Policy needs to focus on individual properties NOT postcode
The news of the extra funding for the broadband test projects for the most rural parts of the UK has been almost universally welcomed, even if there is hardly any FTTH involved which many vocal campaigners have called for investment in for over a decade. The big problem facing these new pilots and the existing BDUK projects is mapping and how postcode data is handled.
While Margaret Hodge of the Public Accounts Committee hammered on about postcodes and we have the new BDUK CEO about to put pressure on the BDUK projects to release data right down to the full postcode level (e.g AB12 3CD) we have seen time and time again that postcode information while useful is only part of the story.
The reason is that a postcode usually identifies a collection of buildings, e.g. one side of a small street or in rural areas properties may be spread out over several hundred metres. The telecoms infrastructure does not adhere to these notional boundaries, it is very common to have a postcode served by two or more Openreach street cabinets, or due to geography half a postcode gets a mobile signal and the other not.
If the councils were to all release postcode data in a basic CSV format, and let people like thinkbroadband and others map it and assist with explaining the various caveats this would be a vast improvement. As things stand at the moment there we do a lot of work to help people understand the roll-out in their area and helping them to understand why they appear to have missed out in the roll-outs so far, e.g. exchange only lines or a very small cabinet representing poor value for money. Part of the evidence from this work we do is when we provide estimates of superfast coverage for areas.
So while the full postcode data will be an improvement what is actually needed is the extra information on which properties will be covered, plus whether a postcode is awaiting review, rejected and thus outside project scope or likely to get a service deployed and the service type. Of course a major problem is that the projects are working in phases and trying to ensure value for money by generally gap funding the largest of the cabinets missed out from the commercial roll-out.