Sunday Telegraph: “Tory manifesto pledge on broadband not-spots at risk”

“A broadband upgrade for 1.4 million rural homes is expected to be delayed by as much as three years with talks on a deal between the Government and BT’s network subsidiary Openreach close to collapse. …

… the Government will be forced to impose new regulations to give broadband customers a right to an upgrade. It means the work is likely to take much longer and that a Tory manifesto pledge to deliver the minimum standard to everyone by 2020 is under threat. …”

Source: Sunday Telegraph

Broadband outage and missed appointments compensation

Bet there will be a lot of claims from East Devon! Shame it starts only in 2019.

“Householders who receive poor service from their telecoms provider are to get automatic compensation, the regulator Ofcom has announced.
From 2019 they will get £8 a day if a fault is not fixed, paid as a refund through their bill.

This is less than the £10 that was proposed when Ofcom began its consultation earlier this year.

Providers will also have to pay £5 a day if their broadband or landline is not working on the day it was promised.

If an engineer misses an appointment, they will have to give £25 in compensation.

Ofcom has estimated as many as 2.6 million people could benefit from the new rules. …”

BT rural broadband deal under threat

”A proposed £600m deal between the Government and BT’s network subsidiary Openreach to deliver superfast broadband to 1.4 million rural homes faces legal hurdles.

It is understood that legal advisers have raised concerns that a voluntary offer from Openreach could be challenged in the courts as unfair state support.

Talks between officials and the company are ongoing in the hope of finding a solution, but sources said discussions towards a voluntary investment by Openreach were proving “very challenging”. In some areas the upgrade would come on top of £1.2bn in subsidies that funded upgrades for easier-to-reach rural homes.

The Government has the option of imposing new regulations that would force Openreach to upgrade rural broadband lines when requested, but both sides would prefer a deal that they say would deliver quicker results. Ministers are keen for the final 5pc of homes that cannot receive a 10 megabits per second connection to be upgraded by 2022 at the latest.

New regulation would be welcomed by BT’s rivals, however, who fear that Openreach would be able to dictate the technological and financial terms of a negotiated deal. …”

The free market – free to whom and for what? Not broadband!

“BT could face a legal challenge over proposals to spend up to £600 million connecting a million homes in rural areas with faster broadband, amid criticism that an offer it has made to government represents a “backroom deal” will tighten its monopoly grip on the sector.

Rivals including Talktalk, Sky, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear oppose BT’s proposal for a “voluntary” deal to connect every home in Britain with a minimum speed of ten megabits a second, fast enough to stream movies or browse the web.

While they support proposed upgrades to a minimum national standard, a so-called universal service obligation (USO), they support a different model to carry out and fund them.

An industry source said that several companies had taken legal advice about a potential legal challenge if the government accepted BT’s offer to make the improvements on its own and to pass on the costs to rivals.

The source said: “The law is very clear on how a USO should be delivered. BT and government can’t simply call the USO something else and hope the law doesn’t apply. If BT persuades the government to ignore the legal framework, they could face years in court. That would derail the process and leave customers waiting even longer for the fast broadband they deserve.”

Matthew Hare, chief executive of Gigaclear, a rural broadband specialist, said: “If the government were to go with BT’s voluntary deal, this would effectively stifle competition.”

He said that Gigaclear had not yet considered legal action, “but we strongly believe that a regulated universal service obligation is the only way to guarantee a competitive marketplace. Competition is vital, not only to give consumers choice and access to high-quality broadband, but also to secure the future of this country’s digital economy.”

A government consultation concluded this month, with a final decision on how to proceed likely to be made by Christmas.

Most of BT’s competitors favour a regulated model, in which all broadband operators would invest, with costs recovered from consumers via a levy on profits or another funding mechanism. BT is pressing for an alternative, under which it would make the improvements itself, with the costs of up to £600 million passed on to its wholesale customers, who protest that they would have no control over how the money was spent or the technology used.

Sharon White, chief executive of Ofcom, said that in the event of a voluntary deal, the regulator would apply a “very, very careful approach” to ensure BT would not pocket any difference.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

Rural broadband: a lesson from Canada

“Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has criticised the government for failing rural people on broadband.

Mr Farron, who is the MP for the South Lakes in Cumbria, said the average household speed in the area was just 10.9Mbps, compared to the national average of 17Mbps.

New figures from the consumer rights group Which? reveal that 1 in 4 people in Westmorland and Lonsdale have less than 4.0Mbps broadband connection.
Under the Government’s Universal Service Obligation, 10Mbps is the minimum speed that anyone in the UK would be entitled to request by 2020.

The Cumbrian MP has tabled two parliamentary questions to the government.
The questions seek to establish what progress is being made towards the Universal Service Obligation, and whether BT will face financial penalties if the targets are not met.

Mr Farron said: “The fact that one in four people in the South Lakes have a broadband connection of less than 4Mbps is frankly not good enough.
“Many small businesses in rural areas like ours are finding it impossible to function without adequate broadband. “The government’s Universal Service Obligation target of 10Mbps is nowhere near ambitious enough.”
Canada, which was a much larger and sparsely populated country than the UK, had a target of 50Mbps, said Mr Farron. “The government must put in place measures which penalise BT if they fail to meet the targets.”

A government representative is expected to respond to Mr Farron’s questions over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Commission has warned that urgent investment is needed in the UK’s broadband and mobile networks.
Increased broadband speeds could add £17bn to UK output by 2024, according to an NIC report.

The report says the UK’s digital economy is the largest of any G20 nation as a percentage of GDP.

But it warns that almost one in four rural premises lack a decent broadband service.

The UK lags behind other developed countries – such as the USA, Netherlands and Japan – for 4G and broadband speeds, it adds.”

Communications gaffe costs police equivalent of 7,800 jobs

“The £4 billion upgrade to emergency services communications is already years behind schedule, and there are growing concerns that critical elements of it cannot work.

Incredibly, the technology does not even exist to operate the new generation of radios in police helicopters, while hundreds of extra phone masts must be built before the network can be used in rural areas.

Police leaders fear these unresolved problems will push the start date for the Emergency Services Network (ESN) back again, leaving them with a huge bill for keeping the existing Airwave radio system switched on as they pay for the development of its replacement. …

… Earlier this year, the Home Office admitted the transition period would have to continue until September 2020, nine months after the expected ‘national shutdown date’ for Airwave.

But a key part of the Airwave infrastructure is due to stop working six months earlier in March 2020, in what MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee described as a ‘potentially catastrophic blow to the ability of our emergency services to carry out their job and keep citizens safe’.

A restricted document written for the National Police Chiefs Council this summer claims it would cost ‘£403 million or 7,800 constables’ if forces had to pay for an extra year of running Airwave.

Last night, the national police lead for the project, Deputy Chief Constable Richard Morris, said: ‘The Government has a contingency plan in place and has extended all Airwave contracts to December 31, 2019.’

The Home Office said: ‘Emergency services will only transition when they are satisfied with the new network.’ “