Broadband USO or Rural Gigabit voucher which is better if you have slow broadband?
If short on time and are here for the summary alone: Our advice if you are not happy with the broadband USO or want to see costs shared between you and neighbours, look at the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme it may only be £1,500/home but you can group together properties and a business can claim up to £3,500. Additionally the voucher scheme has a much wider set of providers, including ones doing fibre on demand and others using technology such as fixed wireless access. The downside to the voucher scheme may be more work for someone to run liase with people locally and get support and keep that support going until the service is ready to buy and importantly buy the new service.
For veterans of the slow broadband world that some people are seeing high quotes for FTTP under the broadband USO should be of no surprise. The reason it should be no surprise is that BT is requesting fibre on demand quotes for individuals and then sharing the desktop survey quote, which from the years of seeing others receiving these quotes from other providers means we are used to people getting massively high quotes.
ISPreview picked up on Matt Warman the Digital Infrastructure Minister talking on issues with large quotes under the broadband USO, and alongside the useful summary from Mark before we get into the day to day hunt for better broadband for our maps we have a few things to add.
We have since the first days of the USO had vary little confidence with a large provider such as BT delivering FTTP quote, due to the inconsistencies of the fibre on demand (FoD) scheme seen over a number of years. Even when small ISP (e.g. Cerberus Networks and Spectrum Internet are two well known FoD names) are interacting with Openreach unusually high quotes have appeared from time to time, sometimes risking £250 and moving onto an actual survey visit has reduced the costs to a level the customer is happy with. Another issue is that when people interact with firms like Cerberus it will be people who likely know about fibre on demand and the mechanisms, with the broadband USO you are embracing a much wider slice of the general public.
The Fibre on Demand scheme in its original guise was relatively affordable, but then things changed and pricing went up. We have never had anyone from Openreach say why, but we suspect it was a case of fibre on demand consuming too much time and now with a focus on delivering millions of premises of FTTP the diversion of delivering FTTP to the harder premises is something they could do without.
At the end of the day the high costs for the slowest properties should be no surprise and that especially includes Ofcom, BT and Ministers, it is simple logic since the commercial roll-outs are doing the cheapest, the BDUK projects while nothing like their original scale in terms of properties built per month are dealing slowly with those that fall within their value for money criteria (this usually means funding of under £1,800 per property).
There is an important lesson here, the £5 billion of funding to reach the final 10 to 20% of the UK is believed to be looking at lots of small lots which while great for encouraging small local providers to take part will push the costs up and could see some lots that are likely to be more expensive to serve not seeing anyone bid on them. In effect as you push deeper into the rural areas unless you can rely on lots of free community labour and goodwill things can get very expensive in terms of the number of hours of labour.
Another factor is that just being close to a community does not always reduce the cost. When a village a mile away is wired up for FTTP what will happen is they will plan for that village alone, rather than the village and surrounding few miles. Even in smaller hamlet situations the PON segment limit of 32 needs to remembered, so there will be times that a new PON needs running from the splitter. Add to this the likely accounting techniques used e.g. if a new headend cabinet is needed at the main exchange to add capacity for a village then in the planning part of this cost will be accounted for, but some of that cost will also be shared out to areas built into subsequent months and years.
The last General Election saw one potential solution and that was nationalise broadband provision in the UK, with a decade long roll-out planned to get FTTP to everyone and by using general taxation it would remove the sticker shock for individuals but we strongly suspect that the slowest properties would end up waiting for a few years before seeing improvements. The usual need to see progress would mean that rather than devoting the first three years or roll-out to dealing with 3% of premises that three years would be used deal with getting FTTP to half the UK.