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Prime Minister Theresa May on rural broadband at Conservative Conference
Wednesday 05 October 2016 13:24:44 by Andrew Ferguson

In a speech to close the Conservative Conference the Prime Minister Theresa May has highlighted the plight of broadband in rural areas, though as with many political speeches that touch on a technical areas the language used raises more questions than answers. Hopefully a transcript with appear on the Conservative website later today.

"Where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene

Where companies are exploiting the failures of the market in which they operate, where consumer choice is inhibited by deliberately complex pricing structures, we must set the market right.

It’s just not right, for example, that half of people living in rural areas, and so many small businesses, can’t get a decent broadband connection.

It’s just not right that two thirds of energy customers are stuck on the most expensive tariffs.

And it’s just not right that the housing market continues to fail working people either."

Prime Minister Theresa May at Conservative Party Conference

If we make the assumption that decent broadband means superfast then it should be possible to compare the half of rural areas statement, and we believe that if the speech writers are using data from May 2015 this is the case, but now that the roll-outs have continued this figure has improved to around 75% for GB Rural areas, it does decrease around 1-2% once you factor in Northern Ireland. It is also possible that the speech is referring to what the ONS refer to as Hamlets which are still shy of 50% at 41-45% superfast coverage and may in many peoples minds be a better representation of rural Great Britain (Hamlets are improving up by 11 to 15% compared to May 2015).

Alas no promises of solutions appear to have been made in the speech, and who knows what the next year may bring in terms of changes. Ofcom has not yet adopted the full legal and functional separation of Openreach from the BT Group but still appears publically at least to be preferring a half-way house, with the option to go the more complex route if Openreach does not improve its service levels and availability of pure fibre services.

The problem Ofcom faces is if the focus politically is on the last 5 to 10% of the UK broadband wise, how does it regulate in a way that pleases those itching to compete in a market where pure fibre sells for less than ADSL and make their profits from TV bundles in the cities while also ensuring a national network that services even the most rural properties is not lagging in the speed arena. This is all on top of addressing the complaints about install times, fault resolution times and a myriad of other issues.

Update 8th October 2016 After The Guardian contacted us while in the process of fact checking the Prime Ministers recent speech and pointed us to the Ofcom report where apparently the figure used was sourced from (published December 2015 but using May 2015 data) we believe we have figured out definition of rural was using in the Prime Ministers speech and thus are able to find out how much things have changed since May 2015. The Ofcom report referred to 1.5 million premises with speeds under 10 Mbps as the best available to them and was 48% of rural areas, meaning that Ofcom was working under the premise that around 10% of the UK live and work in rural areas. The ONS GB Rural definition gives a figure of 23% for rural premises, and when you combine the four GB Hamlet and GB Village areas we have a total of 10.9% premises in rural areas, and using this definition and looking at our May 2015 rural/urban data we determined our data showed 46%. So how much have things changed since May 2015 for this group of 3 million premises, using our data it seems the number not able to get a 10 Mbps or better service has fallen from 46% to 23.6%. Clearly still a major problem for the 23.6% suffering slow connections in rural areas, but clearly a significant improvement.

As things stand today nationally there are 1.15 million premises (3.98%) we believe not able to get a connection better than 10 Mbps, and that is ignoring those with access to a fixed wireless service.


Posted by MaryHinge 7 months ago
As this is politics I very much doubt they fact-checked anything. 'Half' sounds more impressive than 'a quarter' so why let any factual information get in the way of that?

We all know much more needs to be done to help those stuck on slowband but a couple of throwaway lines in a conference speech won't change anything. Hammond needs to put his hands in his pockets and fund something like another BDUK round.
Posted by themanstan 7 months ago
How much complex pricing is down to the requirements made by OFCOM and how much is BTOR over complicating things, and how much is BTOR overcomplicating OFCOM complicated requirements????
Posted by chilting 7 months ago
OFCOM now need to change the goal posts.
The USC on its own is not enough. OFCOM need to enforce it. OFCOM and the Government need to transfer the job of delivering the USC to Local Authorities.
BUT, it is important that FTTC can be optimised, therefore, OFCOM also need a phase out date for ADSL. This would also mean that the most pressure would be exerted to sort out customers beyond the reach of fibre.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 7 months ago
Urm USC was devolved out to Local Authorities as part of the BDUK processes, hence why variation from county to county.

Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 7 months ago
Did you mean the 10 Mbps USO by any chance?
Posted by jumpmum 7 months ago
BTOR pricing is not complex. It is the RETAIL providers that have complex pricing so that they can pretend to compete with each other.
Posted by chilting 7 months ago
Sorry, I meant that OFCOM and the Government should pass the legal obligation to Local Authorities to provide the 10 Mbps USO to all their local residents and businesses.
It would then be up to Local Authorities to organise solutions with Openreach and other ISP's.
Posted by chilting 7 months ago
Removing ADSL would give Openreach the chance to optimise the reach of FTTC and extend coverage well above 10 Mbps on many more lines.
It would also force action for the final 2% because without ADSL they would have no fixed broadband.
Posted by New_Londoner 7 months ago
The challenge with devolving the USO is that it has yet to be finalised as the consultation process has only recently completed. It isn't due to be introduced until 2020, by which time there will not be many premises unable to get 10Mbps download speeds anyway.

Also, don't forget it is likely to be a right to request service, with the requester probably having to pay any costs above an agreed threshold.
Posted by MobiusPizza 7 months ago

USO will definitely be beneficial even by 2020. I live in a new estate in an urban area in Coventry, and I think BT openreach has no idea we get abysmal 3Mbps broadbands and there won't be any action taken until there is a legal framework to enact changes.
Posted by chilting 7 months ago
Yes, I agree but their is still going to be a few percent who haven't benefited and they need to be prioritised.
Setting a date to discontinue ADSL, for say 2025, would give all the players a deadline to get the rollout of decent broadband for all at 10Mbps plus, finished.
Posted by JerryFn 7 months ago
It is just political rhetoric. Popularism and trigger words for the electorate. Nevertheless, they are words that give us a stick to beat up the agencies. And words that we can quote to hold the government to account.

We had promises from Superfast Worcestershire. Work has progressed but NOTHING is complete. Deadlines missed, targets constantly pushed back.
So yes we will 'eventually' get FTTP and have had to grovel and push for it.
However, we are still waiting and get a pathetic 0.45 mbs.

Posted by New_Londoner 7 months ago
An obvious question perhaps, but why on earth to you buy/rent a property there? If you purchased it, did you ask the developer about broadband before signing? Remember it decides what to provide on the development, some still don't seem to bother - and probably won't unless they are unable to sell the properties anyway.

If the development is large enough, you could contract directly with Openreach to have the broadband upgraded.
Posted by leexgx 7 months ago

most people don't bother to check this so get stuck with under 1-2mb ADSL and no option for virgin/FTTC-p typically

warrington area a some of the new houses in last 1-2 years now have Virgin media coxa are been now pre wired to the house but with no option for bt FTTC even though they are wired to a FTTC cab as the rest of the street or 2 cabs 100-300m away, new large estates should have there own DP point and FTTC cab if large enough or should be really FTTP only no copper (or dual FTTP/Virgin cable but that would vaule of FTTP install)
Posted by leexgx 7 months ago
a lot of housing developers do the connections in batches of 5-10s and don't plan notify Open reach for +100 house installs for all say 100+ houses so BT/Openreach just feed of random cabs that can be 100-400 meters away (the housing developers just ask BT to install lines after and don't plan for broadband at all and leave it to BT to sort it out)
Posted by themanstan 7 months ago
And BTOR will be reticent to do anything particularly where adoption by the council is still incomplete...
Posted by fastman 7 months ago

I assume you have a gren box at entrance to estate -- that sugges a voice only ask from the developer -- Developer could fund the cab assuming developer still on site roads do not been be adopted to enable a fibre cab -- but some funding will need to be found from either the developer / community or mix
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
leexgx that the good ones -- the really tirckiy ones are where there consoritums and you get multiple cabs in same area and what looks like 100 homes becomes a thousand someomes on either just 1 / 2 cabs over a extensive distance
Posted by rjohnloader 7 months ago
In our part of Wensleydale we have the silly situation where BDUK is funding BT to install FTTC having already funded Boundless Communications to install microwave to the property with around 30% of properties served and all passed at up to 30Mb/s. Meanwhile the next village has umpteen mikes of copper. The National Audit Office has been advised of this idiotic duplication of effort
Posted by Lochnagar 7 months ago
I would give my eye teeth for 10 Mbps and would be very grateful for 2 Mbps. In the village where I live, landline speeds vary from 0.25 Mbps to 1.1 Mbps. Even with Tooway satellite I rarely get 10 Mbps. Yet the trunk line that carries fibre between Lincoln and Louth is only 400 metres away.
Open Reach will only install "Fibre to the Remote Node" if a consortium is willing to pay some £30,000 up-front. They will insist on owning the system so that they can then profit by offering connection to the rest of the village.
Posted by PhilipVirgo 7 months ago
The three fringe meetings on Broadband (Res Publica, CTF and CPS) at the Conservative Party Conference were full. There were also some savage comments about the way service cover is measured: using meaningless figures of supposed availability which do not reflect engineering realities - e.g the 40 year old multi-patched copper coated aluminum that serves most rural area and also many urban high rise flats
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) 7 months ago
@PhilipVirgo Got a name of a rural village exchange which is all aluminium so can look and see the difference.

On coverage, many myths have built up, e.g. one cab live means all on exchange counted as passed but very few use to report when we get it wrong.
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
Open Reach will only install "Fibre to the Remote Node" if a consortium is willing to pay some £30,000 up-front. They will insist on owning the system so that they can then profit by offering connection to the rest of the village.

that's a statutory obligation set by Ofcom actually

Posted by fastman 7 months ago
the 30k is a gap fund 1!!! basing on covering investment on a 15 year payback
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
Lochnager - re your comment They will insist on owning the system so that they can then profit by offering connection to the rest of the village. Openreach is only allowed to offer a co fund -- by offereing service to all premises that would be connected to that cab regardless of whether they funded or not - if you want something just for you its going to have to be a dedicated service
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