The telecoms regulator has today published its preliminary proposals as part of a major Strategic Review of the United Kingdom’s Digital Communications market, but the big news is they’ve decided NOT to completely split BT from its national broadband and phone network (Openreach). Openreach was setup a decade ago after Ofcom’s original review in 2005, which among other things forced BT to open part of their network to competition (“functional separation“) and introduced Local Loop Unbundling (i.e. allowing rival ISPs to install their own kit in BT’s telephone exchanges, giving them more control over ADSL broadband and phone). Since then the market has evolved and the new “fibre broadband” (FTTC) services don’t offer the same kind of control or price flexibility as the older LLU ADSL solutions. Meanwhile many of BT’s rivals feel as if the operator still has too much control over Openreach and aren’t investing enough in their infrastructure, which they claim has damaged competition and performance. By comparison BT say they’ve invested billions into the national infrastructure, are delivering a good level of service (i.e. meeting Ofcom’s targets) and claim that their rivals seek a free ride off the back of all their hard work. BT has also warned that splitting Openreach could damage their plans to invest in future “ultrafast” G.fast broadband upgrades and the 10Mbps USO (details). Furthermore there were also fears about the risk from a protracted legal battle, concerns over how BT’s huge pension deficit and group debt would be split and uncertainty over who would provide Openreach’s future investment. On the other hand BT’s rivals believe that an independent Openreach could have fostered investment into superior FTTH/P technology and made the market more open and fair for everybody. Ofcom’s job in all this was to navigate the maze of conflicting claims and [...]
The CEO of BT Group, Gavin Patterson, has made a final plea ahead of tomorrow’s Strategic Review outcome and informed the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona (Spain) that he would “significantly” increase investment (£1bn+) in order to further improve national broadband connectivity. Reports at the weekend suggested that Ofcom would not move to separate BT (here) from control of their national UK phone and broadband network (Openreach), although they might keep that option on the table. Never the less Patterson cannot afford to trust in leaks to the media, not least because BT will officially learn of its fate at the same time as everybody else.. tomorrow. Gavin Patterson said: “There’s a significant investment that we are ready to make now in the next generation of technology, more Fibre-to-the-Premise [FTTP], G.fast (and) Fibre-to-the-Cabinet [FTTC] … That’s a big decision, we are ready to make it if we get some regulatory certainty coming out of the Ofcom review. Openreach is the only national player and it is very heavily regulated. We believe having Openreach as a unit within the BT group is good for investment and for research and development, and insures you get a national service at competitive prices. If it’s ever separated, would you see the same investments being made? I very much doubt you would.” According to a related report on the FT, that “significant” investment would see BT spend £1 billion+on improving UK broadband connectivity. But the commitment lacks key information, such as whether or not this actually reflects an existing pledge or even if it has separated out Capex (capital expenditure) from Opex (operating expenditure). Readers may recall that BT made a big commitment last September towards improving national broadband connectivity (here) and the bulk of that is focused on their G.fast deployment. BT intends [...]
The UK telecoms regulatory will publish the outcome of their ‘Strategic Review of Digital Communications‘ on Thursday and unsurprisingly there have been some leaks, which appear to confirm our expectation that Ofcom will NOT move to split BT from control of its national phone and broadband network (Openreach). Instead Ofcom is expected to impose greater separation of Openreach from BT, which could involve giving rival ISPs more access to Openreach’s national network of cables and telephone exchanges (a highly likely outcome). Potentially Ofcom may also require BT’s network access division to have its own separate board, which the operator won’t be very happy about. However it’s understood that the regulator will opt to keep the option of full separation on the table, which could be used as a bargaining chip should BT move to aggressively oppose their new measures. A BT source told The Telegraph that this may yet result in separation: “It could get to the point of separation by the back door” (i.e. if the price of Ofcom’s new regulation feels too high to stomach). Naturally all of this is to be accompanied by a variety of other changes to market regulation, which will go well beyond the question of Openreach’s separation. We’ll find out more on Thursday.
BT to be separated from control of their national UK broadband and phone (Openreach) network, which the group suggests could “provide a market with a level playing field between all players.” At present Ofcom’s on-going Strategic Review of Digital Communications is said to be “seriously” considering the option of breaking up BT, which if appropriate would require the regulator to refer the operator to the Competition and Markets Authority(CMA). Politicians seem to be divided on the topic, with many supporting such a split (here) and others, such as Ed Vaizey (Digital Economy Minister), suggesting that it has “lots of potential to backfire” and existing “regulations have proved very effective” (here). Meanwhile BT contends that it has continued to meet Ofcom’s existing regulatory targets and that any attempt to split their business might tie the process up in legal battles. Questions also remain over how BT’s debt / pension pile might be apportioned in the event of a split, as well as the impact on consumer prices from all of the related changes (better services cost more money) and what kind of market model might be adopted in its place. BT has also warned that their plans to roll-out ultrafast (G.fast) broadband could suffer, but that may be a moot point if FTTH/P ends up becoming the favoured course. Equally there’s a risk that separating Openreach might harm investment in alternative network operators, since Openreach would perhaps be seen as the bigger target for investment. It also remains unclear whether smaller ISPs on Openreach’s network would be winners or losers in such a market. In to this seemingly endless debate steps the CPS, which believes that separation of BT may be the best long-term fix for the United Kingdom’s telecoms market. Daniel Mahoney, CPS Economic Bulletin, said: “The UK’s broadband infrastructure [...]
Instead of going on a charm offensive BT’s CEO, Gavin Patterson, appears to have taken a more confrontational approach by privately writing to every (650) elected UK Member of Parliament and highlighting how he felt that many of their recent claims against the operator were “inaccurate and misleading“. The reaction, which according to The Telegraph also delivers a point-by-point rebuttal of the recent “Broadbad Report” that was signed by 121 cross-party MPs, comes at a time when Ofcom are said to be “seriously” considering (here) the option of splitting BT from control of their national broadband and phone network (Openreach). BT’s CEO, Gavin Patterson, said: “Separation would be costly and divert time and funding away from investment in UK infrastructure, at a time when the UK is at a crucial stage of its development as a world-leading digital nation. Surely those impatient to see yet more homes and businesses get better broadband would rather that the money, time and effort went into the next stages of Superfast broadband, and then into Ultrafast?” In fairness the “Broadbad” report had plenty of big flaws, such as using out of date information for broadband coverage and failing to do a deeper analysis of its own claims, which is disappointing because it arguably missed a golden opportunity to highlight some very real failings and therefore risked damaging the credibility of its own message. Never the less the report did succeed in chiming in with all those politicians and people who, in a world where broadband is increasingly being seen as a vital utility service, simply expect an awful lot better from BT and its national service / network delivery business. Patterson’s letter also pointed to praise of its network from around the world and made specific mention of Australia, which recently highlighted Openreach as [...]
Residents, businesses and visitors to the most popular parts of central Leicester (e.g. the Clock Tower, Jubilee Square and outside the Richard III centre), which is a city in the East Midlands of England, will be pleased to learn that BT are planning to roll-out a free WiFi zone in the area. At present BT has only just begun their initial planning and survey work for the 10 year deal, with the new network expected to go live sometime during theSpring 2016. The deployment, which will utilise the existing CCTV network for capacity, won’t cost the council anything and may also be used to help improve local 4G mobile phone coverage. Rory Palmer, Deputy City Mayor, said: “We already have free wi-fi in our libraries and we know how popular wi-fi hotspots in city centre coffee shops and other venues are. We’d like to be able to extend this offer so that people can get online even more easily. Free wi-fi will also support our plans to promote economic growth in the city as well as being an essential infrastructure for a modern connected city.” BT has also made similar deployments in Cardiff, Gloucester, Glasgow, Nottingham and Newcastle etc.
Reports are coming in of sporadic problems with gaining access to BT’s websites and also an apparent nationwide fault affecting broadband connectivity on their network, which at the present time does not appear to be hitting TalkTalk or Sky Broadband’s unbundled lines. According to a status update from AAISP, “BT have a major problem at the moment and lines which log off are unable to log back in again. Our TalkTalkservices are unaffected, and lines which stay online are unaffected. This looks to be a country wide problem affecting many ISPs.” A large number of UK ISPs that use BT’s services (e.g. BTWholesale) appear to be affected by the issue, which began at around 2 – 3pm. Sorry if your are experiencing network problems. Engineers are on site now. We will keep you updated. — BT (@BTCare) February 2, 2016 The hashtag #BTDown on Twitter is starting to trend and the advice right now is that if you’re connected then don’t reboot your router as you may struggle to reconnect. UPDATE 3:52pm Apparently the problems are also extending to the systems that ISPs use to interface with BT via Openreach / Wholesale, such as diagnostic services. We also note that BT.com is working (partly), but their Service Status page for consumer broadband is not. It’s a very unusual problem. UPDATE 4:03pm Anybody expecting an Openreach engineer to visit today may see delays (more so than usual) because even BT’s engineers are being affected by some of the system outages. UPDATE 4:06pm Services that make use of Vodafone’s unbundled broadband lines are also unaffected by this problem, much like Sky and TT. UPDATE 4:16pm Some consumers who managed to reach BT’s customer support have been told that the ETA for a fix is around 4 hours, which suggests that they know [...]
The UK Government’s Minister for the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, will on Wednesday hold a “not-spot summit“, which will bring broadband ISPs, mobile operators, politicians, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and Countryside Alliance (CA) together in order to debate how best to close the remaining gaps in fast broadband coverage. At present the Government’s Broadband Delivery UKprogramme is already working to push superfast broadband (24Mbps+) capable connectivity out to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017/18 and BT expects that 96% may actually be delivered. But that still leaves 3-4% of premises left to wait for better connectivity, mostly in remote rural areas and a few urban pockets. The Government have already conducted a number of Market Test Pilots (MTP) in order to trial several alternative network approaches (e.g. fixed wireless access, fibre optic based and satellite etc.) and their £60m USC (2Mbps for all) subsidy for Satellite connections has also been expanded for use by at least one wireless provider (here). Never the less a coherent plan for closing the gap is still somewhat absent, but now might be the best time to debate this problem given. The Government are already consulting on a new approach to EU State Aid approval for future broadband contracts (here) and will shortly consult on proposals for a new 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO). Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, said: “I am pleased that the Government is listening to concerns from MP and other groups about the variations in broadband coverage in both urban and rural areas, and is hosting the ‘not-spot’ summit to look at ways to improve coverage for families and businesses across the country. I have no doubt that the range of internet providers and interested groups will provide for an interesting and productive discussion on what [...]
The cross-party Science and Technology Select Committee (House of Commons) has today warned that the Government’s controversial new Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) could cost significantly more than claimed and needs to be clearer about what it expects ISPs to actually do. The bill marks the third attempt by a Government to expand the United Kingdom’s existing telecoms snooping laws by forcing broadband ISPs into logging a bigger slice of everybody’s online activity and then keeping that log for up to 12 months, irrespective of whether or not you’ve committed a crime. On top of that the IPB would also make this data (ICR – Internet Connection Records) more easily accessible for law enforcement agencies through a complex “Request Filter” (not unlike a central database) and Police would not require a full warrant in order to gain access. But a warrant would still be needed for more targeted and detailed interception of an individual’s communications. More recently ISPs have also warned that the predicted costs of implementing the bill (upwards of£175m) are far too low (here) and that some of the measures could impose an effective ban on encrypted end-to-end communication services (not even the service provider can view these). A recent meeting between smaller ISPs and the Home Office also suggested that the Government didn’t yet have a full grasp of the technical challenges involved (here). Into this battle steps the Science and Technology Committee, which has today published the outcome from their inquiry into the IPB and echoed the above concerns. Nicola Blackwood MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “It is vital we get the balance right between protecting our security and the health of our economy. We need our security services to be able to do their job and prevent terrorism, but as legislators we need to be [...]
The Council of Europe has today issued a set of “network neutrality guidelines” that call for mobile and broadband providers to treat Internet traffic equally, without discrimination or restriction, and for member states (e.g. UK) to support this via the “development of national legal frameworks“. The new guidelines follow last year’s agreement to introduce a new Net Neutrality law, although this time around the language appears to be somewhat stricter. Never the less there are still some caveats, such as to allow Internet security services (anti-spam/virus filtering etc.), support websites blocked via court orders and for general traffic management measures (when needed to tackle network congestion). The Broadband Stakeholders Group, which manages the related Open Internet and Traffic Management Codes of Practice for UK providers, recently completed a review of its code and opted not to make any major changes. In fairness their voluntary code was already fairly similar to what Europe has proposed to implement. One potential conflict area could be with the UK Government’s drive to force network-level filtering (Parental Control) services on to Internet providers. So far most ISPs get around any Net Neutrality concerns on this front by offering adult content blocking as an optional service during sign-up, but not all of them take the same approach. Sky Broadband recently announced its intention to adopt a default-on approach to Internet filtering that would conflict with the new EU stance and the Government are even considering a law change in order to support this (here). Otherwise here’s a summary of the Council’s recommendation for a new net neutrality framework. EU Net Neutrality Guidelines (Framework Recommendation) 1. General principles 1.1. Internet users have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and impart information, by using services, applications and devices of their choice, in full compliance with Article 10 of the [...]