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England hits the 90% superfast coverage milestone
Monday 11 January 2016 10:38:19 by Andrew Ferguson

The BDUK process that stared life in 2009/2010 under the auspices of the then Labour Government and was then fleshed out by the Conservatives with help from the LibDems in 2010-2015 has not always been the most popular policy but the roll-outs are delivering improvements and today sees the news that our tracking is showing that 90% of English premises now have the option of ordering a 24 Mbps or faster service from the main fixed line providers, e.g. Openreach, Virgin Media and KC.

Of course 90% means that 1 in 10 are still missing out, but some of those will be receiving improved speeds from the VDSL2 heavy roll-out. This milestone does not mean the job is done over at the DCMS/BDUK as the promise was for 90% of the UK. The further 1.2% of improved coverage is needed before we can declare the UK goal met and based on current roll-out rates this is likely to be in March 2016.

The BDUK process is frequently attacked over its failure to provide superfast broadband for all the rural areas of the UK, but with a goal of 90% superfast coverage and a limited pot of money, even back in 2012 it should have been obvious that rather than going for the hardest to deal with areas that the pressures of roll-out speed and value for money meant that the bulk would not be isolated farm houses, but rather than peri-urban and large villages. That is not to say that we have not seem farms and remote business parks benefit, lots are but there are still those waiting for the roll-out to reach them.

What 90% superfast coverage looks like in England
Map of English constituencies and superfast coverage

The patchwork image of England shows that the coverage is far from uniform and in each constituency there is wide variations, but even so things are considerable better than when the first BDUK cabinet was delivered in December 2012 and England had a superfast coverage figure of 70.5%.

The first comments are usually that the collective BDUK project is late, i.e. missed its May 2015 deadline and also the end of 2015 deadline too, and while this is true when you consider it is an infrastructure project not delivering a decade late and at price several times the original cost it has to be seen as having done something right.

One of the areas that pops out at your from the map of England is the dark area of North Herefordshire and once you delve deeper into the detail for North Herefordshire the underserved areas are clearer. The census areas used vary in geographic size to keep them fairly consistent in terms of population and households, so the dense urban areas will be much smaller in size.

Superfast Coverage in Herefordshire showing good and bad areas

Given the low coverage levels in North Herefordshire it is no surprise to see the Q4 2015 speed test analysis showing slow speeds for the northern part of the county too. We would love to be able to say things are going to improve very soon but the historical trend for North Herefordshire is still fairly flat.

Latest Broadband Speed Test Results in Herefordshire

A final word, the roll-outs in not just England, but also in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are at the point of extra infill cabinets and plenty of exchange only lines are being upgraded to have FTTC or for some FTTP available so even if you thought the projects were going to pass you by it is worth checking every now and then to see if you got lucky. The more people that upgrade to the services also means the larger the clawback revenue will be in the future and this will either be used to increase the roll-out or if an area hits 100% money will get handed back.

Comments

Posted by Dixinormous 9 months ago
Saffron you biased BT astroturfer. How dare you publish positive, data-based coverage of BDUK.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
The criticism has been because what started life as the superfast rural broadband programme was high-jacked to provide coverage elsewhere.
Posted by jumpmum 9 months ago
Andrew.
You may find that North Herefordshire has lost out slightly due to being included with Worcestershire in the contract and therefore Worcester areas were easier to reach than Herefordshire ones, hopefully this will be remedied as the contarcts come to an end.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
Fingers crossed, we have seen other areas suddenly become the focus of the roll-out and rapid advances.
Posted by steamingdave 9 months ago
@jumpmum- the so called "Fastershire" programme covered Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. I live in that Black area; I registered for updates two years ago and was initially told we would be enabled by July 2015, then it slipped to December 2015, now it might be end of 2016 or 2017. For 18 months we have had Openreach works on the road between my village and Kington, they even installed a new underground fibre junction 50 yards from my house, but still only getting 2.8 download ( on a good day) and 0.3 upload.
Posted by geoffv 9 months ago
Down here in North Wiltshire, we can only dream of receiving superfast broadband! Scratching around to get 5mbps if we're lucky. As for time scales from Openreach - forget it. Not even on the horizon!!!!
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
"The patchwork image of England shows that the coverage is far from uniform and in each constituency there is wide variations"
The trouble is that BDUK don't seem to have a plan B. For example, my constituency is Arundel and South Downs with 77.7% superfast coverage. The second phase may add another few percentage points but all the cabinets have now been upgraded, so there is little planned for the remaining 20%. Commercial Fixed Wireless will help to fill the gap but we still have a long way to go!
Posted by godsell4 9 months ago
@geoffv please IM me on the TBB forums if you have a login, I am also in the SN15 area.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
@chilting Cannot say what is planned for your area, but do see new cabinets appearing to cover long distance areas and even some FTTP (e.g. can get slow FTTC but also FTTP at standard prices if they want faster speeds).

The trouble is that the county projects work towards a total for the county, rather than 90% for each sub division that people decide.

So boils down to what money is left and whether county wants to push closer to 100% or sit back and get some money back eventually.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@Andrew
It is the semi-rural areas away from the old village centres that give Openreach their biggest challenge. Areas on long lines down badly maintained tree lined lanes that have developed over the last 40 years with the phone service just being extended slowly as demand increases. Unfortunately these areas also seem to be served by multiple cabinets that are ofter even on different exchanges.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@Andrew
FTTP would be the only Fixed Line solution in these areas because of the geography. But it would be a case of ripping out the old system completely and that would be very expensive.
Posted by alewis 9 months ago
I'm with gerarda. More than that, the aim was never 90% coverage, it was 100% NGA coverage. Have a read of the PAC transcripts, where the PAC members were incredulous at the BDUK civil servants' (Sir Jonathan Stephens) definition of "maximum" being something other than 100%. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubacc/474/474.pdf

Page 39... Beggars belief.
Posted by Dixinormous 9 months ago
There was absolute no way, with the funding provided, that the programme was ever going to get close to 100% NGA coverage.

Doing the final 4-5% with a fixed line solution will cost more than the previous ~20%.
Posted by Blackmamba 9 months ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
Just look at Surrey results plus the exchanges on Openreach where and when as the fibre is pushed further out from the Cabs there are still a few Comercial cabs not in service yet (reason ?). The under 2 meg target is just a few dots on the sea of blue in (Surrey ) and they have not yet completed the OMR spend.
Posted by Dixinormous 9 months ago
Indeed a few areas are like that now, with FTTP at the extreme distances from enabled cabinets.

Only way to achieve targets in some cases.

Some commercial cabinets nationwide not in service or dropped from rollout, 2 of my previous 3 addresses among them.

Increasingly FTTP at extremes becoming more common.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
@alewis And where does Sir Stephens say that the phase 1 contracts were for 100% coverage.

There is mention of 100% EU targets, which are being worked towards, e.g. current 90%, then the 95% and then will see what happens next.

By the way as you prefer the wording NGA, you are aware that NGA coverage is already at 92.7% for the UK, so once 95% is hit very likely to be almost at 100%.
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
Ironically, the majority of the rural constituencies in England are represented by Conservative Party MPs. This will ensure that the issue of slow and unreliable internet connectivity will remain on the political agenda for many years. Whether BDUK Phase A or B reaches X% or Y% is academic. Unless or until something representing universal access (not necessarily fixed-line, but something which is fit for purpose for the foreseeable future) is achieved, it is highly unlikely that the political pressure on Conservative Party MPs representing rural constituencies will be receding.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@alewis
LOL. You think that page in the PAC report is good evidence for PAC weedling out government failure?

I see it as evidence of an absolute failure to understand a simple concept by Mr Bacon. Evidence that PAC disappeared off down an aggressive path due to misunderstandings. A failure to even /want/ to understand.

For me, it shows just why generalist MPs should never be allowed near anything that needs decent technical understanding.

MPs, unfortunately, are good at one thing only. Getting elected.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@WWWombat
"For me, it shows just why generalist MPs should never be allowed near anything that needs decent technical understanding"
How true! My MP also has a rabid determination to break up BT. He seems to think that this would be the answer to all our broadband woes.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
As far as I'm aware, the "superfast rural broadband" campaign was simply tasked to reach some part of the "final third" that wasn't upgraded commercially.

At the time, no-one knew where this "final third" would be ... and everyone just assumed "rural". To someone in the Westminster village mindset, "rural" probably is synonymous with "final third".

Separately being tasked with "maximum value for money" ensured the money went to the easiest portion, not the hardest portion.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
On the rural vs urban, have used blog as easier to add multiple graphs http://blog.thinkbroadband.com/2016/01/rural-broadband-no-change-or-getting-better/ to show what we have in terms of coverage and speed test results.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
A general question - that seems to be totally relevant and the main question that MP's should be asking -
"How much would it cost to bring fixed line broadband coverage up to 100%"
Posted by leexgx 9 months ago
a lot of money ?

(i don't agree Openreach been split up, as it more then likely cost more for the customer, unless sky and talktalk want to pay for what openreach is providing them on VDSL and some FTTP in random 5-10 years)
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@ruralwire
Too True. The pressure will remain on the rural MPs until that elusive "universal", decent, access is reached.

However, some MPs seem to be able to cope with the duality that both a decent job has been done so far, yet there is plenty more to do. But some MPs just want to complain as loudly as possible.

With insufficient funding to reach 100%, I also wonder why some MP's don't realise that their desperate clamour for village X to be included would cause village Y to be left out instead.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
If caught on the stop and given five seconds to answer what will getting fixed line broadband to the final 5% cost? Probably the same amount of public money that will have been spent going from ~70% to ~95% coverage.

Then you have to ask how quickly, as that will change the cost too.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
If the DCMS had said back in 2011 "we are going to ignore those places with no usable broadband, and prioritise upgrading to superfast areas already getting average or above average speeds. Any improvement in not-spots will be either coincidental to an adjacent upgrade or by fobbing them off with satellite in 2016" they would have been slated, but that is what has happened and apppears to have been their intention
Posted by jumpmum 9 months ago
gerada

You may think that is true where you are, but it is not true in vast swathes of Wales, Scotland and the wilder parts of England. Moving from zero % superfast in Gynwedd, Powys, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmathenshire etc to 50-70% and similar outside the big cities in Scotland and N. England, is a huge rural program. Even the shetlands and Hebrides have above 40% fibre now.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@jumpmum

How many places in the 30-60% not upgraded to superfast are still not spots and, other than satellite, what is the plan to get them even basic broadband?
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@andrew
If it is that much then the question has to be asked of our Government.
Will they provide that much capital to extend the BDUK project to 100%?
Until they answer that question all other deliberations are futile. Also they would be very unlikely to get funding from BT for obvious pay back reasons.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@gerarda
In 2010/11, DCMS made the decision to not prioritise Labour's original thoughts of a 2Mbps USC. Instead they chose to go with a policy of "superfast speeds for as many as possible", with a sidebar target of the USC as a consequence.

With that as a positive policy, alongside value for money requirements, the negative results are, as you say, consequential.

Those negatives, I'm sure, are not intentional. But they are predictable.
...
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
The improvements to not-spots may have been consequential, but they haven't been tiny either. A reduction in sub-2Mbps from 14% in 2011, 10% in 2012 to 1% is a decent stab, and has reduced the "fobbing off with satellite" by 93%.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@andrew
Thanks for the blog

I wish the coverage & availability barcharts had the geotypes ordered in the same fashion as the first distribution chart.

And, as you point out, it is impressive, and thought-provoking, that the hamlet & village average speeds for FTTC come out in the middle of other geotypes, once they get included.
Posted by PaulKirby 9 months ago
@Andrew Staff
Any chance for a close up graph for Greater London, its too hard to see the coverage on the England map.

Thanks
Paul
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
@WWWombat - MPs are elected to represent the interests and raise concerns on behalf of their constituents. If constituents (individually or collectively) are raising genuine concerns about poor internet connectivity with their MP, then their MP is duty bound to do likewise unless there good reasons for not doing so. The fact that the Government does not have a plan or the funding in place to tackle the final X% does not mean that the lobbying will not continue or that the issue will somehow miraculously disappear.
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
@WWWombat - Lets not forget, the telecommunications industry is not adverse to spending huge sums of money on lobbying politicians or sucking up to journalists over this, that or the other issue in pursuit of the commercial interests of their shareholders.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@wwwombat
Any government that was serious about digital inclusion would have made solving not-spots the priority.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@andrew @wwwombat

I am not sure why you are surprised that a cabinet in the middle of a village or hamlet produces the same FTTC speeds as one in a town. The graph simply proves that BT have cherry picked the best areas for FTTC.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
@gerarda Because there are those that maintain that FTTC does not work in villages at all and that for rural UK line quality is so bad that even when it does work the maximum speeds people get in the cities are not being achieved.
Posted by fastman 9 months ago
so a commercial company makes a commercial decision about where to spend its own money and your issue is what exactly --

then in BDUK the county look at value for money ie maxlmum anouny of premise for spend - best value for money -- what wrong with that ?
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@fastman so to take another analogy. A council has choice between building additional garages for 10,000 of its houses or the same amount of money repairing 1,000 others to bring them back into use. On your's and BDUK's logic building the garages and leaving 1000 families homeless is better value for money
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@gerarda
Just suppose that BDUK had started with the most difficult 5%. I guess by now they may have got results but the other 25% would still be waiting.
I think that BDUK and the the Government may have come in for a high degree of hostility/criticism if this was the case!
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@rw
Agree that is one role for MP's. But *realistic* MP's know that their lobbying effort is best spent on phases not yet ordered, money not yet allocated, plans not yet made.

Why bother spending the energy belly-aching about plans that are already under contract? Money that is already allocated? Builds that are in progress?

Why, particularly, do the South West's MPs expend a lot of hot air on complaining about CDS' ongoing plans that are going to target? Yet North Yorkshire's MPs spend their effort (for similar landscapes) on future plans?

I propose the answer is that one set has a clue.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@gerarda
A government can be serious about digital inclusion, but without a technical solution, it is still a washout.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@gerarda
Same answer as MrS: People like you would argue that most villages & hamlets have too many homes that are too far from the cabinet to get superfast speeds.

Even I am prepared to believe that it *could* be true. On the other hand, I'm prepared to believe that, when compared with towns, the low volumes in villages and hamlets make the effect almost insignificant, statistically.

It is interesting, therefore to see the statistical outcome.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@gerarda
Building on @chilting's last answer...

What would happen if the government wanted the last 3-5% covered, but that couldn't happen at all because the companies involved couldn't make them profitable at all, through lack of volume.

B4RN's strategy is badly needed for the farmers and individual homesteaders, but much less necessary for the villagers who would have received superfast anyway. Yet B4RN depended on the volume subscriptions from their mass market in the villages to even start to become feasible.
Posted by cyberdoyle 9 months ago
Volume subscriptions? B4RN's biggest village is 229 homes. most are less than 40. ;) some are 6 homes.
Posted by cyberdoyle 9 months ago
spot on that man: "Posted by gerarda about 9 hours ago
If the DCMS had said back in 2011 "we are going to ignore those places with no usable broadband, and prioritise upgrading to superfast areas already getting average or above average speeds. Any improvement in not-spots will be either coincidental to an adjacent upgrade or by fobbing them off with satellite in 2016" they would have been slated, but that is what has happened and apppears to have been their intention "
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@wwwombat - Isn't that what has happened? - we are left with 3-5% that are not going to get covered. @chilting - if we had started with the worst 10% and that was all that had been done by now I doubt if there would be the level of criticism from the other 20% as the take up has shown most people are still happy if they get reasonable ADSL speeds
Posted by Dixinormous 9 months ago
Must inform the people in my immediate area who were upgraded by BDUK that they should have been ignored as they didn't have average or above-average speeds, being as they were on c. 6km+ lines.

Some mistake. Or as mentioned value for money as fibre was near and power available.

If we had started with the worst 10% half of them would still be in strife and the cash gone.
Posted by Dixinormous 9 months ago
As far as uptake goes anyone seen the figures for Rutland recently?

The data doesn't support the premises some are putting forward.
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@cyberdoyle
Where B4RN has just over 1,000 subscriptions, and needs that level to break even as a going concern, a village of 229 properties is a big player.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@dixinormous - so you are suggesting that digital exclusion is the way forward?
Posted by WWWombat 9 months ago
@gerarda
No, that isn't what happened.

Re-read my post as "... if the government wanted the last 3-5% covered /first/ ..."

The phase 1 money would only have paid for that amount: Very high cost, low volume, low income, longer break-even.

"if we had started with the worst 10%"
They might not have started with the absolute worst 10%. However, they have improved 13% of the worst 14% ... and the projects are still going on.

When your own property lies within the 14th percent, it is hard to see or accept that there has been improvement elsewhere.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
@wwwombat

Read paragraphs 6,7,8 of the PAC report - where it is clear that there was an option of 100% coverage had the BDUK procurement process not been fundamentally flawed.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
All these comments underline to me how important it is to find options other than Fixed Wired broadband for the final 5%.
Fixed Wireless seems to be the only logical way forward and the only alternative to the very imperfect satellite option.
Posted by gerarda 9 months ago
I would like to know who in BDUK was technically competent to model a UK wide rollout using a variety of technologies, assess all the alternative costings prior to any procurement process, and come to the conclusion that the country could afford only a 90% coverage?
Posted by RuralWire 9 months ago
@WWWombat - Whilst South West MPs voicing the concerns and frustrations of their constituents might come across as unwarranted criticism and blatant CDS bashing, it is important that those MPs are seen, by their constituents, to be raising and pressing home the importance of their concerns. Admittedly, the knowledge and understanding on display is often not as good as it could be.
Posted by PaulKirby 9 months ago
@Andrew (staff)
I take it no zoomed in map for Greater London then?

Paul
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
We have the maps for all the councils, but due there being issues with some maps, i.e. areas get split over time as household numbers change and the maps and raw data does not always match (joy of big data world), and thus you get the odd one with a hole in it.

Will tweet Westminster to show what we have.
Posted by kijoma 9 months ago
@Chilting -"It is the semi-rural areas away from the old village centres that give Openreach their biggest challenge. Areas on long lines down badly maintained tree lined lanes" Not really, I can take you to 2 villages in West Sussex where that very scenario has BDUK funded FTTP ran to all properties. To get this in your area you just need over 96% take up of a commercial wireless service for over 10 years first it seems.
Posted by kijoma 9 months ago
@Chilting "Fixed Wireless seems to be the only logical way forward and the only alternative to the very imperfect satellite option." You have one of the largest and oldest Fixed wireless providers in your area. Why not engage with them and see what can be done?
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@kijoma
The two villages already had cabinets in place so it was just a case of getting the fibre to them - they were always going to upgrade all the cabinets. You do however have cause for complaint when it comes to Amberley - they have gone beyond the cabinet here into an area that you have served for a long time.
Posted by chilting 9 months ago
@kijoma
On your second post - I did ask the question back in 2011 and you responded on April 25th 2011 but you were unable to help.
Posted by PaulKirby 9 months ago
@Andrew (staff)
I am hoping to see the map for Newham.

Thanks
Paul
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
https://twitter.com/thinkbroadband/status/687344868516061184

Newham the 26.9 Mbps average in the upper right corner is probably because that area has 43% Openreach FTTP coverage
Posted by PaulKirby 9 months ago
@Andrew (staff)
Well I know our exchange (Ilford Central [LNILC]) has only got 44.32% of its lines that can get fibre, and 23.38% is FTTP, leaving 55.68% without and 48.97% is still down for FTTP, so something isn't right.

Paul
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 9 months ago
Ilford Central also crosses over into Redbridge and has some Virgin Media availability contributing to the superfast/fibre coverage.

The part in Newham does have a nice block of FTTP
Posted by PaulKirby 9 months ago
@Andrew (staff)
This is true, but they are partially done and are like a bad patchwork quilt.
Even their engineers says the rollout for our exchange is a mess.
Posted by PaulKirby 9 months ago
@Andrew (staff)
Ah, just realised you was referring to Newham as a whole, I read that as my exchange LOL.
Yeah, Newham overall is ok, we have no VM at all near us, which is why I think we are still down for it to be done so BT and BTOR says.
Posted by Saurus 9 months ago
90% of 0 is still 0 for many people. It was deliberately designed like this because of the amount of funding required/profit margins. No government of this country in my time has ever liked investing in its own people it takes money away from politicians pet projects!
So, sadly for those (I include myself)in the crappy areas that pay top rates for the worst service will not see much if any improvement for some time to come.
Posted by Blackmamba 9 months ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
I have recorded the TBB results over the last year on post code GU266DD (12 months) and found that the results are giving a better overview with the 250 metres radius.
On other post codes they are only showing 6 months results and it looks like they will be covering the 2 /10 meg results ( blue dots) the last 10% I would think this will change as time passes.
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