Broadband News

To BT or to not BT is the question for Scotland

Since the 1980's the UK telecoms regulation environment has been about reducing the monopoly of BT Group and while Ofcom has secured significant changes in the creation of Openreach a decade ago and the recent changes in how Openreach operates it seems there is still a lot more to and Scotland appears worried that the £600m USO proposals from BT recently will scare off firms who have started to express interest in the 100% superfast project by end of 2021  that is R100 project in Scotland. The message seems to be that like some English councils have already done for the next round of projects BT is off the radar.

Details for the R100 project are thin on the ground but we assume in private when discussing with potential suppliers more information on the ambitions and technicalities is made available, the problem is that with Westminster and Ofcom pushing ahead with a 10 Mbps option available on demand to all the UK by the end of 2021 we have two projects heading for a clash.

ISPreview has a copy of lengthy letter from Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary outlining their worries with the way the USO is progressing and in particular concerns over the recent £600m of private investment by BT to deliver the USO pledge but without the full letter of the law being used.

Scotland has a big interest in the broadband USO since for the UK as a whole it has 1 in 6 of those premises under 10 Mbps currently (137,145 out of 888,860 across the UK) when Scotland only comprises 1 in 11 of the total number of premises.

The Superfast Scotland project is within a month of meeting its 95% fibre goal by the end of 2017, and is likely to hit 95% of Scotland with access to a 15 Mbps or faster service by the end of 2017. Scotland still has indications that parts of the BDUK roll-outs will be FTTP based, but the project is still delivering VDSL2 in large volumes, the FTTP generally does not appear until the final stages of the major phases.

So while some in Scotland may be worrying about the USO extending BT's monopoly, the areas like the many islands off the Scottish coast have now almost all seen a superfast foothold created by evil BT as part of its superfast contracts in Scotland and these bridgeheads mean many alternative local providers will have a harder battle winning enough customers to support the roll-out of services to the much harder areas.

The reality is that there are many factors at play with the broadband USO and until the gainshare mechanism of the many BDUK projects have finished delivering getting an accurate idea of the number of premises that may come seeking USO intervention is a big guess, by the end of 2017 the guess should be reasonable and late in 2018 it will be pretty accurate but if as hoped superfast roll-outs deliver 97% superfast coverage across the UK and there is still an additional tail of people getting 12 to 23 Mbps from VDSL2 the number requesting a USO service may be down to such a low volume that full fibre connectivity even if costing £3,000 to £5,000 per premise could be a good way of solving USO concerns for a few decades and avoiding the complications of speed escalators. This may seem fanciful but it seems an ambition worth considering and planning for.

The nuances and interlinked nature of what has happened to Openreach, its ongoing FTTP consultations, the broadband USO and continued trickle re-investment of gainshare from the BDUK projects is a vastly complex puzzle and no one size solution or deadline fits them all, perhaps the solution is to offer the devolved administrations the option to opt out of the Westminster/Ofcom broadband USO and create their own local legislation based around the core framework from Westminster.

Comments

"perhaps the solution is to offer the devolved administrations the option to opt out..."

Please, no!

The problem is that even £3,000 to £5,000 per premise may not be enough for the final 1% in Scotland. Here in the Borders full fibre to the final few will be a major undertaking taking much longer than the times suggested, and other technology is the way to go

Remember, many of these folk have no broadband at all available or possible over copper wire, and others are still on dial up speeds.Distances can be vast and while others may suggest 10mbps is obsolescent these folk would be ecstatic!

  • 961a
  • 13 days ago

There is an obvious solution here. That is for the policy with regard to broadband policy in Scotland to be handled by the Scottish Parliament. That means they could decide to opt in or not to the BT 10mbps USO proposal if it is adopted by the UK parliament (which is far from certain).

The Scottish Parliament would then be free to develop its own policies within the scope of its financial resources and whatever might reasonably be deemed the Scottish operations of communications companies.

  • TheEulerID
  • 13 days ago

Its seems strange to conplain about BTs offer enhancing there monopoly, when the Superfast Scotland project has been doing exactly that, making it commercially unviable for independent providers to provide a service to rural properties outwith the towns and villages.

  • brianhe
  • 13 days ago

TheEulerID

I take it you live in England!

  • 961a
  • 13 days ago

The Scottish Government is already developing a plan to deliver a minimum of 30Mbps to all premises so I can't see why the BT proposal is relevant. Surely it wouldn't apply to Scotland as it would be redundant, what am I missing?

  • New_Londoner
  • 13 days ago

@961a: TheEulerID is a BT shareholder, hence he will be biased towards representing BTs interests, hence he won't mind if BT gets rid of the costly USO in Scotland.

The obvious solution to achieve social inclusion for rural communities with regards to superfast broadband is to charge a higher fee in some form to all telecom users' line rentals. It's all about averaging it out, that's how rural telecoms were financed in the first place (up to a certain degree, after which excess construction charges come into play).

  • JNeuhoff
  • 13 days ago

No-one said anything about BT getting rid of the USO, just offering Scotland the option to opt out of Westminster's decision on if/how BT are to fulfill it.

It's good that Ofcom have published an impact assessment. Everyone taking an Openreach service can see how much it will cost them to deliver 10Mb to a small fraction of the population. This telecomms stuff isn't cheap, someone has to pay, and Ofcom are determined that Openreach can't charge location-based rates.

Also good to see someone openly state they believe urban customers should subsidise rural ones. Most are in denial.

  • CarlThomas
  • 13 days ago

New_Londoner

You are missing the fact that it is unlikely that "all premises" in Scotland will actually get 30Mbps, whatever is currently being promised and also that the BT offer will be faster. Much faster in some cases

Carl Thomas

Telecomms stuff isn't cheap. I remain to be convinced that Sky and TalkTalk are contributing their full share, relying instead on BTs coat-tails via continual complaining

  • 961a
  • 13 days ago

In England, the USO will apply once BDUK projects have finished. Surely the answer (in any nation) is to either only start the USO once all the BDUK/R100 projects have finished, or to apply it in places where those projects aren't planned to go.

To me, BT look to be offering a programme that breaks even for them, funded by extra wholesale charges. That probably makes them ambivalent as to whether Scotland are included or not.

But I am interested in 961a's worry... Most people are worried about extending Openreach's monopoly. Instead, you seem to see it as a useful fallback. Am I right?

  • WWWombat
  • 13 days ago

Wombat

Your 2nd para is how commerce works, makes sense for both BT and the consumer

My worry is that it is now essential that we all have access to the internet.Tax car,buy tv licence,submit tax return,claim benefit,banking etc.

Many folk in Scotland will never get internet unless,like Royal Mail letter,a fallback guarantee exists.Virgin,Sky & TalkTalk aren't interested, leaving only BT and local groups to do the heavy lifting

Who pays is open to argument, but have Ofcom got the ability to ensure that the final 1% aren't left with no service?

So, yes, you're right

  • 961a
  • 12 days ago

Anyone in Scotland who currently gets poor speeds - I get 8Mb but there's an Exchange Activate village near me where everyone is capped at 0.5Mb - wouldn't give a toss if their broadband service was delivered by Santa Clause or Elvis. They just want a usable broadband service. If that's BT then fine. Who cares about a monopoly or whatever. We just want broadband.

  • jimwillsher
  • 12 days ago

jimwillsher

You've hit the nail on the head

My pal up the road, 3 miles down the (threadbare insulation free) copper wire is on 0.75Mbps on a dry day. BT isn't going to renew that cable, nor is it likely to lay fibre for 2 properties even if both guarantee to take fibre service. Unless a service guarantee exists internet at any reasonable speed just ain't going to happen. Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk won't be remotely interested. 2 properties won't be able to afford to DIY wireless or whatever. Elvis, over to you! It's now or never!

  • 961a
  • 12 days ago

961a
The Scottish government is proposing to have 30Mbps+ available to 100% of premises. Unless and until it revises that to something else then I'd assume Scotland isn't covered by the BT plan - why would it build something that is known will be superseded more or less immediately?

I've no opinion whether the Scottish government will deliver on what it has said, just think any commercial operator would be mad to ignore it.

  • New_Londoner
  • 12 days ago

New_Londoner

"I've no opinion whether the Scottish Government will deliver..."

And why should you have?

However, from this side of the Border, I would have much more confidence in the statement "available to 100% of premises" if they actually started from the difficult and expensive end of the 100% rather than deciding, as usual, to do the easy bits first

Like HS2, many at the far end wonder if the horrendously hard part will be shunted into long grass & forgotten when the only ones left to complain about being left out are a few hundred who can be conveniently ignored

  • 961a
  • 12 days ago

961a

My thoughts are that, at some point, competition fails us. It gives those who fall on the right side a cheaper and/or better service, but it leaves those on the wrong side with no service.

We seem to spend more time bleating about the extent of the Openreach monopoly and how to minimise it, and not enough time figuring out how to better serve those on the wrong side - perhaps taking advantage of the monopoly instead.

At some point, the nation needs cooperative behaviour, not competitive. But Ofcom seem to over-promote one over the other.

  • WWWombat
  • 12 days ago

Situated in a caravan park in Argyll which is 2 miles away from an enabled cabinet, the speeds we get here are between 2.5 and 4.5Mbps on a good day. There are 54 connected premises on-site, but how many lines are needed before a cabinet can be intalled locally?

  • skwebpages
  • 8 days ago

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