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CDS says BT has been cherry picking in Devon and Somerset
Thursday 04 February 2016 14:09:22 by Andrew Ferguson

The latest instalment in the BDUK/BT/Digital Britain soap opera took place in Westminster on 3rd February with a Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting.

The meetings are useful as they provide an insight into the otherwise closed world of what goes on, and this meeting initially looked at the potential of wireless and satellite broadband, with one person giving evidence saying that because gaming traffic only represents 3% of traffic over their satellite network - thus latency is not much of an issue. Now we are pretty sure that nationally a lot more than 3% of people take part in online gaming and the majority of this is latency sensitive, rather than turn based role play stuff. Satellite connections will never see much traffic from Call of Duty etc because people try it once and find out that it simply is not worth playing.

Of much more interest to broadband campaigners and other councils too will be the second part of the session when Keri Denton, the Head of Economy and Enterprise joined others from West Yorkshire and central London to give evidence.

Devon and Somerset rejected the phase II contract from BT (apparently because the combined result would not be 95% superfast in either Devon or Somerset) and is moving towards awarding new contracts some time later in 2016, but there was some very revealing comments on the phase 1 BT contract. The Devon and Somerset councils apparently wanted an outside in approach, ie. start at the hardest to reach areas and work the way inwards, in the hope that this would then stimulate the existing providers to extend their commercial footprint to meet half way. Or in other words, start with the lone properties, work your way up to the hamlets and then the villages, rather than the usual BT approach of expanding outwards from the existing footprint. If you want to listen and watch for yourself this part of the session starts at 15:34:40 on the video.

The problem with the outside in approach has always been you may find that the sum of money rather than covering 30% of the easier to reach premises only covers 5% of the hardest premises and this is highlighted when Keri Denton mentioned issues with how the BDUK has a general focus on homes passed, meaning that their do the hardest first approach was going to be problematic from day 1 and even if it was not BT who had the contract the pressure from Westminster to get coverage levels up as fast as possible would still apply.

Issues around councils not knowing what will be delivered and when they can announce if and when it is coming to an area featured as usual, but when we see some councils giving roll-out information a year in advance one has to ask how were some councils able to get this information when others could not. Also on issues of homes passed and cabinets not covering everyone with superfast, this has been known from day one when VDSL2 was clearly going to be used to meet the pace of roll-out, and is not unlike issues that would have arisen with a fixed wireless roll-out of the same scale. There is a solution BT are using, and it costs more per premise and that for areas where VDSL2 does not deliver to the contract target to over build with FTTP for the affected premises and several project areas are doing this, but again only once the easy quick stuff has been done.

Perhaps the issue is less about what the bad BT are doing or have done, but more about the politics of the situation and that councils want more support from BDUK which should have the ability to provide coverage models and show councils what could be expected if different priorities and technical solutions were used. Alas the pace of the roll-outs and pressure to deliver things quickly has often meant that rather than spending a few years planning, figuring out precise priorities for individual businesses and villages (that may often not be readily known by any communications provider) has meant that things are happening at a pace where by the time lessons have been learnt, the pilots projects are over and the next phase are under way and the next contract is already signed.

If we want to stick it to BT as a set of people and councils, then oddly the easiest way is to all buy the services that are available (from as wide a range of providers as possible too) and ensure the claw back phases kick in and money comes back to either push the roll-outs further or eventually return to council and Westminster budgets.

Comments

Posted by CarlThomas 4 months ago
BDUK has always been a very political project. Higher numbers of homes passed means headline grabbing results. Politicians are obviously going to be keen on such things.
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
Given that BDUK projects were explicitly set up to maximise the number of households supporting "superfast" speeds for the available budget, wasn't it kind of inevitable that this would happen. It was the politicians that set up the priorities, which informed the tendering processes and now they are whinging about the results?
Posted by WWWombat 4 months ago
I'm intrigued about how CDS could "hope" that the final N% would be targeted, when they followed the BDUK framework contract, which would have included the infamous "speed and coverage templates", and would have set specific numbers of properties to be reached in each milestone. They'd *know* the shape of what they were getting, even if they didn't know exactly which villages.

My understanding of phase 2 was that CDS specified the final 5%, not the easiest 5% ... and this is why BT's plans couldn't reach 5% nor be finished in time.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 4 months ago
Based on what I saw, have no reason to doubt that final 5% was the aim again and would explain why things did not align.

Will be interesting to see what Devon and Somerset finally get.

Maybe its time to do the pretend every cabinet is offering VDSL2 and see how far it reaches in terms of coverage. Rattles tin to pay for the electricity the CPU cycles will use.
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
nb. watching this so far (about 15 minutes in), this is a refreshing approach of the MPs in question compared to the grandstanding of those on PAC. They are actually listening.
Posted by gt94sss2 4 months ago
After watching it last night, I thought the CDS representative just didn't have a clue about what how to handle a large scale infrastructure project.

The Yorkshire rep seemed much more clued up and on the ball.
Posted by Blackmamba 4 months ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
I feel it was the fault of the council not knowing what they were signing for as there is not much differance between a Cab or no Cab in Surrey and their area.
At least Surrey had a top consultant ex CW watching over the contract and they hit 96% (TBB) under phase 1. I just wonder what the result will be when the OMR money is spent. ( My view. 99% + at 24 meg.)
Posted by jumpmum 4 months ago
It is always interesting watching these how MPs try to put words into witnesses mouths' to support their viewpoint. Have to watch the 2nd half later

Posted by WWWombat 4 months ago
I'm currently enjoying the bit where the MPs are desperate to get the witnesses to agree that the government has funded BT's monopoly.

Do none of them realise that the government had agreed to essentially fund the creation of a regional monopoly with *whoever* won each contract?
Posted by WWWombat 4 months ago
Interesting, though, that the Wispire guy thinks the core of the problem with BDUK so far was the concentration on too *much* fibre, instead of concentrating on alternatives that are perfectly affordable. And that the core problem in the outcome is that it has hit the diversity of broadband offerings.

I didn't think I'd find someone complaining that we were trying to put too much fibre out there ... but his argument has legs.
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
It's probably about time the regulator took note of two different sorts of market. One where infrastructure competition exists, one where it's essentially a (local) monopoly. They need different sorts of regulation and some way of handling cross-subsidies at the industry level.

The irony of course is that BT would probably quite happily give up that last 5%, even 10% as loss-making and nothing but bad publicity.
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
of scale on the pockets of coverage leftThe problem is that there was never a proper analysis of the cost to get to 100% or even 95% just an assumption that FTTC was the cheapest route to get to 90% and the other 10% would be fobbed with a 2Mbps service. Now we have a situation where the last 5-10% is more expensive because no provider can get economies of scale on the bits left to cover
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
oops not sure how the first few words in the last post got there
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
@TheEulerID Unfortunately the politicians were advised by the likes of Ofcom who it 2010/11 were telling them a)that ADSL had virtually universal coverage and b) that superfast broadband did not deteriorate with distance
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
@gerarda

The last 10% was always going to be disproportionately expensive. There is no magic solution whereby if it had all been done at once the costs would have magically disappeared.

As for your speculation on how politicians were misled, then that's no excuse at all. ADSL did have very high coverage (maybe 98-99%), but it was always known that some had very low speeds. The consequences of a 95% (or whatever) target for superfast are obvious. It leaves 5% underserved.
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
All this stuff is simply wishful thinking. It costs disproportionate amounts of money to serve that last few percent, even with fixed wireless (at least in hilly terrain) - that's if satellite is ruled out.
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
No one ever established what the economics of any other than a purely FTTC rollout were- and FTTC has been more expensive that originally modelled. The original phase 1 was supposed to achieve "funding to each Local Authority to allow them to provide 90% coverage of premises with superfast broadband, plus fibre connectivity to every community and at least a 2Mbit/s service to every premises."

If they got the cost of FTTC so wrong taking it just from 66%-90% then it suggests that hybrid or other solutions should have been brought in at a much lower coverage level.

Posted by CarlThomas 4 months ago
Just as well it wasn't a pure FTTC rollout used in BDUK but contained FTTP where appropriate also.
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
@gerarda

FTTC has not proved more expensive than originally modelled. That's pure fantasy. The evidence is that the FTTC deployments have been coming in under budget.
Posted by TheEulerID 4 months ago
@gerarda

Incidentally, what has been found is that FTTP has often proved more expensive and more FTTC used. The technology that has come in higher than expected is FTTrN, in large part due to the costs of providing power.
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
The BDUK funding model assumed only FTTC for superfast and wireless/satellite for 2Mbps infill.

FTTC has not reached 90% by local authority area in the budget originally allocated from this model
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 4 months ago
@gerarda Can you be clear when you say FTTC do you mean those with FTTC via the project but getting 10%, or do you mean superfast FTTC only?

Several projects set superfast targets below the 90% threshold, some above.
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
Andrew here is the link to the explanation of the costing model

http://old.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/BDUK-Data-Model-Expalantory-Notes.pdf
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 4 months ago
@gerarda Which is a nice link read yonks ago, but does not answer the question I asked you.

i.e. when you say FTTC do you mean ANY speed, or only those with superfast speeds via VDSL2.

Two different sets of premise figures.
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
I meant as in the original target referred to in the modelling "The funding allocation model assumes that BDUK provides investment gap funding to each Local Authority to allow them to provide 90% coverage of premises with superfast broadband"

That does beg the question as to what the model meant by superfast, but it is clear Phase 1 funding had not achieved 90% at 24Mbps speed
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 4 months ago
And that was the 2011 model used to determine how to share the money out, not an absolute blue print that LA's had to adhere to or be crucified. Plus in 2011 there was a mixture of bidders, so outcome was even more unknown.

So next question is which LA's have failed to meet the signed contract coverage levels? i.e. not put enough pressure on BT, or put another way where has BT failed to meet its targets based on the individual contract terms?

If there is one that has seriously missed target and keeping quiet and I've not noticed, a negative headline makes for lots of coverage
Posted by gerarda 4 months ago
The model was done pre any procurement so there were no bidders at that time, and certainly seemed to be designed to deter anyone other than BT from bidding.

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