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Overbuild complaints arise with BDUK wireless pilot in West Witton
Tuesday 11 October 2016 11:46:19 by Andrew Ferguson

A common complaint about the gap funded roll-outs is that public money is being used to help BT Openreach build more VDSL2 cabinets in areas where a competitor already exists, most commonly this is a Virgin Media area, but this scenario should be handled by the invoice system where BT invoices only for the gap funding on those premises that will benefit from the cabinet. Less common but expressed more vocally is complaints with overbuilding of alt-net operators and the latest one is about one of the BDUK pilot projects that was meant to explore wireless services in North Yorkshire.

Based on local reports the base for a new VDSL2 cabinet has been installed just to the east of West Witton North Yorkshire and this this appears to be a gap funded solution and based on the location should provide 40 to 76 Mbps speeds for the core of West Witton i.e. Main Street between Flats Lane and Chantry Bank.

"West Witton in Wenlseydale North Yorkshire suffered from poor to very poor (0.75Mb/s) broadband speeds being too far from its fibre cabinet to gain any advantage of FTTC. At the end of 2015 a BDUK funded trial of microwave to the premises opened giving up to 30Mb/s availability to the whole village. Residents were offered service at full commercial rates and less than a year later around 33% of premises in the village are connected at 10, 20 or 30Mb.s as they require with many leaving BT altogether using VoIP.

But construction by BT the edge of the village reveals that the BDUK money spent on the excellent microwave may be thrown away as BDUK is now funding a rival system fior the village by subsidising BT to rearrange its network. meanwhile in the Parish we have a hamlet that still has slow speeds and will gain zero benefit from this expense as they are connected to a different exchange.

BDUK seems keen on spending money even if it subsidises BT to be a competitor to an entrenched small operator. Why can't they spend money on places that need 30Mb/s rather than those that actually have it?

Local West Witton resident - John Loader

The BDUK pilot was a £1.5 million scheme with Airwave to provide wireless connectivity and explore options like TV White Space and small LTE cells, with a coverage target of 270 premises. The West Witton area is thought to have accounted for around £700,000 to cover the 130 premises. The pilots were never funded to operate for years, and contacts allowed operators to back out if after the pilot period they did not want to continue providing service on a commercial basis. Obviously backing out would upset locals who may have paid the usual installation and monthly costs.

So why is BT now deploying VDSL2 to a village that is enjoying wireless now via Boundless (sample speed tests 10 Mbps down, 1.5 Mbps up, 11 Mbps down, 3.6 Mbps up and 22 Mbps down, 4.3 Mbps up? 30 Mbps is an option but appears to be a rare purchase decision.

It appears that the Open Market Review did not exclude the area and thus the village was up for grabs, and ignoring the pilot the location of the cabinet fits in with the current sort of rural places that are getting VDSL2 cabinets deployed in North Yorkshire. One issue apparently has been that while the BT contracts give a certainty of service over a period of a decade there was no guarantee that AirWave/Boundless would keep the service in place and if the Superfast North Yorkshire project had finished the village could roll-back to ADSL only services.

Issues like this are not going to go away and as the BDUK projects reach deeper into the rural areas they will have BT bumping into competitors more and more. Once the superfast projects morph into dealing with ultrafast broadband issues, or maybe a new fully independent national operator (PLC or nationalised) this issue is going to be massive. In short the race to deliver better coverage in as short as timeframe as possible means lengthy on-going constant reviews are not really done, and period reviews will always miss the changing situation on the ground.

Update 5:20pm 12th October We've had something approaching an official reply on the overbuild concerns, we did chase BT last week but as with many enquiries immediate answers don't always appear. It would appear that this cabinet in West Witton is one of a batch that will eventually serve 4,620 premises across North Yorkshire which were receiving under 2 Mbps from existing services in December 2015 (known as phase 2a). These 4,620 premises are described by North Yorkshire council as at no cost to the public, but given the sums involved in earlier phases and the issue of the Universal Service Commitment that is open to debate. The cabinet in West Witton will also provide an improved service to 18 premises that received no service from the Airwave project.

On the subject of worries that the Airwave service would not continue after the pilot, it seems that Airwave did not respond to the Open Market Review and confirmed it would not be in January 2016 as at that time there was no intention to continue service post pilot. Of course since then things have changed and Boundless are offering service and in the position to acquire the assets in the area and run them as an on-going commercial service.

So a much more complex and nuanced situation where officials are confident that nothing untoward is going on, and the interests or rural residents are at the forefront of their decisions. Of course the public will simply see a market test pilot that seemed to have a high cost per premises served and subsequently a BT service arriving. It will be interesting to see what people in the area decide to do with regards to which service they use, particularly for those where VDSL2 may offer a faster service than the wireless services. Since if the majority are happy and stay on the up to 10,20 and 30 Mbps products it raises a real question over whether delivering anything beyond 30 Mbps to consumers is worthwhile in 2016.


Posted by WWWombat 7 months ago
I wonder if this is "just" a cock-up, or a tacit admission that the "market trials" are headed nowhere.
Posted by gah789 7 months ago
Or deliberate action by BT! We have experienced this too, in a case where the project had received no public money. As noted, the OMRs are way out of date and far too bureaucratic for small operators to engage with.

This classic IBM-style FUD because BT refuses to make any kind of commitment to where it will or will not provide service. Everyone loses because few communities can take the risk that a local effort will be sabotaged by this kind of action. What makes it worse is that BT won't serve more remote households but they sabotage the viability of an operator that is able to do that.
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
GAH - where ?
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
so did the area you are talking about respond to the OMR or not -- if it did not then area can be covered
Posted by gah789 7 months ago
Yes - with postcodes, etc. But the process is designed to exclude small operators that don't have spare resources to lobby or file GB of paperwork. In practice the bureaucrats really don't want to have to identify and respond to changes on the ground.
Posted by RuralWire 7 months ago
BT are planning to cover not only the village of West Witton under Phase 2, but also the other Airwave trial location at Egton/Egton Bridge in Eskdale. Worthwhile noting that both the completion date and the planned coverage of Phase 2 have been extended to cover somewhere within the region of an additional 2,934 premises. Ironically, some of the communities, which are now included in Phase 2, were considered financially unviable locations for the Airwave trials.
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
GAH no is not there are number of small operators that responded to the OMR -- so either they claimed those postcodes or they did not -- if they only claimed some of them then the LA /BDUK programme can build -- and this is not overbuild -- of course you get the other end where premises get claimed by an operator and then get excluded and nothing gets built
Posted by Gadget 7 months ago
There seems to be a comprehensive update on ispreview which clarifies the position. It explains the Council's decision to include the cabinet in the light of uncertainty of a continued wireless service.
Posted by gerarda 7 months ago
It is clear from previous instances of this type that BT'S predatory monopolistic instincts leads them to prioritise areas where competition can be driven out over ones where there is no service at all
Posted by Gadget 7 months ago
@gerada - others might disagree with your opinion as it is certainly not "clear" to me, especially as the linked article is very clear it was a Council decision to build against a nil return OMR and stated uncertainty.
Posted by gah789 7 months ago
@fastman - You can defend the BDUK process as much as you wish. From our perspective the situation is clear - we submitted a set of postcodes as being covered by a wireless network that was in operation at the date of submission and had been developed without public subsidy. Now we are told that BT is going to overbuild the area without any consultation. I can't think of any clearer breach of the letter and spirit of the state aid requirements.
Posted by RuralWire 7 months ago
@Gadget - Thanks for taking the time to post the link. An informative update.
Posted by Gadget 7 months ago
@RuralWire, clearly breaking the politician's rule to speak a lot and say nothing :-)
Posted by WWWombat 7 months ago
From ISPr, the acknowledgement of a "phase 2a" - 4,620 premises - to meet USC commitments (originally rolled over from phase 1) is something new from SFNY. It hasn't been reported publicly to the council at all.

Given that phase 2 only targeted 10,500 premises to get superfast speeds in total, its a fair increase.
Posted by WWWombat 7 months ago
Don't confuse the "letter and spirit" to mean *no* overbuild.

BDUK rules seem to allow overlap when it is "consequential" to supplying houses without superfast speeds. And certainly seems to allow an overlap of 90%, provided the other 10% gained the new service, and provided the value tests were still met.

In this case, 18 extra houses out of 180 is close to that measure, while the value test is trivial if no subsidy was being used.
Posted by gerarda 7 months ago
@gadget Openreach don't have the resources to complete the phase 2 contacts until 2018/19 yet have already started work on an overbuild, the latest in a sequence of such events. That's what I meant by prioritising.
Posted by fastman 7 months ago
GAH as contract ownder is SFNY and only areas determined to be in the intervention area can be built 0- suggest you speak to SFNY who determined it to be in the intervention area -- this may explain why -- It explains the Council's decision to include the cabinet in the light of uncertainty of a continued wireless service.
Posted by WWWombat 7 months ago
About the update, and the question on the money for the USC portion...

Phase 1 allocated £5m for the USC component. When USC was moved into phase 2, £2m of that £5m was re-allocated into superfast coverage instead. That ought to leave £3m for USC work.

The obvious follow-up is ... where has that £3m gone? If it has been reallocated within phase 2 for superfast, or put into phase 3, then the 4,620 premises are indeed "cost-free". Otherwise ... ?
Posted by kijoma 7 months ago
There is plenty of evidence of overbuild of existing super fast networks. If you need the evidence Andrew then I have plenty. I can also add the way the BDUK process is trying to justify these decisions by further excluding providers they ruled out earlier from recent schemes that include "alt-nets".

This is something that needs bringing out into the open for what it is. Butt covering and fraud.
Posted by RuralWire 6 months ago
@WWWombat - I think it's now reasonably clear that Phase 2B is to do with the residual infill obligation under the terms of the Phase 1 contract (due to the cap imposed on the use of satellite broadband to address the USC issue in the intervention area). Looks like the entire cost of the infill is borne by BT. Ouch! The infill obligation was carried over to Phase 2 and was going to be carried over to Phase 3 (see paragraph 11.3 and the table at paragraph 11.9 - Executive report 08/09/2015). With no Phase 3 contract with BT in place, presumably there is little, if any, wiggle room.
Posted by Somerset 6 months ago
@kijoma - please provide some examples here.
Posted by TheEulerID 6 months ago

Fraud? That's a strong allegation. If you are going to make allegations of criminal practices, then you need to provide some evidence, ideally to the prosecuting authorities.

I just hope the evidence is a good deal clearer than your third sentence which approaches the incomprehensible.
Posted by WWWombat 6 months ago
Thanks - I must have forgotten that there was the rumblings of a BT-oriented phase 3 in that council report. Perhaps this is an indication that BT aren't particularly interested in tendering under the new EU-approved terms.

If those properties are indeed "infill" of the USC commitment in phase 1, then that does raise the question about the £3m of budget for those homes.
Posted by RuralWire 6 months ago
@WWWombat - Correct me if I am wrong, but the £5m (AKA "the USC pot") was allocated to the SFNY project by BT to fulfil their USC obligation. BT released £2m from the USC pot to add to the £8m funding for Phase 2 (now known as Phase 2A), but was it spent? To the best of my knowledge, the funding for Phase 2A is £3m BDUK, £3m NYCC and £2m ERDF. As SFNY could not obtain an extension to the State aid permission to continue with BT, I reckon BT are required to fulfil their current contractual obligations. Will BT wish to throw their hat into the ring for Phase 3? I think it's in the balance.
Posted by RuralWire 6 months ago
@WWWombat - Oops! I made an error. Phase 2 is still known as Phase 2. Not Phase 2A. Phase 2B is a figment of my imagination and is known as Phase 2A. I think I got that right this time around?
Posted by rjohnloader 6 months ago
Airwave, now called Motorola, do wish to pull out but it understood that BDUK are not keen for all that expensive gear to go to waste. Moves are under way to transfer the assets to the incumbent ISP which will both improve service by giving full network visibility but also allow what I understand will be competitive offerings to those of BT.
Posted by Zarjaz 6 months ago
Could someone explain to me why one man's 'overbuild' isn't just providing customers with a choice of service providers ?
Posted by WWWombat 6 months ago
My understanding was that phase 2 was indeed funded externally with £8m, split exactly as you indicated. All new money.

However, that £8m would be augmented by reallocation of £2m from the original contract, moving from basic/USC provision to NGA provision instead. Not new money, but was still sourced from the original funding sources (BDUK likely rather than ERDF).

Phase 2a does indeed look to be the chosen way to conclude the contracts between NYCC and BT - perhaps because there is no certainty over phase 3.
Posted by WWWombat 6 months ago
I recall that one future option with the Airwave equipment in West Witton was to use it as the starting point to provide wireless across and further up the valley.

Do you know if there is any intent to continue this idea?
Posted by WWWombat 6 months ago
It is precisely that.

However, the state aid is only meant for areas where market failure has provided zero solutions. It is not meant to bring competition to places with a local infrastructure monopoly.

Funnily, though ... Ofcom *are* allowed to intervene to bring competition to an area ... but they can only intervene to the detriment of BT. I'm not sure they can intervene to the extent of bring in state aid.
Posted by cyberdoyle 6 months ago
Boundless is a great wifi company, and they don't deserve to be overbuilt using public money. Competition is king, and the fact that openreach ignore areas where there aren't altnets working and shove cabinets where there are altnets is proof. If the funding had gone to boundless in the first place BT would have had to use their own money to overbuild, and as a business that is their right. The councils should keep tabs on all this, the open market review is all part of the superfarce and not fit for purpose. It is a get out of jail card for the monopoly incumbent.
Posted by Somerset 6 months ago
How can BT be a monopoly in Ullapool if there is competition?
Posted by RuralWire 6 months ago
@WWWombat - Perhaps you are right, but as you have pointed out, that does raise questions concerning the whereabouts of the £3m which should still be in the USC pot.
Posted by New_Londoner 6 months ago
@CD perhaps the lesson here is that even altnets need to fill in the OMR paperwork if they want to avoid BDUK overbuild - you'll recall B4RN had a similar problem when it didn't bother too!
Posted by david_feo 6 months ago
This action by BT/Openreach is typical, I'm a small WISP who requested a fibre circuit to my internet supplier, BT delayed my circuit for 5 months so that they could get their new cabinet up and running before I could offer faster broadband to my customers. I don't mind competition, but BT should play fair.
Posted by fastman 6 months ago
David ive read some mis information stuff on here bouts your takes the biscuit -- no Service provider has any knowledge of any cab before it deployed and all service providers are notified at same so for you to suggest otherwise is massively incorrect and could be challenged

there are myriad of reasons the cab could be delayed . power, civils, in helpful highyways / blockages / objections -- one wonders if the cct was have the same challenges as the cab !!!

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