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Provider That Claimed Fiber Broadband Wasn’t In Demand Sells Out Every Connection in Hours

Phillip Dampier December 9, 2013 British Telecom, Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Rural Broadband Comments Off on Provider That Claimed Fiber Broadband Wasn’t In Demand Sells Out Every Connection in Hours
Sold Out

Sold Out

An area Britain’s telecom giant BT pronounced “not commercially viable” for a fiber broadband upgrade sold out every available connection after residents successfully campaigned BT to change its mind.

The unassuming “Cabinet 82” in Hunslet (Middleton, north of Manchester, near South Leeds) was left off the telecom company’s fiber upgrade list because the company was convinced residents were satisfied with the DSL speeds they were getting and it wouldn’t be worth the cost to upgrade service.

Nearly 300 residents had complained about slow Internet speeds and requested a fiber upgrade for “Cabinet 82” since 2012, initially to no avail. After relentless complaints from local residents, BT changed its mind.

A newly upgraded cabinet with fiber to the neighborhood service was inaugurated earlier today and within hours, every available connection was sold, proving BT’s assumptions about customer demand for faster speeds wrong.

This is the best possible Christmas present for so many people in this previously under-served area,” Carl Thomas, a member of the Fiber for Middleton Coalition told ISPreview.co.uk. “From being able to work from home for the first time to enjoying the media-rich Internet to, in the case of a deaf family, being able to communicate with relatives via sign language over Skype this is quite literally life-changing.”

The example of Middleton has called into question the veracity of BT’s customer demand modeling scheme, a critical part of how the company decides which areas are most commercially viable for service upgrades. It turns out even in out-of-the-way suburban neighborhoods, there is tremendous demand for speeds far faster than what providers expected.

A short tour inside one of BT’s Fiber to the Neighborhood cabinets produced by Recombu. (1:50)

Creative Accounting Scandal: British Broadband Subsidy Helps BT’s Bottom Line; Whistleblower Fired

Phillip Dampier October 8, 2012 British Telecom, Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video Comments Off on Creative Accounting Scandal: British Broadband Subsidy Helps BT’s Bottom Line; Whistleblower Fired

A growing scandal over alleged diversion of British taxpayer funds intended for fiber broadband rollouts has now cost one whistleblower his job, terminated after suggesting British Telecom (BT) is artificially inflating infrastructure expenses.

The Conservative government’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) oversees £1 billion in public subsidies to improve broadband in Britain. Much of that is earmarked to construct fiber to the neighborhood facilities in smaller towns and villages — the rural subsidy providing the only chance most of these residents have for better broadband service. But a whistleblower inside the DCMS has said the primary government-approved contractor, BT, is artificially inflating its prices — pocketing a growing amount of taxpayer funds instead of enhancing its broadband buildout.

Courtesy: Br0kenTeleph0n3 (click to enlarge)

The whistleblower, identified as Michael Kiely, a DCMS broadband project consultant, was fired after he detailed BT’s ever-growing (and highly confidential) cost estimates to several village and town councils fighting for a better deal from the phone company. The issue has been closely watched by the Br0kenTeleph0n3 blog, which reports on how Britain’s broadband stimulus funding is being spent. The blog reported the DCMS sacked Kiely, apparently for exposing BT’s secret pricing schemes.

“I am getting increasingly concerned at the way in which whistleblowers are being bullied,” Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told the Guardian newspaper while demanding an investigation. “All too often people hide behind commercial confidentiality. This culture denies us the right to know how our money is being spent.”

Many local governments are matching broadband subsidies with local funds to increase the number of homes reached by fiber-enhanced Internet access. The demand for fast broadband is so great in the UK, the initial plan to spend £530 million has now been effectively doubled, with even more money coming from the European Commission and other sources. Britain’s broadband expansion plan envisions reaching as many rural homes as feasible with the available funds. The more funds diverted away from broadband expansion into the pockets of others, the fewer number of homes can be reached.

The enormous amount of available government funding  appears to have caught BT by surprise, and Kiely suspects the company is inventing new fees, while inflating others, to ‘soak up’ the additional money without having to deliver any improvements in service.

Kiely noted BT appeared to be setting  new wholesale rates for fiber cabinets, despite the fact costs vary widely in different regions. Kiely notes that even as BT enjoys economies of scale, the price it charges for rural cabinets appears to be rising, even though costs are declining.

In rural areas, BT is seeking up to £30,000 for each fiber cabinet, despite the fact the average price in Northern Ireland’s recent broadband roll-out was just over £13,000 each.

BT’s estimate for two fiber cabinets in Great Asby, which will service hundreds of residents, was estimated at £60,000, a price Kiely also suggests is inflated.

The phone company has made cost verification nearly impossible with strict, mandatory confidentiality agreements that prohibit local councils from learning BT’s true costs. BT’s non-disclosure agreement also prohibits local governments from comparing notes about what the company charges in nearby communities. The government has approved only two vendors for the government-funded broadband expansion — BT and Fujitsu, with BT winning the overwhelming majority of contracts.

The giant, former state-owned phone company, comparable to AT&T or Bell Canada, can also hide cost reductions achieved from experience rolling out service, economies of scale like volume discounts, and other labor savings. BT’s attempt to create standardized pricing also leaves plenty of room to inflate prices by rolling in unexplained charges like “planning costs,” “availability charges,” and “take up bonuses.”

Despite this, BT says claims it is misspending public funds are completely baseless, and points to its own independent investment in British broadband.

“It is ludicrous that some people are suggesting that we are trying to pass on the full cost of deployment to our public sector partners,” BT said in a statement. “In fact, we are looking at a low double digit year payback in these areas even when the public funds are taken into account.”

Courtesy: Br0kenTeleph0n3 (Click to enlarge)

Conservative party loyalist Maria Miller, recently appointed as the government’s new culture secretary during a cabinet reshuffle, has not commented on the BT controversy. Instead, she has prioritized reducing government “red tape” for providers like BT while also tamping down expectations for the broadband expansion program.

Among her deregulation priorities: scrap the right for local governments to object to the placement of often unsightly broadband street cabinets, force “reasonable” terms on private landowners where necessary infrastructure must be placed or routed across, and sweeping permission to allow virtually anyone to put overhead lines up anywhere they please. All of these objectives heavily favor BT’s interests, according to industry observers.

Miller also recently took pressure off BT to deliver game-changing speeds by redefining “superfast broadband” as “potential headline download access speeds greater than 24Mbps.” That falls far short of the 100Mbps service most expected in return for more than £1 billion in taxpayer subsidies, often directed to BT.

Even more telling, Miller considers 2Mbps broadband speeds adequate: “Our investment will help provide 90% of homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband and for everyone in the UK to have access to at least 2Mbps,” she said.

The European continent, in comparison, is targeting 30Mbps as the bare minimum speed, with at least 50% of Europeans getting 100Mbps service by 2020.

Great Britain’s broadband expansion plan is highly dependent on fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN) technology, with traditional copper phone lines carrying the service the rest of the way into a home or office. Both AT&T’s U-verse and Bell’s Fibe are examples of FTTN technology.

As elsewhere, BT considers 24Mbps a suitable maximum speed for FTTN technology, but most customers will not even achieve that. Just like traditional DSL, distance matters, as does line quality. BT has quietly told most councils the average speed most local residents will actually receive is 15Mbps on average.

Former Secretary of State for Olympics, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt outlining Britain’s superfast broadband initiative in 2010. (4 minutes)

At Least One-Third of Great Britain Now Has Access to 100Mbps Broadband

Phillip Dampier November 7, 2011 British Telecom, Broadband Speed, Competition, Virgin Media (UK) Comments Off on At Least One-Third of Great Britain Now Has Access to 100Mbps Broadband

While you plod along with 3Mbps DSL service, an increasing number of British broadband users can now buy speeds up to 100Mbps.  Those speeds come increasingly from the deployment of fiber optics by cable competitor Virgin Media, which now reaches over 20 million residents with fiber-fast service.

The latest regions to be enabled for 100Mbps service include Harborne in Birmingham, Lincoln, Seven Kings in Greater London and Solihull.  Virgin said it will complete the roll out of 100Mbps service across the entire Virgin network by the middle of next year.

Virgin has attacked some of its competitors for promising fast speeds but never delivering them.  Oversold ADSL service has been an issue for many British households who are promised speeds of 10Mbps or better, only to discover speeds slowing to a crawl during peak usage periods.  Virgin says its fiber network has a level of capacity unprecedented in the United Kingdom and it can actually deliver sustained speeds to its customers day or night.

Efforts by British Telecom to improve its network are progressing with a fiber-to-the-neighborhood expansion project to handle increasing demand.  BT’s fiber network ends at street-side cabinets, where traditional copper telephone wiring delivers broadband to individual homes.  But BT’s broadband speeds are faster than what North Americans can purchase from similar networks like AT&T U-verse and Bell’s Fibe.  Current top speeds of 40/10Mbps have been declared inadequate, so the British phone company is planning to double them by early next year.

Faster speeds are always welcomed by customers.  Virgin notes over half of their customers purchase speeds of 30Mbps or faster.  BT’s move to supply 80/20Mbps broadband to customers will help keep the phone company competitive.

“It will provide a further boost for local businesses and homeworkers as well as families and other people for whom the internet has become an essential part of their daily lives – whether it’s for leisure, education or business,” said Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland.

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