back to article Why UK.gov's £1.2bn fibre broadband rollout is a bumbling FLOP

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport – also known as the Ministry of Fun – is this morning celebrating what it described as a "bumper day for rural broadband". But the declaration of victory may have come a little prematurely from Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Fun. The £1.2bn taxpayer-funded Whitehall-led …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Inefficient

    The rollout deadlines would be met a lot earlier if Openreach actually did the work. It took four appointments (and three actual engineer visits) to get me connected, such was the utter incompetance of the organisation. Too much micro management and overbearing control systems that default to "cancel the order" at the slightest excuse lead to massive inefficiencies and engineers who have no authority to do anything other that what they are told by "the system".

    1. Vinyl-Junkie
      FAIL

      Re: Inefficient

      Couldn't agree more; we got Sky Fibre Broadband, which of course has to be installed by BT. First engineer (who was a sub-contractor) not only couldn't get ti to work but couldn't reconnect original broadband (mind you I wouldn't have been surprised if he couldn't wire a plug without a diagram) and we had no connection at all for a week. Second engineer (another sub-contractor) connected fibre OK; in less than a fortnight the faceplate had failed. Sky booked another BT engineer to attend, this one WAS an Openreach engineer, and not only replaced the faceplate but replaced the cable from the wall socket back to the junction box, because he wasn't happy with it (neither of the other two had even commented) free of charge.

    2. David 138

      Re: Inefficient

      Oh no, You poor sod on your high speed internet. an extreamly unreliable 1.3mbps is all we get, on a crap phone line. I would cut my leg off for fibre issues!!!

  2. wolfetone Silver badge

    Imagine the chaos

    If they were ever invited to run a piss up at a brewery.

    1. frank ly
      Facepalm

      Re: Imagine the chaos

      Not really. They'd forget to order the ingredients, or order the wrong ones. That would be ok because they'd have forgotten to send out invitations. Many people would have heard that there was going to be a piss up one day, but they'd have heard that rumour for ages and so would ignore it. The CAMRA newsletter would be full of stories similar to this one and comments similar to yours.

    2. Ted Treen

      Re: Imagine the chaos

      ...Why UK.gov's £1.2bn fibre broadband rollout is a bumbling FLOP...

      The phrase "UK gov" is a pretty big clue to the reason for the phrase "bumbling FLOP".

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for the footy!

    BT and all the secrecy around commercials..... What a load of crap. It is just a great way for them to milk the tax payer. Bet they have used half the money to buy the footy rights instead of delivering the supper fast broadband!

    So BT just take the money, buy the footy .... Ask for a bit more money as it is required because the cost of holes has gone up because of the 2 year delay....gits!

  4. 0laf Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Anyway what's the point of superfast broadband when they're about to block all the porn.

    1. TedF

      Quite; there's nothing like high speed Porn...

      1. Brian Morrison
        Joke

        Thought it was supposed to be better in super-slowmo...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought you could only get that kind of material on Top shelves :-| Oh how time has moved on.

  5. AndrueC Silver badge

    The competition argument never made much sense to me. The EU seemed to have no hesitation teaming up with BT to sort Cornwall out and that project is ahead of schedule. I know the nay-sayers are going to moan but frankly the 'BDUK' results would have been better if the govt had just bunged BT the money to start with. Not that I think BT would have given us the best possible value for money but just removing government interference would have made for a better project.

    Or - perhaps - forced BT and VM to form a joint task force and bunged the money at that. Just depends if VM and BT can work together or if that would invite another balls up.

    Trying to give the small players a chance in a market with such high costs and low margins (especially when you factor in Ofcom's wholesaling requirement) was always going to be a struggle. Competition is fine in retail markets but I think base infrastructure needs to be a monopoly. I'd favour separating BTor from the rest of the group and just giving them the money.

    1. IHateWearingATie

      @AndrueC

      Cornwall was different as the county is designated under EU rules as somewhere that needs economic development (forget the technical term, but think designations on poor areas in eastern Europe) which means EU funding and development rules apply differently than to the rest of the UK. That allowed them to do a deal with BT that wasn't available to everywhere else.

      As for just bunging the money at BT from the beginning - with the benefit of hindsight you may have a point, given they have snaffled all the cash anyway.

      All very depressing, given I was one of the team that set up BDUK in the first place (I left them some time ago so blame everyone that was there after me...).

      Interestingly, El Reg were invited to our first industry meeting and we gave them tea, coffee and biscuits - this article is how they repay us? Ungrateful B@stards - no biscuits for you lot next time.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: @AndrueC

        Ah yes, I take your point about Cornwall being a 'deprived' area.

        As for just bunging the money at BT from the beginning - with the benefit of hindsight you may have a point, given they have snaffled all the cash anyway.

        With that definite caveat. I'm definitely not saying that was the best option or even a good option but the bidding process seems to me to have made things worse. I don't really know what the absolute best option would have been although getting BTor standing as a truly independent organisation surely has merit.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: @AndrueC

        >As for just bunging the money at BT from the beginning - with the benefit of hindsight you may have a point, given they have snaffled all the cash anyway.

        Didn't actually need much hindsight - the major roll BT would play in delivering broadband was known before BDUK was set up. In fact it could be said that BDUK was set up explicitly as a vehicle for the UK government to give monies to BT whilst avoiding EU regulations. This state of affairs became obvious once it was set up and the rules for bidding became known, along with the absence of any changes to the OFTEL rules concerning infrastructure sharing. The hoops and nature of the bid process (multi-year) really only permitted a well funded major company to bid.

        From my experience in my area, the way the BDUK project was structured, it actually has created more problems that it will have solved.

      3. jonathanb Silver badge
        Angel

        Re: @AndrueC

        "Interestingly, El Reg were invited to our first industry meeting and we gave them tea, coffee and biscuits - this article is how they repay us? Ungrateful B@stards - no biscuits for you lot next time."

        I for one commend El-Reg for not being bribed by tea and biscuits.

  6. localzuk

    If the rollout down here is anything to go by

    It isn't going to go well.

    Logically, you'd look at the geographic area by population, and go from largest to smallest - as you'll get the most online quickest.

    No, down here they're rolling out to random villages and ignoring the towns with businesses crying out for it.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

      What makes you think its logical to do the biggest towns first? If, as you correctly stated, you get the most online quickest you suddenly find your trunks are overloaded but if you attempt to upgrade in a linear fashion - roughly the same number of extra connections a week, its a lot more manageable - you need a roughly constant staffing level.

      1. localzuk

        Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

        The whole point of the process is to upgrade the network for the number of homes added. So, if you add a town of 15000 people, you upgrade the backbone accordingly.

        Linearity is nearly entirely irrelevant - as you wouldn't roll out the same size 'trunks' to each area anyway.

    2. John Sager

      Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

      "No, down here they're rolling out to random villages and ignoring the towns with businesses crying out for it"

      ?? Isn't this supposed to be support for *rural* broadband? Having said that, around here BT seem to be upgrading the cabinets in our small towns that they weren't prepared to pay to do themselves, rather than concentrating on the villages which is what I naïvely supposed was the point of the exercise.

      1. BOBSta
        FAIL

        Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

        Same in outer-suburban areas of Nottinghamshire too!

        I ordered a BT (I had no option) phone line and broadband as a new connection in my new build house (no previous line) on 19 Nov, earliest delivery date of 16 Dec due to Openreach being too busy. Subcontractor turns up on 16 Dec, has a go at installation, then tells me he can't do anything as the local exchange is full! Not even the street cab, THE FRICKIN' EXCHANGE!!! I can't even get a phone line, never mind superfast broadband!

        The exchange, btw, is less than two miles away across open fields and already services over 700 properties in two villages. That exchange is not in Openreach's current plans (according to their own website) for the next 3 years and can only provide an ADSL+ connection estimated at less than 2.5 mbps downstream, but more likely less than 500 kbps.

        Engineer is booked to return on Friday when I'm sure he'll be able to resolve the problem and connect me... rrrriiiiiigght. I'm am less than 5 miles (as the crow flies) outside the city of Nottingham. BDUK is a joke.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

          Re: new build house

          It may be worth doing an inspection of the ducts from your house to the street cabinet (or to where ever the development finishes. If it don't contain conduit for blown fibre, I suggest you probably have grounds to complain to the developer/builder and NHBC, since part of the price you paid was for the installation of services. There is no real reason why any property built since 2008 (when the BDUK project had its beginnings) or even in in the last decade or so (ie. after the rise of ADSL) shouldn't be fibre ready..

      2. localzuk

        Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

        Rural, yes. I'm talking about rural towns. Those towns that are too small to be commercially viable but fit in the scope of this project. The overriding point of this project is to get a high percentage of people and businesses access to high speed internet. Starting with hamlets isn't doing that - its getting the edge cases online before the main body of users. There's around 10 such towns in this county, and so far none of them have been touched.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: If the rollout down here is anything to go by

          >Those towns that are too small to be commercially viable but fit in the scope of this project.

          Agree, however the scope seemed to change during the set up of BDUK - probably under BT's influence?, to become a fibre upgrade of the BT exchange to street cabinet rather than geographically focused delivery of service.

          Then in preparing bids BT have also unduly influenced the roll-out so that they address the 'easy' and 'commercially viable' street boxes, thereby creating conditions necessary for a second round of funding for what is estimated to be the last 5%. But as BT have defined the formula, they are the only people who know who is in this last 5%, so we can expect it to be significantly higher... Plus treating this group as a special case will mean that solutions will be that much more expensive because there can be few synergies of scale.

          Interestingly in many areas when someone knowledgeable about WAN & MAN technologies looks at the geography afresh and with a modern pair of eyes and hence ignorant of the BT exchanges and cable network that was largely laid down many decades back to serve a very different environment and need, totally different deployment topologies and technologies come to mind... However, the BDUK project just didn't really want to encourage a "do different" style of thinking...

  7. Fiddler on the roof

    Difficult

    The problerm here is that anyone attempting to deliver fibre to customers has to take a very long view. The last estimate I saw was that BT wont start making money bakc on its fibre investment for 10 years. So who else but a major telecoms player can even consider bidding. This is a government cock up, not a BT one, in its attempt to make the process open for everyone it has misunderstood the potential for companies to get involved. With the current focus on short term wins and return on investment, only 2 biddeers were given approved status and one of those has since pulled out. Blaming BT for bidding for money that will ultimately benefit it is like blaming a dog for eating its own dinner.

  8. Seanmon

    I've said it before...

    ..but nothing identifies a dickhead like the term "superfast broadband".

    BT need to be forcibly separated from ownership of the network. They own the cable, provide the service and provide increasing amounts of the content too these days. Monopoly, us?

    1. Test Man

      Re: I've said it before...

      Well, technically they have been. Openreach owns the network, BT Retail provide the service, BT Wholesale sells wholesale access to the lines. They are independant businesses i.e. Openreach fixes the network on behalf of many other providers, BT Wholesale sells the wholesale access to other business and BT Retail provide the service to anyone.

      When it comes to charging, they all charge each other in exactly the same way they charge other business for their service.

      Although yes, they all belong to the BT Group.

      1. Seanmon

        Re: I've said it before...

        Ja, true. What I actually meant was, the physical network, be it copper, fibre or whatever ought to be in public hands. Internet access is pretty much a utility these days, same as gas or 'leccy. I'm not particularly leftie (I think not, at least), but I'd happily pay my taxquids to making a real contribution to the UK infrastructure. Then you rent it out to whoever wants to pay for it.

        Sorry. Common sense disease again. Forgot all about the overheads you have to pay to the politicos etc.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: I've said it before...

          the physical network, be it copper, fibre or whatever ought to be in public hands.

          Like the roads are? Given the way public money gets invested in them, we'd likely still have a physical network that barely supports 1200bps modems

          1. itzman

            Re: I've said it before...

            What we nee is ducting that is free* for any operators to lay fibre in, or dark fibre any operator is free* to illuminate.

            * or for a small standard fee anyway.

  9. Rizzla

    FTC all around us, but not from our cabinet

    BT have installed FTC all around us - albeit a lot of it remains dark - but not to our cabinet. Why? Well apart from 13 homes, the rest of the cabinet is connected to commercial premises and BT can make obscene amounts of money from their ISDN/Ethernet and private wire data so it's apparently not commercially viable t offer FTC to us. We are surrounded by fibre and some within 30 metres but we're in the wrong cab. Vermin Media aren't interested either even though the ducts are there but empty and have been for 14 years.

    In my view the BDUK rollout is a disaster. Even my outlaws in rural Wales have a 10MB SDSL system over microwave.

    No doubt there are many thousands of others who are in the same position as us, but no one cares. Ministry of Fun, the joke isn't funny especially the joke is on the taxpayer!!

    1. batfastad

      Re: FTC all around us, but not from our cabinet

      Yep, business park on the edge of a medium-sized town. Residential cabinets all done a couple of years ago. Still stuck with 5Mbit down and 0.6Mbit up ADSL!

      I wish the gov would actually own the whole lot at the end of the roll-out, then charge BT etc to use it. I'm sure GCHQ would approve as well!

      1. Josco

        Re: FTC all around us, but not from our cabinet

        5MB!!! Wow. We live between Harrogate & Leeds and there is super fast nearly all around, even the local Leeds - Harrogate bus has 10MB WiFi but BT all but admitted to the village meeting that they were going to take the penalties (whatever they are) rather than upgrade us to 2 MB. We have very poor mobile too.

        1. itzman

          Re: FTC all around us, but not from our cabinet

          there should be a mechanism whereby parish or borough councils can IF THE RESIDENTS SO WISH part fund the rollout of better broadband to their local parishioners.

          No one expects it to be free, but the options now are free, .many thousands per household to install FTTP or nothing.

          I'd willing stump up 500 quid and so too probably would 30 households within range, and even donate a bit of garden for a 'green cabinet' that would bring in FTTC rather than indifferent ADSL.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sham

    They put fibre in for the media during the olympics (we live in a host town), and it's sat there unused now it's over. I know for a fact it routes to the local BT exchange, as they dug all the roads up to put it in.

    Obviously someone owns it, and BT don't want to pay it. Some fekin moron in the government signed a deal that didn't think beyond summer 2012.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still waiting

    For the subsidy to install vast green fields with fresh unpolluted air and a clam silence in major cities, but there's no movement from Defra. I suppose I'll have to _move_ out in to the sticks to enjoy the benefits.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. phil dude
    Pint

    Oxford , jericho...

    In my flat in Jericho, Oxford just 12 months ago I couldn't get any better than ADSL (6M) from BE (now SKY).

    Of course, when you get installed an OpenReach van turns up. After making the nice fella an espresso he actually went and checked my local cabinet (outside in road), and the exchange.

    I was told that it would be at least a year to get FTTC (fibre to copper?), as it was not in demand. For those that don't know Oxford, Jericho is near to the Uni. Summertown is where the exchange and the wealth is.

    OK this is anecdotal. and perhaps it has been fixed. But hardly middle of nowhere...

    I was seriously considering getting on the $UNI_BUILDING roof and putting a "cantenna" to my building, and piggy backing on the OWL/eduroam network...

    Ironically here in the USA I can see the eduroam network, though the local cable monopolies/former Bells are firmly entrenched here....

    P.

  14. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Not all of these schemes are rural and they may have a big promotion budget

    Although the headlines are being garnered by the "rural" projects, the government is also subsidising the rollout of "superfast" broadband in city centres (like Newcastle) where you might think that BT would be able to invest from their own resources. And in fact where they already *have* invested from their own resources. And where there is cable and 4G provision.

    And associated with that rollout, at least, is a big promotional project designed to make local people and businesses aware of the benefits of broadband and subsidise its installation (at up to £3000 a throw for business customers).

    Given the number of people who want fast broadband and can't get it, I'm not sure of the logic of funding BT to provide it where it's already available and then subsidising customers to buy the service whose provision has apparently been subsidised once already.

    Perhaps I've entirely misunderstood. Or perhaps the DCMS has.

  15. Brian Morrison

    So, finally...

    ...my local BDUK project's rollout plan has now appeared on the local council web site. This is Bedfordshire, in the area adminstered by the Borough council.

    My village will get "superfast broadband" but not until Phase 3 of the project between January and June 2015, Phase 1 won't start until July 2014 so I suppose that it could be worse.

    Luckily there is only one BT cabinet serving our whole village, but of course no guarantee that this estimated rollout will stay on track.

    I wait with bated breath...

    1. Jim Willsher

      Re: So, finally...

      At least you have a cabinet. All our lines are EO lines, and if BT do decide to install a cabient then they'll install it right outside the exchange so we'll be no better off.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A little insight into the Openreach operation

    Openreach and Virmin use a company called Kelly. Every day they email the company. 15 staff within a control centre transfer the data to their internal system. Then when their staff have done the work they type the results back into the BT from their system.

    No I'm not making this up. It really is this fucked up.

    Anon for the obvious reason.

  17. ScottME
    FAIL

    Commercial model is all wrong

    It's high time DCMS realised that fast broadband is as necessary a basic utility as the postal service, electricity, water, etc. *Every* citizen should be able to access it, not just those whom BT regard as "commercially viable". Government should grow a pair and legislate for a universal service obligation. It's not beyond the wit of suppliers to use a proportion of the obscene profits they can make from servicing densely populated urban areas in order to subsidise the investment necessary to getting the service out to the boonies.

    "We're all in this together"

    Yeah right.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Commercial model is all wrong

      t's high time DCMS realised that fast broadband is as necessary a basic utility as the postal service, electricity, water, etc.

      Bollocks. Why should everyone pay higher taxes just so you can surf HD porn? Anyone who wants high speed can get it, at a price. If the price is too high then you clearly don't need it (which is what defines a neccessity).

    2. Bunbury

      Re: Commercial model is all wrong

      Why is fast broadband necessary as a basic utility? Universal Service Obligations are in effect a definition of the services that all inhabitants of a country need and are in effect an extra charge on the easy majority so that service can also be provided to the difficult minority. But they don't work long term if the easy majority can't see that they are vital for all because in a democracy the majority view usually wins out.

      Yes, many on this forum view fast broadband as necessary but many, perhaps most, people don't. For many it is a cost decision. I've had periods where I've decided not to have fast broadband because I didn't really need it. And I know people who choose not to have broadband at all. Until the government believe that the majority of people (or, more cynically, voters) feel strongly in favour, you'll see no such USO.

      It would also be a difficult USO to keep up to date as "fast" changes rapidly with technology. Fast internet might have been defined in 1990 as 56k, in 2000 500k. Would you set the definition today at 50M only to find once the thing had gone through the slow wheels of government that was inadequte for the needs of 2018?

  18. Flatlander

    All downhill

    Eighteen months ago we were getting up to 4.8mbs. Trying to work last weekend it was so slow that once I got to BT speed checker (19 minutes) it was so slow that it couldn't be checked. If it goes on like this we've either got to seriously consider moving or folding the business as no matter who the provider is it won't improve with the existing infrastructure.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All downhill

      > we've either got to seriously consider moving or folding the business

      Are you paying for business broadband, with a suitable SLA, or trying to run a business on a cheap domestic setup?

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: All downhill

      >no matter who the provider is it won't improve with the existing infrastructure.

      Sorry but from experience a change of LLU can make a significant difference to an existing infrastructure, likewise a change from 'residential' to 'business' ADSL.

      I assume you have investigated the use of mobile broadband potentially using a dongle with external antenna. Also the potential for a second line (using the spare pair in your existing cable).

    3. Bunbury

      Re: All downhill

      Sounds like you have a fault; a line doesn't deteriorate that quickly usually.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BT shambles

    Anything but fibre to the home is a waste of time. Fibre to an ugly cabinet in the street, and using the old copper to the home, is a dead end. And BT and their massive Indian outsourcing, both to India, and to thousands of Indian nationals here on uncapped ICT work visas for the outsourcers is a shambles... If you think the external phone help lines are bad you should try ringing the help lines the poor BT internal people have to use, and the terrible state of the lowest cost IT within is a disgrace... the management have had no plans but replace Brits with Indian nationals to reduce costs for years with the corresponding crash dive in quality.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: BT shambles

      Fibre to an ugly cabinet in the street, and using the old copper to the home, is a dead end

      Why? Are you going to run fibre between all the devices inside your house? If you're OK with Ethernet over copper for the last 10-20 metres, why is it such a problem to have the last < 1km on copper, given the extra cost of FTTH?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BT should have been given some competition, not the contract.

  21. SImon Hobson Silver badge
    Stop

    Clearly many of the commenters here are somewhat younger than I am

    Thos of us who are old enough can remember what things were like when telephones were a "government" thing - back when they were provided by the GPO which was back then still part of the government. Like the railways, the modern privatised system may well be far from perfect, but it's a darn sight better than what we used to have when services were provided by a government department, and didn't need to worry about promptness or customer service as your choice was to use them or go without.

    With the GPO there was none of this "get a phone installed in a couple of weeks" - it could take months, or if you were unlucky, years to get a phone installed. I remember the phone in our last house was on a party line for many years because the GPO weren't prepared to put in cable to support needs - they just adjusted needs to suit what they had installed.

    If you wanted more than one phone then you had to *rent* it from the GPO. If you wanted sockets then you had to rent those (and pay GPO to install them) as well - every item had a cost to it. None of this "buy your own and plug it in" malarky.

    And dialling took ages as it was all pulse dial, with rotary dials !

    Go back to that, no thanks. <mutter to himself>Youngsters these days, no idea …</mutter>

    No I don't have a suggestion for what to replace the current system with. It's not perfect, but it's better than pretty well all the alternatives that have been suggested.

    Having an equivalent of OpenReach owned jointly by all the providers wouldn't help. The larger ones would be able to game the system (adjust charges) so as to put smaller outfits and/or new entrants at a disadvantage. Plus, with BT as it's largest customer by far, it's fairly clear which tune they'd dance to.

    Have them independent of all providers ? Same problem - they'll sing whatever tune the largest customer tells them to.

    Have them independent but all charges set by regulator ? That's not much different to what we have now, and we can see how well that works - constant arguments about whether the charges are too high or too low. Plus it's still an incumbent monopoly so not that much reason to change anything.

  22. Denarius
    Mushroom

    thanks UK

    you have given us in Oz a preview of our next NBN screwup. We never create our disasters, just import the failures from USSA or UK.

  23. Vociferous

    The UK should have done what some other EU countries have done...

    ...and made countryside coverage part of the requirements for awarding licenses to service providers.

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