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back to article MPs slam bumpkin fibre rollout, demand halt to further £250m cash spaff

Whitehall has insisted that its delayed multimillion-pound rural broadband project represents good value for taxpayers - even as a brutal parliamentary report published today attacks the government for failing to rein in BT. MPs on Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Labour politico Margaret Hodge, submitted …

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Bronze badge

Unfortunately the PAC nowadays appears to be little more than a media platform for it's partisan (Labour party) chair, chucking out one-sided reports after conducting "evidence-gathering" sessions more reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition than any genuine inquiry. As a result the perfectly reasonable conclusions it's reached in this case will be ignored with impunity by the tame DCMS, and the BT infrastructure quasi-monopoly will just carry on as before.

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How Hodge managed to secure the chair of the PAC when she has such a questionable history of financial arrangements is slightly confusing. It would like if the chair of the home affairs committee being appointed despite being found guilty of accepting funds from individuals and then actively trying to speed up their passport applications (but that's too crazy to happen of course).

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Happy

@returnmyjedi

Have you forgotten David Blunkett or where you just being polite?

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Anonymous Coward

Surely the issue

is not BT doing all the work, it's the others doing F.A.

Sick of the likes of Virgin moaning that BT get the contracts.

Here's a clue.

We live in a decent sized village 10 miles from Birmingham. I now have BT infinity (it's been available for over a year). As far as I'm aware it received no goverment money for this.

Can I get Virgin? No

Can I get SKY Fibre? No

Talk Talk Fibre? No

Is ANYONE other than BT planning to put in Fibre in the next few years? No.

Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the real reason BT are dominating the market.

The competition are so busy trying to pump out stupid speeds the existing customers, they seem to forget about getting new ones.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes and No

My Mother lives 5km from Barnsley in the village of Wombwell, population is about four thousand people, but despite the Barnsley exchange being on the "superfast" capable list, they can only receive 512mb broadband reliably. They are part of the 10% that isn't being covered by this plan.

They were in the Geographical coverage area of the now defunct "Digital Region" broadband upgrade package but guess what, they are too far from the exchange. It's not a small village, but it's not a major town, but BT have no plans yet to install the vital fibre to the cabinet that would help. They are not especially rural, and northern jokes aside it's nowhere near being classed as the back of beyond.

It does seem to be an exercise in picking low hanging fruit rather than an attempt to really get broadband to the masses.

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Mushroom

Re: Surely the issue

Similar situation here. I'm in a small market town in North Suffolk. BT fibre is available sometimes - 50 feet from my house there is 76Mb connectivity and has been there for 9 months. When I ask about being connected I am told it may be available in March 2014, some 2 years after the initial estimate. My only other option to get a line >20Mb is to use a satellite connection at £75/month.

BT's rollout is pretty crap but it is substantially better than Sky, talktalk or virgin who, in the first 2 cases will wait for BT to install the kit and then insist on using it and in the third case are not in the slightest interested.

A plague on all your houses until someone can bridge that massive 50 feet and get a bloody wire to my house.

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Unhappy

Re: Yes and No

" but BT have no plans yet to install the vital fibre to the cabinet that would help. They are not especially rural, and northern jokes aside it's nowhere near being classed as the back of beyond."

They might be better to form their ownISP and raise the cash locally to sort out the link to Barnsley, as a few places have done.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surely the issue

A simple lesson about the telecoms industry.

BT Openreach is the company responsible for rolling out Fibre, and once it is rolled out, they will then allow companies such as SKY, BT Retail or TalkTalk to buy the product to sell to their customers.

So if you can get Fibre from "BT Retail" you can get it from any other company offering Fibre, I recommend you go to Openreach's Fibre website http://www.superfast-openreach.co.uk/buy-it-now/ so you can see who can provide you fibre.

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Re: Surely the issue

Regarding your question about other ISP's installing fibre - AFAIK Sky, TalkTalk and pretty much everyone else use BT Wholesale so will have no plans for a rollout. Regarding Virgin, I'm pretty sure they are only rolling out higher speed services over cable....

Wait a few months (it took around six for me between the new BT Fibre cabs appearing and it being an order-able product from a third party) and non-BT providers will start offering the fibre services too.

On a side note, I was really impressed with how smooth and well communicated the DSL to fibre upgrade process was compared to a DSL install in 2010 where install dates seemed to be guesses...

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Re: Surely the issue

The real reason why BT are dominating the market is they started out on top, with a network that covered the country.

BT are the only telephone company who have suspended cables (above ground cables) which they were supposed to have buried by 2000, but aren't even close to doing so still. All rivals have to bury cables, which is a lot more expensive.

BT only need to upgrade their existing kit, not install new kit, which is a damn sight cheaper than putting new kit into the ground. So they have a distinct advantage when it comes to getting broadband services out to remote communities - even ones 10 miles from town.

BT don't need to compete in these communities, either: They are the existing dominant supplier. They have 100% coverage, where as any rival would have to lure customers away from BT by offering cheaper or improved services - services that BT could roll out without much trouble or effort days, even weeks before the competitor went live.

The competition can also sit back and wait for BT to run the cables out to the villages, then invoke LLU to get their services out there without having to pay a penny in laying cables, or causing any disruption to the locals at all.

BT aren't the better service. They just started out with a massive advantage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surely the issue

"Regarding your question about other ISP's installing fibre - AFAIK Sky, TalkTalk and pretty much everyone else use BT Wholesale so will have no plans for a rollout"

They could use BT Wholesale but really what they do is approach Openreach directly

For an ISP to be able to provide access to fibre they will need to have equipment set up in the exchange where BT routes the fibre to from the PCP's. Typically they will have some kind of Layer 2 switch and buy a GEA cable link between that and Openreach's L2S. BT will then hand over the data for each customer

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surely the issue

Can you blame them? I doubt these other companies can justify providing an armed escort for their engineers. Besides, hardly anyone in Birmingham can afford fibre.

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Unhappy

"BT aren't the better service. They just started out with a massive advantage."

Damm right.

The rule of an effective monopoly is of course "Monopoly, what monopoly? All users have a choice."

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Anonymous Coward

this isn't going anywhere, bt have got their man into no. 10, next to Google.

call me dave will be an even richer man when he leaves govt.

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As has been pointed out elsewhere, the roll-out is complex. Not something a mom-and-pop local company is going to able to achieve, and seems to have been the expectation from some quarters.

I also wonder whether any of the other (in most cases, non-existent) competitors were obliged to offer the the fibre wholesale to ISPs or would they have simply got a monopoly for service provision over the fibre? If they were, this might explain the business being attractive.

As it stands, BT at least knows what it's doing, is doing it fairly quickly and provides a wholesale product at a regulated price once done.

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@Ommerson

Yes a rural roll-out is complex, but not beyond the capabilities of a local company with access to suitably experienced/knowledgeable people and the ability to invest a few hundred thousand.

I think having the major ISP's obliged to use local fibre providers would of been very interesting (would of required OFCOM involvement), as then it would of been in the interests of a community to build their own 'fibre' infrastructure and connect it into the UK backbone via a recognised PoP (eg. BT exchange).

But one of the things that killed many projects was the announcement of the government backed scheme (remember it was originally quite grand and then got reduced in scope), that then largely disappeared into a black hole and created a procurement framework that favoured the major ISP's and BT specifically.

Yes the procurement has resulted in all this new infrastructure becoming part of BT and the benefits this potentially brings. However, the downside is that the extension and upgrade of this publicly/community funded infrastructure is now wholly in the hands of BT. So yes your cabinet may now have fibre, but as a community you can't pull fibre to every house using the existing ducts, without BT's permission. If your community happens to be in the last 5% - which you will only find out after BT has done the area around you, then you are left with an expensive project to get connectivity, if the project had been community driven then these communities would of been included in the roll-out at a much lower cost.

Sorry, I'm just a little annoyed that I could of brought high-speed broadband to my community back in 2008, but through the government's mismanagement of this project, my community is still a "not-spot" and is likely to have to wait until 2016 ...

Fortunately, I have used my knowledge to ensure I have reasonable broadband so that I can run my business largely from home, although I haven't had to go to the same extreme's as Reg hack Bill Ray.

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lazy lazy lazy comment

Talk about mistakes or incompetence, or that the PAC dont really understand the complexities, but dont imply there was anything underhand, because there wasnt.

(Iwas there, so I know)

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meant to reply to @j arthur rank...

Curse the lack of edit tools on here...

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Bronze badge

The PAC don't "do" reasonable, or logical, only stupid.

You gotta wonder why anyone would install anything, given that as soon as it gets installed the freeloaders whine so much the gov forces the original installer to let other pay [peanuts] to use it...

Anyway, everyone knows the only people who need fast fibre are the pirate and porn downloaders ;-)

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I pirate my porn, so am I a power user?

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damn, I am about to defend BT....what has become of me?

I am moving house soon, into the countryside....Lucky me...

And I think it's awesome that they have fibre....I can still stream and chat and all that sort of stuff that modern living has. Safe in the knowledge that the dozen houses and a pub with building restrictions all around me can also enjoy this. Average speed as the exchange is shared by neighbouring villages is around 10MB...but if it becomes congested I can switch to the churches free 2MB wi-fi....

This is all made possible because BT asked some nice farmers if the could dig a small trench...

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@ukgnome

>but if it becomes congested I can switch to the churches free 2MB wi-fi....

And who is providing the churches backhaul... bet it's BT...

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Trench ain't digging itself, dude.

> This is all made possible because BT asked some nice farmers if the could dig a small trench...

No it's because of cross-subsidy.

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Joke

Re: @Roland6

I think you will find that it's is God that provides this free community service...

But as the chuch is next to the sub exchange it may also be BT

Obvs ------>

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@uknome

I moved to Dundee, Scotland's fourth largest city. Guess how many fibre-enabled exchanges there are here?

For the answer, have a look at http://fttc.eclipse.net.uk/, zoom in on Dundee, and then make sure you tick all the little boxes at the top left of the page. Were you right?

Fuck BT and their rollout - the bastards should be fined for failing to deliver on the contract.

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Unhappy

It's time the UK Govt realized that beyond a certain size of market share it's an oligopoly.

So all big players should be submitting plans for adding to their infrastructure.

Until that happens BT will remain the de facto UK monopoly supplier of the last mile.

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BT only Interested in the Money

But over the course of the last year, BT has been the only telco to scoop up any of the 44 local council contracts, which much match central government funding, to install broadband for countryside-dwellers.

Before our local council signed up to BT our cabinet was due to be upgraded with Exchange in the nearby town already upgraded. Along come our BDUK money, and there goes BT's install date for our cabinet. So they were going to upgrade it as viable then they got the local money and it got marked as not viable. I do not believe this is a co-incidence.

BT's reason (I have the email) was that there was no way to get power to the cabinet. I point out that the cabinet is situated right next to traffic lights to our council BDUK team. They talk to BT and all of a sudden their answer changes to "it is still on the rollout" as in now that we have the money we no longer have to make up excuses.

Cynical? me? never!

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Meh

Wow

Just a thought or two - PAC has a majority of CON/LIB members I thought...

Also - why If Fiber UK 300% more expensive that Fiber Northern Ireland?

Also the above reads like astro turf....

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BT should be structured on same level basis as the other public utilities: strictly wholesale/retail

When all the publicly owned utilities, gas, electric, water, fixed-line phone were privatised, I think the fixed-line phone utility and water, should have been structured on similar lines to gas & electric, where for each utility there was a strict separation of , the original monopoly supplier became a wholesaler of the underlying infrastructure only, and the consumer had a choice from several retail providers of each utility. With Gas & Electric, (although the original monopoly was also allowed to offer a retail service) the customer is no longer forced to deal with the now monoploy wholesaler, and thus benefits from freer retail competition unfettered by monopoly.

That is not to say supply of the Gas & Electric utilities is a totally competitive market: In run up to privatisation the goverment promised strong regulation to prevent private utility prividers exploiting customers. But as is reported, the cartel of 6 colluded to defraud the public in favour of themselves and their shareholders.

However, for reasons not apparent, the government chose not to sell Water & fixed-line phone with the same wholesale/retail protections. Water remains a privatised monopoly where the regulator does not prevent regional suppliers from abusing their monopoly power; eg Southern Water demand a prohibitive fee for 'disconnecting' unoccupied premises, yet adjacent Portsmouth Water charge nothing, provided the customer uses that service no more than 2 times PA.

In case of the original fixed-line phone monopoly, unlike with gas & electric, the government gave BT an unfair advantage over 'other' retail providers. A clear advantage given to BT was no matter which retailer the customer chooses, unlike with gas & electric where you deal only with the retailer, with phone you still have to deal with BT for provision of the line, and thus subject to BT's T&C in addition to the retailers. Although many retailers do not require a minimum of a 1 year contract, the BT 'wholesaler' does, so overiding the retailers T&C. BT have consistently abused this advantage the government gave them; eg. as reported in this journal a few years ago, BT 'wholesale' made use of the address list of all fixed-line phones in attempt to poach customers from 'other' fixed-line retailers, where the 'other' retailers had no access to their competitors addresses. A further example was the 'phnom' wire-tapping of 'BT' lines to sell on customers data to marketing companies. The press have reported many more abuses by BT of their still effective monopoly still leveraging their position over 'other' retailers, yet the government refuses to stamp out this abuse by putting BT on the same basis as wholesalers of the other utilities. Having to deal with 2 companies for 1 utility is onerous.

Monopoly power is a notorious breeder of corruption. Unless the government puts the remaining utility monopolies BT and Water on the same wholesaler/retailer basis as Gas and Electric where the public contracts only with a wide choice of retail providers, the monopolists will continue to abuse their power as shown throughout history.

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Re: BT should be structured on same level basis as the other public utilities

Open Reach is the wholesale arm that other providers use for installing lines, broadband etc.

www.openreach.co.uk

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Re: BT should be structured on same level basis as the other public utilities

Some nice souls in our area (Gower) managed to get some of this Broadband pot and get a local company to install FTC - which works a treat, but all they did was get OpenReach to install the equipment! And now we have a choice of one ISP at a higher price than if the Government has just paid openreach to enable all cabinets everyone - which would have been the cheapest, quickest and simplest solution for all?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: BT should be structured on same level basis as the other public utilities

No, that's just wrong. If you buy a phone service from anyone other than BT, they deal with BT for you. If you get a phoneline from TalkTalk, the only people you ever have to talk to, pay bills to and contract with, are TalkTalk.

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Re: BT should be structured on same level basis as the other public utilities

Just seen your reply. It was 5 years ago when I last explored fixed-line alternatives to BT, and I remember TalkTalk was one option but forget the others. At that time I was told a BT line, and BT's T&C was a condition of using their service. Called TalkTalk sales just now and was surprised to be told BT line no longer required, as they will install their own independantly from BT !!. I said that was surprising as cost of installing underground cable is notoriously expensive, which was the reason I still had only heard of a duopoly of telephone wire providers, BT and the current cable owner Virgin. However, the salesperson said TalkTalk currently insist on a minimum 1 year contract, whereas 5 years ago, a provider (might have been TT) told me I can have their service for just the months I need it, but I would have to pay 12 months line rental to BT. So without researching all the fixed-line retailers afresh, you may be right. But as some of the subsequent posts on this thread state, BT has effectively hung on to most of what was a state monopoly, which with cheaper to maintain overhead lines compared to the competition gives it an uncompetitive advantage.

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So BT refuse to rollout fibre to large parts of the country on the basis that it is "not financially" viable. OK, even though they are and have made great efforts (some dodgy) to stay a monopoly, fair enough I suppose.

So the government hands over vast amounts of cash to provide for these non-viable area's, and BT STILL cherry picks where it wants to install, STILL ignores the difficult area's, and will STILL rake in profits from the new infrastructure that John Q Taxpayer is paying for!

Guess who's going to give Cameron a nice non-exec position when he leaves office?

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Anonymous Coward

Fujitsu

If the contractual terms scared Fujitsu away they must have been very onerous indeed, as they are not noted for passing up an opportunity for slurping down government cash.

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Anonymous Coward

BT has been the only telco to scoop up any of the 44 local council contracts

BT has been the only telco to submit bids. The others never bothered or, in the case of Fujitsu, withdrew.

You can't award a contract to somebody who does not submit a bid.

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BT have stated they would take 15 years to recoup costs. That's from upgrading an existing network. For anyone else the costs would be significantly higher, and so the time to recoup costs would be longer, and that would discourage rivals from bidding.

Especially when most of said rivals can wait for BT to do the work then invoke LLU to provide rival services.

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And lets not forget that Fujistu were late the NHS NPfIT nose in the Govt Trough party and if I am not mistaken they were the first provider to be binned by the Govt for poor contract performance.

So, yes the Broadband contract terms must have been very onerous for them not to bid.

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BT just didn't innovate enough

My cabinet should get fibre by December. But it is 3km from our village of 160 houses and businesses. Fibre to the cabinet in rural areas makes less sense than in cities/towns. We need alternatives and BT seems not to want to be bothered with wireless or point to point microwave. One reason for rural broadband was for farmers who find more and more must be done on line but in rural areas farms are not usually close to cabinets being at the end of long lanes. BT has been puting cables in ducts fr over 100 years - time they woke up.

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We gave up on BT. Useless sods. Despite getting ANOTHER £130 MEEEELION from the Scottish government, us rural chaps can expect the square root of bugger all.

I finally cracked and set up a wireless internet service provider: http://www.marykirk.com.

All the tech, suppliers, is listed there.

So find somewhere with fast internet, and use these ubiqiti nanostation M5' s to establish 300MB/s, 20 Mile, line of sight links...

---* Bill

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Unhappy

I work on the southern edge of Doncaster and you would think that you are in the wilds here.

We cannot get Digital Region, now defunct anyway, Virgin Cable not going over the motorway and railway lines, we are offered FTTC from a cabinet 2.8km away !!! download speeds on one line @ 8mb and the other 3mb upload speeds are 600k if we are lucky, we have a cabinet 315m from our gate and a BT trunk that runs past the end of the gate but they will not connect us...

We have even offered to pay for the Fibre from the cabinet to our premises only to be told by a "lovely lady" you DO NOT tell us where you want your connections from we tell you.

BT have a monopoly on the services and always have, so they just throw 2 fingers up to most and give the middle to the rest and the without teeth regulator.

We have looked at satellite as a back up but that has limitations...

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Meh

The problem seems to be as a *public* company the govt can't order Openreach

to be sold off as an independent entity.

Let's say that it looks like that having what appears to be 95%+ of the UK telecommms infrastructure owned by a part of one of the competitors would seem to be somewhat "unfair?"

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Anonymous Coward

I happen to now live in a rural area and find the term "bumpkin" offensive.

As to "fibre rollout" what does this mean? Is it fibre to exchange? Fibre to cabinet or fibre to the home?

From what I can see there seems to be a Hoovering-up of money with very little to show for it. (I live in North Cornwall) Incidentally this area had to endure an incredible amount of road-ripping some years ago. With all the road-ripping that went on, the man on the number nine bus might have expected it to be for fibre to every home. This was not the case however as the cables were for something else. (International phone circuits I believe)

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