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Anarchy in the BDUK? BT to build over wireless network in Worcester

Worcestershire County Council are planning to let BT build in an area already supplied with broadband by wireless ISP Airband. 

A community project funded with £700,000 of Worcestershire taxpayers’ money has seen Airband given the go-ahead to provide up to 50Mbps wireless broadband to those thought to be in the last 10 per cent of the county.

The remaining residents and businesses across Worcestershire will benefit from the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) project which will see BT connecting people to either FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) and FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) broadband. 

Anarchy in the BDUK? BT to build over wireless network in Worcester
Rural Worcestershire: A beacon for broadband discontent?

Read Recombu Digital’s guides to Rural Broadband and BDUKOn the surface it looks like there’s a problem. Worcestershire County Council is also planning on letting BT upgrade cabinets and lay cables in areas where 50Mbps radio signals are already beaming out to homes. 

An FAQ page posted by the Council on Facebook reveals that the areas served by Airband are not being removed from the ‘intervention area’, the rural areas where investment is required for BT to roll out broadband to those in the sticks. 

As Computer Weekly points out, this would contradict the EU’s rules on State Aid which say that public money for NGA (Next Generation Access) broadband can’t be spent where there is one or more provider. 

Next Generation Access: What is the criteria for superfast funding? 

The Council seem to think differently. A spokesperson said: “Worcestershire County Council’s Community Pathfinder projects and the county-wide broadband programme both comply with state aid requirements.

“As there were no commercial plans to provide a fibre broadband service in the community pathfinder areas, the county council followed appropriate guidance and the Pathfinder areas remain eligible for state aid for fibre coverage.”

The Pathfinder plans were set up earlier this year and resulted in Airband being given contracts to set up wireless networks covering 14 rural parishes. Under the rules for NGA areas, money has to be prioritised for rollout in areas where “download speeds of more than 30 Mbps are not available at affordable prices and there are no private sector plans to deliver such services in the next three years.”

By ‘affordable prices’, the government means installation costs of £100 or less and the cost of renting broadband is no higher than £25/month. 

Airband’s services can provide speeds of up to 50Mbps but the ISP admits that most people can expect to get 20Mbps. Given that it costs £150 to install equipment this falls outside what the goverment calls ‘affordable’. 

For this reason it looks like the Council is free to let BT go ahead and build in areas already served by Airbend.

When it comes to BDUK, local government head scratching seems to be catching. A superficially similar situation arose in Lancashire, after it had emerged the Council there planned to let BT connect Dolphinholme villagers to FTTP broadband, despite local have-a-go heroes B4RN telling the council months before that they planned to pipe gigabit fibre to the area.

Where is the last ten per cent? 

With BT connecting two thirds of the UK to its fibre-based superfast network with its own money, BDUK cash is being used to extend this to roughly 90 per cent of all premises across the country. 

The last ten per cent has been a subject of much debate between BT, smaller ‘altnet’ ISPs and various levels of government. Because the BDUK contracts mean that those not in line to receive fibre-based broadband from BT will get 2Mbps connections, there’s a demand for local councils to tell people where the last ten per cent will be. 

This way those facing the prospect of a coal-for-Christmas 2Mbps service can get a much faster service delivered by a company like Airband, in some cases years before BT will complete its work. 

Councils have come under pressure to reveal the locations of the last ten per cent, with DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) threatening to delay funding for extra broadband for those who don’t spill the beans. 

Image: Sunburn1979/Flickr

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