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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

So, Just What Is Going On?

It's been over a year since anything has been posted on this blog and with very good reason.  Broadband in the village remains atrocious, but for the last year we have had a glimmer of hope on the horizon - that we are part of the 3rd phase of Wiltshire Online's broadband initiative with BT.

Things have been moving incredibly slowly, glacial even, but they are moving.  Thankfully, and despite many years of us trying to pin their wings to the wall, we still have an amicable arrangement with senior figures in BT.  That has proved a bonus as the information provided to us and others in the village by Wiltshire Online has proved to be completely useless.  In fact, you could argue it amounts to disinformation, so far has it been from the reality.

A lot of the the "heavy lifting" on broadband in the village has now been take on board by the Parish Council - arguably the ones who should have led from the front on this issue from the outset - 8 years ago.  Unfortunately, it's taken a while to get through to some that the world has moved on from pen and paper!

The Parish Council has just launched its own web site and they have already published two news itemson broadband.  Well done we say, and long may it continue!



The first of these articles outlined what Wiltshire Online had told a villager about the state of the plan to bring superfast broadband to Winterbourne Stoke.  It sounded as if BT were struggling to get wayleaves granted and that the whole plan was falling behind because of it.  This was very different to what we understood to be the case.

The second article followed some digging by us on behalf of the Parish Council as we were so concerned about the "story" being put out by Wiltshire Online.  The BT response was clear, concise and to the point.  The project was still on track and running in accordance with what had been said to a meeting of the Parish Council and other interested parties at the end of 2015, save for a small slippage which the Parish Council had been made aware of in the summer of 2016.

Wiltshire Online clearly have little knowledge of the program they are meant to be running.  Someone, Wiltshire Council specifically, should be taking a long hard look at this group and asking some very hard questions!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Parish Council Sends a Few Home Truths to Wiltshire Council and Others

At the last meeting of the Winterbourne Stoke Parish Council in July 2015, it was agreed to send a later to Wiltshire Council expressing concern about the state of broadband in Winterbourne Stoke.  The letter, reproduced in full below,  pointed out how improvements being made to the exchange in Shrewton, to allow, users closer to the exchange than us to receive superfast broadband, was actually reducing our speeds and quality of service.



The letter also points out that its not just the broadband that's faulty, the phones are causing problems as well, and these faults have been there for nearly a decade - without resolution:


To:

Cllr John Thomson
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities, Campuses, Area Boards and Broadband



Broadband in Winterbourne Stoke


Since broadband first arrived in Winterbourne Stoke, following its implementation at the Shrewton exchange on 16 Feb 2005, the service in the village has been poor, with no villagers reliably getting download speeds of, or in excess of, 2.0Mbps.  Shrewton is a Market 1 exchange, meaning that only BT equipment is installed within it.  As a consequence, irrespective of which ISP a customer opts for, BT equipment carries the broadband signal from the home to the edge routers leading to the wider internet. 

In 2008, the broadband in Winterbourne Stoke was all but knocked out by a phenomenon called REIN (Random Electrical Impulse Noise).  It took an unreasonably long time for Winterbourne Stoke residents to be listened to by BT and for BT to understand that this was an area fault and not limited to a single customer.  Limited action to identify the problem was only initiated when local residents made representations to BT at board level. 



Following these interactions and requests made of BT under the Data Protection Act, we discovered that the reason for the poor quality of broadband in the village, and its susceptibility to REIN, was due entirely to the 3,361 metres of D/side 100/0.5 aluminium cable installed between Primary Connection Point 1 (PCP/1) in Shrewton and Secondary Connection Point 1/1 (SCP1/1) in Winterbourne Stoke.  Aluminium cable was used instead of the much better copper cable, as a cost-saving measure in the 1960s.  Whilst aluminium is acceptable for telephony, it is inherently unsuitable for broadband.  On 29th August 2008, BT Openreach, in internal documents admitting that the cable was of poor quality, estimated the cost of replacing it with copper to be £170,914.00.



We were also made aware that many of the pairs (the pairs of wires carrying telephony and broadband signals between SCP/1/1 and PCP/1) were damaged and unusable, giving Openreach engineers little or no latitude in using alternative pairs to rectify phone faults.  Indeed, phone faults within the village, which have been reported on many occasions since 2005, remain unresolved.  We note that BT have a statutory duty to ensure that the telephony service for the village is fit for purpose - it isnt and hasn't been for the last decade!



A local initiative in 2009/10 to bring fibre to the home in Winterbourne Stoke and surrounding villages, funded by EU money, was effectively thwarted by BTs announcement that it was going to bring Superfast Broadband (Infinity) to some local rural communities. 



Although some of the PCPs fed by the Shrewton exchange are now being upgraded to superfast broadband, there was no funding made available to upgrade PCP/1 and replace the link to SCP1/1 - or to do the most sensible thing and feed fibre from the Shrewton exchange to Winterbourne Stoke and site a new DSLAM and PCP at the site of the current SCP/1/1, where there is sufficient space and access to power to do so.  BT, at senior level, have advised us as recently as last week, that Winterbourne Stoke requires future funding for the fibre rollout.  However, as BT are not funding this, then the only other source of funding is Wiltshire Council.



Since work started to upgrade the Shrewton exchange in late 2014, the broadband situation has worsened considerably.  Broadband speeds have fallen, for many villagers, to 30% of the speeds they were receiving between 2008 and 2014.  Worse still, the quality of service (QoS) has deteriorated significantly, with even these low speeds of downstream data-transmission achievable for only 10-12% of the time.  Some villagers now have no usable broadband for large parts of the day.  BT have advised that poor quality has been caused by all the available (to Winterbourne Stoke) virtual paths (VPs) running hot - i.e. beyond their design capacity.  Customers have had their connections subject to what BT Openreach call a lift and shift - effectively moving them from one hot VP to another - some have had this done on multiple occasions.  Unsurprisingly, given the poor quality aluminium cabling and the hot VPs, remedial actions have not improved speeds or QoS.  We were further advised by BT that the C/J cable, that connects Shrewton back to Amesbury, etc was also under capacity for the numbers of customers it supported and that many of the problems would be resolved when this was upgraded.  We understand that the upgrade has now taken place, but the problems remain.  More and more villagers are suffering from a poorer service than the parlous one they previously had.



The bottom line is that the BT/Wiltshire Councils Wiltshire Online initiative, far from improving broadband in Winterbourne Stoke, has actually made the situation much, much worse.



Winterbourne Stoke Parish Council wish to know, as a matter of urgency:



-    whether provision of superfast broadband will be funded under the Phase 2 Rollout and, if so, when?



or, if it is not to be funded:



-    what pressure Wiltshire Council will bring to bear on BT to ensure their statutory duty to maintain the telephony infrastructure is adhered to - both to correct existing faults and to provide a limited reserve capacity/redundancy to ensure future demand for residential and business lines can be met.



-    what funding Wiltshire Council will make available to undo the damage that the Wiltshire Online initiative has caused to the broadband in Winterbourne Stoke?





Yours, etc




CC


Sarah Cosentino Wiltshire Online; John Glen MP; Ed Vaizey MP; Neil Parish MP; Ms Sharon White, Chief Executive, OFCOM; Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive, BT Group; Bill Murphy, Managing Director, Next Generation Access, BT; Karen Gardner, BBC Wiltshire

Needless to say,  we haven't seen any credible replies from Wiltshire Council yet, though we understand OFCOM have replied, though missing the point as they frequently do.  They apparently misunderstood what can happen in Market 1 exchanges and also forgot that whilst their isn't (yet) a Universal Service Obligation for broadband, there is one for basic telephony - and BT need to be held to account.

The next thing you know, Wiltshire Council will be bragging how wonderfully successful their Wiltshire Online campaign has been!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Army Vet/BT Openreach Engineer Deals with Unexploded WWII Incendiary

Nothing to do with Winterbourne Stoke and our broadband problems, but once in while someone goes that extra mile and it is worth pointing out.  Now I tend to give BT and particularly Openreach a hard time, and I know my next post is going to have a go at them again, so when the person who goes the extra mile is an Openreach engineer it is doubly nice to be able to say something good.

The person in question is John Owen - seen below:

Basically, John, a British Army Veteran who served 22 years with the Royal Corps of Signals, had to deal with an unexploded WWII incendiary bomb whilst installing a new BT phone line.  Well done mate, respect where it is due!

You can read the whole story here on the SSAFA website.   You might also want to give SSAFA a bit of support!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Prorogation Broadband Broadside From John Glen MP

Although those who have been resident in Winterbourne Stoke since broadband first arrived at the Shrewton exchange are used to the awful speeds and poor quality of service, they often come as a bit of a shock to those new to the area, especially those who have lived and worked overseas in countries that are often thought of as being somewhat "backward" compared to these sceptred isles - at least by long-term UK residents.

The reality is that when it comes to broadband, it is the UK that is a Third World country and is rapidly losing even that position.  Jonathan D, a new resident, has taken up his cudgel and joined the campaign to try and get the situation improved.  Last Friday, he went along to see John Glen MP in what was John's last surgery as a Tory MP in the current parliament.

Jonathan put together a rather telling presentation, that I thought captured the situation we are in pretty well.  So please click here to see it.

I also provided John Glen with details of all our recent speed tests and copies of emails and other transactions with BT Group, BT Retail, Openreach and BT Wholesale.

Gavin Patterson - BT Group CEO
John Glen has clearly taken all these messages to heart and fired off an email to Gavin Patterson, BT Group's current CEO.  Moreover, he's promised to chase this - if he is re-elected.

John Glen MP


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Changes to the Shrewton Exchange Cause Major Disruption to Broadband Users in WInterbourne Stoke

It seems that predictions I made a few years back, about the immediate consequences of BT attempting to upgrade broadband at the Shrewton exchange, have now come to pass.  It gives me absolutely no pleasure to be able to say: "Told you so!"

Back in October, I noticed that my ultraquick 1.9 Mbps broadband (well it was one of the fastest in the village) took a hit and the IP profile dropped to below 1.5 Mbps.  As winter was coming on, i wasn't too worried, as the wet weather often plays havoc with the poor quality aluminium cable between the SCP (secondary connection point) on the A303 and the PCP (primary connection point) in Shrewton.  When the IP profile dropped below 1.25, I reported it as problem and went through the balls-aching routine of talking to the BT call centre in India, eventually getting them to call out an engineer - with the usual threat of having to pay money if a fault was found on my equipment.

As always, the engineer found nothing and despite several failed test attempts, was forced by archaic BT processes to record that there was no line fault.  The reason for the failed tests should have been apparent as it was clearly a capacity issue at the exchange - and fairly simple tests available to you and me can prove  this.  Unfortunately, that type of problem isn't a BT Openreach responsibility, so they don't test for it and can't solve it.  However, they did what they always do when they can't fix it - they have the bRAS reset which ups the IP profile and gives a bit of relief for a few days.

Sadly, this fix didn't last long and from Christmas onwards my broadband speed began to plummet.  Checking round the village showed it wasn't an isolated fault.  By February, many people were experiencing long periods with very slow broadband and a few had lost broadband completely and by March, there were few broadband connections in the village that were unaffected.

I reported my fault again and escalated things using an approach I've mentioned previously on the blog - once an engineer had visited - yet again.   I also encouraged everyone else affected to tough it out and report their own problems and many did.  True to form, ISPs got Openreach despatched to customers all round the village without telling them that there was clearly a common, village wide  problem.  Some of the reasons given by Openreach engineers  for the problems absolutely beggar belief.  Lets just say that when some Openreach engineers can't fix the problem by dazzling with telecom brilliance, they revert to baffling with bullshit.  Basically, Openreach have wasted a lot of time and money, and are still doing so, running round Winterbourne Stoke trying to fix an issue that lies on BTw's part of the network.  That's money that would be better spent running fiber to the village and giving us our own PCP!

So lets look a little closer at the signs and symptoms.  Running the BT Wholesale (BTw) Speedtester frequently gives something like this.


Oh dear.  No download speed at all in the simple test. That's because, according to the ping test, that measures the time taken for data transmission between your computer and a server on the internet is 0ms.  Instantaneous data transmission over large distances.  That either means BT have managed to transmit data infinitely in excess of light speed, or their netwrok connections are, in technical parlance, utterly buggered.

Running the extra level of test often fails, but when it does work, rarely yields anything informative.  Sometimes you might get lucky and get a result like this:

This proves there really is a problem and your broadband service is falling outside even the very wide acceptable limits set by BT.  If you have problem, it's always worth running the BT test several times, and if you get one where the red line appears, rather than the green - STOP.  BT can only see the latest test result, and if you have an intermittent but serious fault, especially one at the exchange, you may get a run of results with a green bar that suggests your service is poor, but within limits!

So what is really going on at the moment in Winterbourne Stoke?  Well, if you use a better test regime than that offered by BT, such as ConnectionAnalyser produced by Visual Ware, you might start to get some answers.  Unlike most tests, it doesn't just focus on broadband speed, it also looks at the quality of the broadband connection.  Here are my own results from earlier today which show the problem every one here in Winterbourne Stoke is experiencing.

This shows the change in download speed over an 8000ms (8 second) time slice.  With an IP profile at the moment of 1Mbps, I would expect to see a download speed of about 900Kbps (0.9Mbps). In other words, a straight line across the entire time slice with only slight fluctuations at around the 900Kbps mark.  Instead, I get the above.  The trace shows that for the first 2 seconds, no data is downloaded at all.  Suddenly it leaps for a fraction of a millisecond (ms) to about 900Kbps (point 1), then crashes to 500Kbps and then steadily drops to 200k (point 2).  There is another brief acceleratio, then the speed crashes to zero (point 3).  Openreach engineers will often return speeds of 900Kbps on a line like this. Sometimes they will return a speed of 300Kbps (an average of sector 2) and they will dismiss anything at 3 as a failed test. If they repeat the test, they are most likely to hit a speed between 0 and 500Kbps.  However, speed doesn't tell the whole story.


 This trace shows the quality of the line - it measures the pauses in data transmission introduced by the exchange.  Basically, no BT connection should have pauses longer than 20ms - that's the red line at the bottom of the trace. Here, my connection has 3 pauses of 1900ms and 1 of 1400ms in an 8 second time slice.  In other words regardless of how fast my connection could shift data, for over 7.5 seconds out of 8, no data is being downloaded at all!.  Worse still, these sort of glitches introduce data errors - that's best explained as data being lost in transit and having to be transmitted - so if I have a nominal download speed of 0.3Mbps (300Kbps), the actual rate of downloading new data is likely to be a fraction of this.

Uploading data from my computer to the exchange is much the same:
Bear in mind that uploading on a BT broadband connection is typically at 370 Kbps maximum.  For the first 2.5 second (1) my connection, as shown by the blue trace, just about achieves that.  For the next 2.5 seconds, no data is transmitted to the exchange (2).  Finally, the speed of transmission starts to rise, then spikes to more than 5Mbps (3).  There is something badly wrong at the exchange.

Finally, the upstream pause trace looked like this:

Upstream pauses under 100ms are acceptable.  Pauses of more than that are unacceptable and indicative of exchange faults - and I'm seeing these for 6.5 seconds out of 8 - and BT have the nerve to bill me for a broadband service.

So what's causing this fault?  From the data above I suspected that the issue was something BT engineers refer to as a “hot VP” (a virtual path) - and the thicker ones call a "hot VPN (a virtual private network - which isn’t involved here at all!).

Right, explained simply a virtual path is a software (which is why it’s virtual) connection between the Shrewton exchange and the main BT network.  Picture a VP as the A303 trunk road, it’s a fairly good analogy - especially for us here in Winterbourne Stoke.

The A303 runs smoothly when the traffic flow (data) is light, but as the flow of traffic increases (more users and more data), the more likely it is that there will be a traffic jam, a crash, or some other incident (your data and speed drop).  Now simply measuring the speed of cars on the A303 only gives you the average speed (thats like your broadband speed), but doesn’t tell you how the traffic is actually moving - is it moving steadily, but slowly. or in a stop-start fashion?  If the road is functioning properly, the traffic may slow when it gets busy but it doesn’t stop. (in broadband terms this is called “contention”). If the traffic is moving in a stop-start way, it is clear that the volume of traffic has exceeded the capacity of the A303 and in broadband terms, that means the VP is running “hot” - it can’t cope.

Emma, the nice lady at BT's Executive Level Technical Complaints Department in Newcastle, who  I have been dealing with , eventually got an admission out of BT Wholesale that my problem was caused, as I had suspected, by a hot VP.  Then things got better or dafter, depending on your perspective.  BTw came back and said they were going to do something called a "lift and shift" on my connection to an entirely different VP with lower contention/congestion, but in the same response said that every VP at the Shrewton exchange was running hot.  As anticipated, because ALL the VPs are running hot, the lift and shift had only a marginal benefit for a day or so.

Yesterday, I made a bit of progress. As I had some spare time and I was visiting Shrewton, I thought I’d pop along to the exchange and see what was going on there.  It’s a bit off the beaten track on a narrow lane so I normally try and avoid the place.  However, today was well worth the time as it uncovered a few issues that might go some way to explaining why BT Wholesale are being, I’ll be charitable" a bit slow in their response in establishing why every VP in the exchange was running hot and what they were doing to fix it.

Anyway to cut to the chase.  Here is a photo of the Shrewton exchange:


Nothing really to note, except the Openreach van - They’ve been there a lot since late last Autumn according to the neighbours.  But that’s not the interesting point.

Outside in the lane is a fairly new, fibre-enabled DSLAM - effectively taking over much of the work of the old exchange and ready to provide fibre to the cabinet for at least a part of Shrewton. 


Somewhere in the village there must already be a fibre-enabled PCP.  Now where could it be? 
Here it is, in the parking area of the exchange, about 20 metres from the DSLAM - half-way between the front door and the gate.  That’s a maximum of 20 metres of fibre then 100 metres of copper (more likely aluminium) to the nearest property over 100 metres away.  This is the closest PCP to WInterbourne Stoke, but unfortunately, it isn’t the one that serves our village; ours is over a km further away..  There is a second new PCP elsewhere in the village (No 5).

I suspected that what is happening is this, though why BTw aren’t being open about it, I wouldn’t wish to speculate.  I suspect that the VPs that are running hot are on the old DSLAMs in the exchange building - and why would BTw want to repair old kit?  But as at least two PCPs in Shrewton are running off the new DSLAM, you’d expect there to be a bit of spare capacity on the old system - so it’s a bit difficult to see why they can’t find a DSLAM that is unused, or at least running under capacity - unless the best bits of kit have been removed already.  The alternative explanation is that all the Shrewton exchange had been replaced by the new DSLAM - and if this is running hot then BTw have a real problem.

Looking at the newness of both installations, with fairly new tarmac and turf, would suggest that their installation had to have been in the same time frame as the increasing problems we have been experiencing in Winterbourne Stoke.  Whether it is cause and effect, I can't say; but I feel it is pretty likely.

Today, I had another update from a colleague of Emma's, as Emma is poorly.  Hope she gets well soon!  Basically, BT Wholesale now say that "they have a capacity issue with a CJ cable to the exchange and can't give a date yet for when that might be sorted out".   "What the hell is a CJ cable?" you might well ask.  I didn't know and neither did Emma's colleague.

Well, it turns out that the MUCJ network consists of the cables junction (CJ) network, which connects local exchanges to each other and to their parent trunk exchange for long distance calls and the main underground (MU) trunk network, which connects trunk exchanges to each other.

So a CJ cable is one that connects our local exchange (Shrewton) to the parent exchange (Amesbury?).  If this is the source of the problems we have been suffering from, then it is a pretty fundamental issue and BT Wholesale need to pull there fingers out!

BT are next scheduled to provide me with an update on 31st March - time will tell if BT Wholesale can give us a date for something to be sorted out!  Oh, and we still don't know if BT/Wiltshire Council/BDUK will run fibre between Shrewton and Winterbourne Stoke and sort things once and for all.  That's kind of important given the government are keen to ensure a minimum broadband speed of 10Mbps for every household - pretty ironic considering the stance taken by Ian Livingston, the former CEO of BT Group a couple of years ago, when he was trying to persuade the government that a 2Mbps service was all that was needed for domestic users!  For those of us in Winterbourne Stoke who have lost their broadband service entirely, or a trying to work with speeds of 0.01Mbps, then 10 Mbps seems something of an unattainable pipedream.





Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ofcom Announces Strategic Review of Digital Communications


On Thursday12 March 2015, Ofcom made an announcement regarding a strategic review of digital communications.  That's welcome news for those of us suffering with dreadful broadband speeds here in Winterbourne Stoke and elsewhere.



One of the documents they reference at the end of this press release is well worth reading (UK Fixed-Line Broadband Performance)

Ofcom has today announced an overarching review of the UK’s digital communications markets, to ensure that communications providers and services continue to meet the needs of consumers and businesses.

Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications will examine competition, investment, innovation and the availability of products in the broadband, mobile and landline markets. By assessing these areas as a whole, Ofcom will consider wider questions complementary to those addressed by its regular, three-yearly reviews of individual telecoms markets.

In May last year, Ofcom said that 2015 would provide a timely opportunity to take stock of the effectiveness of the rules arising from the last major review, 10 years after they were introduced.

The new review will consider a range of issues in the sector. Ofcom anticipates that it will focus on three aspects in particular:

ensuring the right incentives for private-sector investment, which can help to deliver availability and quality of service;
maintaining strong competition and tackling obstacles or bottlenecks that might be holding the sector back; and identifying whether there is scope for deregulation in some areas.

Timing and scope

This review will be Ofcom’s second major assessment of the wider telecommunications sector. The first began in December 2003 and concluded in September 2005. It led to new rules which allowed competing providers to access BT’s network, on equal terms, in order to offer phone and broadband services to consumers.

The market has transformed over the last decade. The Strategic Review of Digital Communications will consider the implications of current and future developments for regulation, including: plans from major operators for significant network investment; telecoms services increasingly operating over the internet; and various potential mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and partnerships in the sector.

Achieving value for consumers

Since its last major review, Ofcom has adapted its regulatory approach to reflect the evolving telecoms market.

In 2006, it removed retail price controls on competitive telecoms services. In 2010, it brought in new rules to promote competition in superfast broadband. In 2011, it placed a cap on wholesale mobile rates, leading to cheaper calls to mobile phones.

In 2013, Ofcom awarded spectrum for 4G mobile services, with a rule to ensure at least 98% of premises would benefit from the new technology.

Over the last 10 years, telecoms users across the UK have seen real benefits in the form of innovative products, wider choice and lower prices. For example, since 2005 average broadband speeds have risen more than twenty-fold, while prices have fallen by around 50%; and the cost of a monthly mobile bundle has halved from around £32 to £16.

Ofcom’s recent European Broadband Scorecard shows that the UK also leads the EU’s five biggest economies on most measures of coverage, take-up, usage and choice for different kinds of broadband, and performs well on price.

Promoting investment

Major operators continue to invest in the UK’s telecoms networks. For example, BT said in January that it is testing technology for delivering ‘ultrafast’ broadband speeds, with a plan to roll out to most of the UK within a decade. The following month, Virgin Media announced plans to extend its network to around four million new premises over the next five years.

Ofcom wishes to continue to support the development of the market by providing a clear and strategic regulatory framework. This will be designed both to promote competition and to support continued investment and innovation that can benefit consumers and businesses in the form of coverage, choice, price and quality of service.

              
Steve Unger, Ofcom Acting Chief Executive, said: “We have seen huge changes in the phone and broadband markets

1 of 2 14/03/2015 10:54

Ofcom | Ofcom announces Strategic Review of Digital Communi... http://media.ofcom.org.uk/news/2015/digital-comms-review/

since our last major review a decade ago. Only five years ago, hardly any of us had used a tablet computer, high-definition streaming or 4G mobile broadband.

“The boundaries between landline, mobile and broadband services continue to blur, and people are enjoying faster services on a growing range of devices.

“Our new review will mean Ofcom’s rules continue to meet the needs of consumers and businesses by supporting competition and investment for years to come.”

Next steps

The first phase of the review will examine current and future market factors that may affect digital communications services, and current regulatory approaches. To inform this work, Ofcom intends to engage over the coming months with a wide range of stakeholders - including industry, consumer groups, the UK Government and devolved administrations - through meetings and workshops. This phase of the review is expected to conclude with a discussion document in summer 2015.

Ofcom then expects to conclude the review’s second phase by outlining initial conclusions around the end of the year. ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. Sources for price and speeds data: Ofcom Communications Market Report 2014; Cost and Value of Communications Services in the UK; and UK Fixed-line Broadband Performance.

Ofcom’s principal duty under the Communications Act 2003 is to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters, and to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition.

Communications over the decade - view graphic

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Hardest -To-Reach Must NOT Be Left Offline

Government plans to transform UK broadband must not leave rural farms, businesses and homes offline or on slow connections, MPs have warned. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee fears hard-to-reach rural communities are being overlooked in the race to upgrade basic broadband to superfast for 95% of the country’s premises by 2017.

Said Committee Chair Anne McIntosh MP:

“People living in the hard-to-reach 5% of premises need the same access as the rest to online and digital services.

There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind the rural farms, businesses and homes who have little or none.”

In their report, Rural broadband and digital-only services, MPs raise fears that a focus on improving access for most of the country may leave a minority with little or no ability to use key government services switching to online-only or mainly online delivery.

The Government plans to transform broadband require 95% of premises to have superfast speeds of 24 Megabits per second by 2017 then, although BT told the Committee that that target might slip into 2018.

Miss McIntosh added: “The Government has committed to providing universal basic broadband coverage and superfast broadband coverage for 95% of premises by 2017.

We are concerned that the current broadband rollout targets are based on inaccurate assumptions that universal basic broadband coverage has largely been achieved when the reality is that many rural communities are still struggling with no access, or slow broadband speeds.

There is a fear that upgrading the majority who already have access to basic broadband is creating an even bigger gap between those with and those completely without broadband access.”

Broadband delivery

Speed and delivery are vital components of the broadband rollout plan. The majority of broadband available in the UK is currently delivered by fixed-line methods, requiring a physical cable between premises and street cabinets. The most popular delivery method being Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). FTTC can present two main problems. Firstly; the further you are from the cabinet, the slower the broadband your premise received; and, secondly there remain some premises where the infrastructure simply cannot reach.

Miss McIntosh recommended: “Alongside the continued investigation into alternative broadband delivery methods, subsidised access to Satellite broadband for those who are unable to access fixed-line broadband or broadband of basic speeds.”

As the basic and superfast broadband is rolled out, the minimum speed committed to by the Government is 2 Megabits per second. The Committee strongly recommends that this speed is too low, must be reassessed and a new minimum speed identified.

Miss McIntosh said: “The Universal Service Commitment of 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) is already outdated. This is a minimum speed commitment to the public and it must reflect modern technological demands, it is not high enough; 10 Mbps is a more suitable target. Further, it should be regularly reviewed to ensure the UK does not slip behind other European countries.”

Digital-only services

From 1 January 2015 all CAP funding applications must be made online-only. This is part of a wider Government policy for services to become ‘digital by default’.   

Miss McIntosh said: “Farmers are key drivers of the rural economy, ensuring that all farmers are able to access the new online-only CAP applications later this year is absolutely vital. The new CAP represents a change in the system and delivery. Defra and the RPA must draw on lessons learnt in the past to minimise the risk of further disallowance and also ensure that all farmers have adequate access to the system.”

Rural broadband policy

It has become evident during the course of the inquiry that poor broadband coverage is not only an issue in remote, rural areas. Premises in developed, urban areas can face the same issues if they are located a long distance from their local street cabinet.

Miss McIntosh said: “We recognise that poor broadband access is not exclusively a rural issue. The Government’s ‘Innovation Fund’ is the first step towards providing broadband to the final premises without access, whether they are in rural or urban areas.”

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Committee Membership is as follows:  Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair), Richard Drax, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mrs Mary Glindon, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Iain McKenzie, Sheryll Murray, Neil Parish, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Mr Mark Spencer, Roger Williams

Specific Committee Information: efracom@parliament.uk/ 020 7219 6194 / 020 7219 5774

Media Information: Nick Davies daviesnick@parliament.uk 020 7219 3297 / Rosie Tate tater@parliament.uk 020 7219 5012

Twitter: Follow the EFRA Committee on twitter @CommonsEFRA

Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/efracom

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv

Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk