local call-off contract with BT in the first phase of the BDUK rural broadband programme in December 2012 to extend coverage by 100,000 premises to over 80% of Suffolk premises by the end of 2015. There was a grant of almost £12 million from the Government, for which we are very grateful, and that was matched by another £12 million from Suffolk county council. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) is sitting next to me, because he and I campaigned tirelessly to ensure that we got that money for Suffolk, and we are very grateful for the Government support that our county has received.


The speed of roll-out has not been helped by BT, because Better Broadband for Suffolk and the county council have had difficulty in managing the contract. During the first half of the deployment, under Suffolk’s first contract for 100,000 premises to be covered, it was clear that Better Broadband for Suffolk had the potential significantly to exceed the contractual parameters in delivering on budget and to a more rapid timescale. Latterly, it has been clear that BT has been limiting Better Broadband for Suffolk’s efforts. It has been only just meeting the contractual parameters and planning sufficient structures slightly to exceed the contracted plans, not putting any further structures in place. BT will not go faster when Better Broadband for Suffolk could deliver faster. That has been to the detriment of our constituents, who have not received broadband in the timely manner they should expect. That is particularly true of many rural businesses."

Extracts from Parliamentary Debate on Broadband in Suffolk

Our understanding of the current contractual target for Suffolk is that 85% of premises should have access to superfast broadband once the phase 1 contract has completed and with a county of some 350,000 premises the almost 1 in 6 premises that will miss out are going to be very visible, since it represents over 52,000 premises. Our own tracking of the coverage is shown below and our usual reminder has to be said, that the 85% is an overall figure for the county, rather than individual exchanges, towns, villages, parish councils or constituency.

thinkbroadband calculation of Superfast Broadband Coverage In Suffolk - coverage as of 11th July 2015
Area % fibre based % superfast
24 Mbps or faster
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% cable % Openreach FTTP % Under 2 Mbps USC % Under 5 Mbps USO
Suffolk County 86.3% 78.5% 77.1% 21.9% 0.5% 2.3% 8.1%
Bury St Edmunds 86.9% 76.5% 74.7% 0% 0.3% 4.1% 9.1%
Central Suffolk 74.8% 65.9% 64% 24.6% 0.4% 1.4% 12.8%
Ipswich 98.4% 96.5% 96.4% 88.8% 0.4% 0.7% 1.4%
South Suffolk 80.5% 68.9% 66.2% 4.4% 1.4% 2.4% 11.2%
Suffolk Coastal 80.8% 73.1% 71.4% 16.3% 0.6% 1.7% 9.4%
Waveney 93.7% 86.5% 86% 0% 0.9% 3.1% 5%
West Suffolk 86.4% 78.6% 77.5% 15.3% 0% 2.2% 9.2%

The problems with roll-out speed are very interesting as this links in with the complaints and fall-out from the Devon and Somerset project. What none of the studies by NAO or PAC have looked at is whether BT is dragging its feet deliberately or are they actually deploying at the maximum speed that is possible. We know from the complaints about install and repair times that Openreach appears to be stretched.

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey) may have given what can be seen as the standard responses to the questions raised in the debate but does anyone expect anything different. The BDUK process has never promised to bring superfast broadband to every business park in the UK or a County and the issue of plans changing and thus people missing out are extremely regrettable, but given the timeline pressures and value for money pressures, we are not surprised to see plans changing. In theory if the Government had done something radical that the power companies were only allowed to charge a fixed connection fee for the power then one of the major things that cause cabinets to be skipped would be removed. Another point often missed is that while the 6 months of planning that each contract generally had at the start this was only a partial process with planning continuing throughout projects.

One real worry we have now that we are starting to see others winning phase 2 work, is that the continued dissection of the BT work may frighten off some alternate bidders for fear of exposing so much about their own business and also the amount of time and cost involved in answering all the requests of the NAO.

Do you think BT being evil and holding back the nation with its just in time approach to the BDUK work?


Posted by Llety about 1 year ago
Evil.. nah, BT not a character from Despicable Me.

Sharks are not evil, they just swim round eating things and make little sharks. Companies just do what they do, exploit an ecosystem niche to make happy shareholders and rich exec's.

Like any contract, if the performance system is poor, it gets exploited by those doing the work. Are those who set and manage the contracts evil? No, they work within constraints they could not overcome to get a better deal or were given the wrong goal..simple ones as best like give everyone in UK gets at least the USO.
Posted by Hubz about 1 year ago
With BT Group putting many Eggs in an IPTV / Content basket that requires NGA for the customer to get the full line up, it hardly makes sense for Openreach to drag their heals.
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
Of course the conspiracy theorists would say that the reason BT is dragging its feet in Suffolk is that the Council has given a guarantee to get 2Mbps to all by the end of the year. By slowing down FTTC rollout there will be more premises for which they get paid for both the USC and then a subsequent superfast phase
Posted by fastman about 1 year ago
That's asumming actually that the headline is true !!!! -of course it might not be and there might be more to it than that !!!!!
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
If you watch the debate on iplayer or read Hansard you will find the headline is accurate
Posted by davidinnotts about 1 year ago
Let's turn it around. If BT had done all that the Honorable Member said that it could have done and should have done, there would have been a lot of accusations flying around about Suffolk being given favourable treatment and why didn't BT allocate those clearly extra engineers elsewhere? BT will of course use its overstretched resources as best as it can, but the very best is always inadequate to those not at the top of the list.
Posted by jumpmum about 1 year ago
It is likely that BT appeared ahead of the timescales to start with as they hit the easy sites first, now they have the harder ones to do the speed of increased coverage drops off. Graphed it would be a curve not a straight line.
Politians, being simple beings, would draw a straight line from start to finish and think they were ahead early and that BT were slowing down towards the end.
On budget and ahead of timescale is far better than the usual Government procurement and suggests that BT may hit the Date and Budget at the end. But it is far better to kick BT and very popular.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
It might be accurate that BT were berated for going slow, but isn't necessarily accurate that BT *were* going slow. Just because an MP thinks things can be speeded up doesn't mean the engineering can happen that way.

As others point out - speeding up Suffolk means slowing down Essex and Norfolk. With a set pool of people, the rollout is a zero-sum game.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
40,000 premises or 200 cabinets a week and fibre paths a week looks to be run rate.
If you take the £1.7bn and BT's alleged £353m capital, then over 18 quarters we should see about £8.5m worth of weekly effort.

The 200 billed at £25k each is £5m worth of effort to meet the service level.

The question as appeared in Rutland this week with substantial monies going back in the pot and no evidence of BT's capital contribution, why not push on and transform the network.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
It does not look evil, but it does look peculiar. The 30,000 BDUK cabs to meet the service level will cost less than £1bn before BT's contribution. This leaves another £1bn, where BT has no plan but is leaving huge holes.
Training and charging for the next generation of apprentices from 2012 to do more FTTP to Dp would have filled the gaps.
Plan A was to charge the rates visible in Wales. No plan B emerged so 1/2 the money will end up in some investment fund.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
The evil if you were wishing to describe that way, was the 38% escalation of prices identified by the NAO in January and then 2 years of denials.
The belief BT could invoice proxy costs as reported by Audit Wales and then dispute the capital contribution will have contributed in some way to the decisions on resouring and the ambition set.
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
@wwwombat. But should it be a zero sum game or should BT take on extra resource when they win more contracts. It is obvious they are struggling to meet the demand, and with Phase 2 contracts going well past 2017 the 95% target looks in danger of being missed
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@gerarda Once you get beyond the point where any electronics needing any power is hard to justify, then Fibre to a DP probably needs to be supported by pre-registered demand, and the date has to be a negotiable almost customer driven.
It still needs resourcing but it is mostly overlay on poles, or trenching on soft ground, with customers paying a connection charge. I have yet to understand the plan to install lots of point failure, even the cabs, BT models appear to be say operational costs of a cab are £2.5k to £3k a year if the matched fudning is to be believed.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
Sorry, cabs I do understand, but not the operational costs implied in the PR.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
They've taken extra people on, and are using contractors for a lot. But there's a limit to what you can do - especially with temporary staff. The skills demanded, and training needed, mean you can't employ just anyone for the job.

The 2017 target certainly looks tight in some places. But will the "easy" places get done quickly enough to make up a country-wide balance? Unsure.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
"no evidence of BT's capital contribution"
Certainly there's evidence. But no itemised breakdown.

"why not push on and transform the network"
That isn't yet in BT's remit. Their contracts, combined, allow them to target 90%ish. To push on requires authorisation from each and every LA.

Unfortunately, any new plans to spend the excess must also pass the LA's value-for-money tests ... and we've seen with CDS that this isn't a given.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
"the 38% escalation of prices"
As NAO followed up, they expect more of this to be spent as harder areas are reached. And it isn't an escalation, it's just a bad budget. So, not 38% and not an escalation.

"then 2 years of denials"
By this, you usually refer to the denials of a contingency. You need to look at the definition of a contingency ... which is for unexpected stuff not covered by the budget.

That makes the denial true ... an excessively high budget is not a contingency.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@WWWombat By 2012, 15,000+ commercial cabs, 1268 subsidies cabs in NI, several hundred in Cornwall and you do 'bad budgets' which impact on resouring decisions for the entire project.
There is still denial on this matter, and the matter of contingency as presented to PAC.
Where is the evidence of BT capital contribution in any county project other than Surrey?
LA's want you to push on, note the frustration with the new Conditional white classification in all counties and indeed this report on Suffolk. You have a resource problem and your exessively high prices contributed to the problem.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
wwwombat I love the notion that excessive prices is not a contingency, so your intention was to bill them if not caught which makes it ok. That starts looking evil or at least demonstrates intent to defraud in project governed by state aid conditions.
Posted by Gadget about 1 year ago
All it represents is the maximum the customer can be billed against auditable and allowed receipts. See, whilst also showing the capital and capitalised contributions

"In reality BT contributed just £26m of capital funding to the scheme, although outside of the agreement BT were also investing an estimated £19m of capital expenditure and £82m of operational expenditure up to 2023."
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
The budget can be bad because they're taking fibre into the rural areas untouched in the commercial rollout, which makes for experiences not encountered in the commercial rollout. Easy to make an assumption in the budget that turns out to be untrue in physical reality.

The evidence of BT's capital contribution comes from the continuing capital expenditure for Openreach, in the quarterly & annual accounts. The fact expenditure continues at commercial-rollout levels implies they're spending on *something*. We don't know what, and we don't have an LA breakdown. But it *is* evidence.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
@vfm 2
You might not like the notion, but you do need to know the meaning of words in proper accountancy terms.

A line item with a proper budget that turns out to be too high in reality is *not* a contingency.

BT's denials have been about contingency - and that has been true.

You might think it has the same financial effect, but that still doesn't make it a contingency.

When you want to use it as a means of hammering at BT for lying to parliament, then you need to be d*&^ sure *you* know the meaning.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
The rest of your conjecture - intent to bill if not caught, or to defraud - requires other processes to be missing.

The 1st missing process would be the milestone to cash process. And the 2nd missing process, for those LA's without m2c, would be a true-up reconciliation. And, of course, BDUK auditing would need to go on a long vacation.

None of these are missing. The end result is that BT ends up with no money beyond actual allowable expenses. Whether m2c prevents it being handed over in the first place, or a reconciliation triggers clawback.

End result - no excess cash in BT's hands.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
@vfm 4
"You have a resource problem and your exessively high prices contributed to the problem."

Care to explain *how*? (PS: Me != BT).

How could a smaller budget allow more people to be found, employed and trained?

How could it make cabinets be built faster? Installed faster? Commissioned faster?

If the budgets were smaller, I think the only consequence is that BT would have been given bigger targets - perhaps 92%. Same budget, more cabinets, more work. Likely with extended deadline, say 2016.

But it would have still been a problem employing more people.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
@vfm 5
"note the frustration with the new Conditional white classification in all counties and indeed this report on Suffolk"

I don't note much frustration, but it is certainly an item to deal with.

But this debate on Suffolk (rather than a report) I find to be good in some respects, but laughably childish in others.

Unfortunately, politics is all about word games. Twisting meanings in places, and applying rigid meanings in other places - whatever looks good or gains an advantage. I found that happening here, with little financial or engineering accuracy.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@WWWombat thanks, the reliance on process as a substitute for transparency creates its own dynamic.
The capital expenditure is not itemised in the annual accounts so BT's contribution is not proven. It needs to be. INstalling 200 cabinets a week with quarterly state aid receipts in excess of £90m leaves no room for BT contribution.
Your ignoring the BT representation to PAC that prices in the Framework fully reflected all the learnings from the commercial programme.

Posted by Somerset about 1 year ago
Why would capital expenditure on a particular project appear in the annual accounts?
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
I feel the % result of 86.3 is a good result but is the % on the Cabs that have taken up the service (low) due to bad advertising when the Cab is open.
This is in the hands of all ISP,s plus the SCC to get the customers changed over asap so they have the opportunity to display results on Thinkbroadband map.
I checked yesterday an Exchange Area that has been changed over by 5 months not one showing on the maps.
Posted by Gadget about 1 year ago
Surely the aim of the process (external audit) is to ensure that rules are obeyed and nothing wrong or fraudulent is claimed. Transparency in itself does not do this it just ensures everyone, regardless of need or right, can see the amounts?
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Somerset, 1) It is not appearing anywhere else, and 2) the numbers are audited.
@gadget indeed, but NAO report 1 showed external auditor reecieved insufficient data, NAO report II found the 38% excess modelled costs. Transparency helps people stay honest.
Surely BT would wish to make a virtue of the £353m capital of the £1bn it very publicly promised Parliament and the nation.
Posted by Somerset about 1 year ago
@VFM - on which page of the accounts would you expect to see these numbers, and how would they be described?
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Somerset The state aid receipt is reported quarterly in the notes. It could be supported by the level of matched capital funding associated with those receipts or the expected future payment into an investment fund.
Tony Chanmugin in responding to a question by Citicorp in April, stated he expected no capital liability to emerge..need to check the wording.
Posted by gerarda about 1 year ago
@blackmamba, one of the MPs complaints was about cabs getting full and BT not adding more capacity for months afterwards. A higher take up would just make this worse.
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
I agree - expenditure isn't proven. But it remains as evidence that expenditure is going on ... and your specific complaint is that there is no evidence. If you chose to say there is evidence but no proof, then I'd agree.

Your conjecture of the spend needed for 200 cabs per week remains just that. It too sits at the same confidence level of "evidence but not proof".
Posted by WWWombat about 1 year ago
I'm not ignoring the fact that the budget was said to include learnings from the commercial rollout. But I'm sure you'll agree that learning is a lifelong, never-ending process. Hence Suffolk's phase 2 contracts uses a new budget model. Likely other LA's too.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Geranda.
The delays over upgrading was due to provision slots over tie pairs and ducting thus each job having a priority. It is most inportant to target the 100 tie this places the responsibility on Openreach (Budget) and diverts more money to the clawback money pot (Surrey ). This also put pressure on the customers on long lines to get Gfast or direct fibre.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Hi Gerarda.
Just put pressure on Cab1 exchange Copdock on a long line over 1 mile which has been exempt from FTTC. All Problems in Surrey were delt with at the monthley meeting in London between SCC office HDJ and Openreach.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
So if Surrey has solved ALL problems can we get back to the Suffolk issues
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Andrew There is a resource issue, and BT current plan using cabinets will aborb less than £1bn (but meeting all contracted service levels), which leaves a £1bn of subsidy in some investment fund but with no resource to take fibre deeper onto manifolds on poles.
We are short about 2,000 trainees on the ground, which could be fully funded for the next three years.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
The BT capital contribution of £353m should be paid on the current cabinets, leaving more of the subsidy for these more difficult to reach areas.
The decisions on G.Fast could be predicated on the FLAM cost recovery on a hypothically efficient PSTN network, even though the Openreach manpower and budget is the same pool as those doing the fibre upgrades. This needs unpicking. The DCMR does not try to deal with it.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
Good morning Andrew.
The Exchange Copdock is in Suffork that I am referring to which ties in with VFM remarks on ,if provided would cover the customers which are above 1 mile from the FTTC, if you are interested the enclave is Belstead. The fibre run is cost effective because it would run overhead to all 50 customers (Res and Bus).
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
With a phase 1 target of 85% in Suffolk no need for the tricks of other areas and might be two years away

Unless BT has confirmed those plans for those cabs is not speculation just confusing people?
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
Andrew - it is the 85% target with a big unspent budget is the problem.

The money (£1.7bn) was put together for once in a generation upgrade so fibre could be extended to poles.

The evil (your word) or just mistake is the catch us if you can approach on the billing supported by the confidentiality agreements to deny the full beenfit of the investment.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Andrew and wwwombat comments, you have evidence (lots of) but no proof is typical. Evidence becomes proof in a court decision, so folk are entitled to become angry.
Why not accept the evidence and amend the targets even with longer timescales. Places Belstead just need to be on a list, as the money is available, dates can follow.
Posted by Blackmamba about 1 year ago
The enclave of Belstead Exchange (Copdock) could take Fibre all the Way to the customers at a lower cost than G fast thus cutting out the power requirement all these customers were on EO lines the Exchange with a service of only 20CN so there were a very hight % under 2 meg recorded. I would think there are many exchange areas in the same situation just waiting for the work to be completed.
Posted by Gadget about 1 year ago
I'd suggest based on the welsh audit there is absolutely no evidence of any financial mis-deeds based on a professionally run audit, as a point of clarity because of the State Aid rules the objective of the procurement could not have been to extend fibre to poles, only to have a broadband service of xMbps available to Y% of the area by upgrading those areas of demonstrable market failure or lack of provision with a reasonable timescale gathering solutions that were technology neutral
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@gadget The Audit Wales just said 'reasonable', it made no assessment against the state aid principles which would be out of scope anyway.
The Audit Wales and indeed the NAO reports are subject to 'Maxwellisation' effect where BT get to make amendments before publication.
The state aide measure did not preclude anything, it assumed a mix of solutions, and it was not limited to Y%. On notification the state aid was intended for the entire intervention area, and not these conditional white areas which should remain with BT.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
What is fibre extended to the poles? How are people expected to make use of that?

I can make guesses, but am sure many will be guessing wrongly.
Posted by Gadget about 1 year ago
@VFM my point concerning the state aid was not made about the Welsh audit, but to respond to your comment "The money (£1.7bn) was put together for once in a generation upgrade so fibre could be extended to poles."
Whilst the comment about the Welsh audit finding nothing irregular was in response to your statement "That starts looking evil or at least demonstrates intent to defraud in project governed by state aid conditions."
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Andrew Fibre to the DP(manifold) where BT can place a G.GAST box, which I hope does not get in the way of a customers wish to order a direct fibre connection.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Gadget The Welsh Audit found much. Paying proxy costs is very irregular and finding no mention of the BT capital paid or the process by which is paid is also irregular. Three select Committees will pursue these points until resolved.
Posted by Gadget about 1 year ago
@VFM - not according to here : that I support your conclusions. "The new report also confirms BT’s contribution, which is important because the project’s original £425m total actually included their commercial investment and this somewhat confused the figures. In reality BT contributed just £26m of capital funding to the scheme, although outside of the agreement BT were also investing an estimated £19m of capital expenditure and £82m of operational expenditure up to 2023."
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
@Gadget at £26m serving 700,000 properties is £37 per premise passed, and this is still not verified as Wales are paying a cost per premise passed not actual costs.
That £37 translates to £222m nationally but no evidence of it being paid.
BT's claim of £3bn on 50k commercial cabs and fibre paths will not hold up. £3bn/19m homes passed is £157 but Welsh gap funding might be £37 if they are lucky.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
I would like to question operation costs as well.
If £650m of the £1bn offered by BT was ops for 7 years and BDUK are funding 30,000 cabs, then it is £3k a year per cab ops. Anyone belive that where a VDSL card costs $500?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
Where is £3bn from? BT only has claimed £2.5bn for commercial roll-out, which also included some FTTP, which if going to hang them over costs you need to include too.
Posted by ValueforMoney about 1 year ago
Gavin P and the Minister have both used £3bn publicly in July. GP makes specfic reference to £3bn and 50,000 cabinets here Use £2.5bn if you wish, it does not substantively change the gap in costs that needs to be reconciled.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) about 1 year ago
So a difference of £10,000 per cabinet is not substantial and £2.5bn is the most often used figure for the BT NGA commercial investment.

It is possible that Gavin was adding some more recent investment that is planned as part of G.Fast commercial roll-out of course.

Posted by simondry about 1 year ago
When I go to Andalucia, right up in the Sierra Nevada mountains I get better broadband than in Lackford, 5 miles outside Bury St Edmunds. Absolutely useless when running a business from here, so bad I have to go to friends premises in town if I want to up or download any file larger than about 5Mb. Roll out of superfast broadband across Suffolk my arse.
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