Heated exchanges on broadband at Worcestershire County Council
The BDUK process was never going to be smooth sailing and the way the process was constructed meant that all but the largest telecoms operators in the UK fell by the wayside and the stalking horse of Fujitsu faded away. Critics have often cited bully boy tactics from BT officials but without having been privy to every conversation and email it is hard to tell gossip and rumour apart from reality.
Stepping into the ring now on the debate of good or bad project is Worcestershire County Council where councillors have been debating the wisdom of the County investing £8.5 million into a project with no return (BDUK put £3.35m in and BT stumped up £8.9m).
What is interesting is the quotes by various Councillors in the Malvern Gazette. The comment about 75% of premises getting superfast broadband was almost a fact in 2013, when Ofcom reported 72.3% of premises in the county had access to superfast broadband via Openreach or Virgin Media. The question really is whether 55,000 premises that should benefit from the investment would have seen a commercial led roll-out or not. These 55,000 are the number needed to hit a 90% superfast coverage figure for the county.
|Council||Median Download Speed||%'age under 2 Mbps||Median Upload Speed|
|Bromsgrove District||6.7 Mbps||19.7%||0.86 Mbps|
|Malvern Hills District||5.8 Mbps||21.9%||0.68 Mbps|
|Redditch District||18.5 Mbps||8.8%||1.6 Mbps|
|Worcester City||13.8 Mbps||11.1%||1.51 Mbps|
|Wychavon District||4.1 Mbps||27.6%||0.55 Mbps|
|Wyre Forest District||9.6 Mbps||7.8%||0.94 Mbps|
The digital gulf is illustrated by the above results which are based on what people have actually experienced on their broadband connection, and illustrate the difference between the areas with better broadband services and those areas which appear to be struggling e.g. Wychavon District Council area.
There is no doubt that technically better solutions are available than the predominantly FTTC roll-out by Openreach (both in the commercial and gap-funded projects) the issue though is not technical but a matter of who pays for it and who benefits from the investment in the future. The project works out at £380 per superfast premise (actual figure is less as to get superfast to 90%, there will be thousands more enabled but at slower speeds), with the gap funding being £215 for each one.
Would BT have rolled out to these premises? Yes but probably across a five to ten year period in our opinion, so the public money is really just accelerating what would probably have been inevitable. The return on investment (ROI) for the councils and government is that as more people are online and have better connectivity that the e-commerce market can thrive and councils can make savings as more people interact online rather than trying to communicate through safety glass at a council office.
The question councils should be asking, is this money and project enough to ensure we don't have to spend in the same areas again in ten years time and would there be extra benefit in spending public money on more future proof solutions e.g. increasing the proportion of FTTP in the roll-out.