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.