As many of you will know, I have been following the BDUK process closely over the past few months and things in recent weeks have been hotting up.
You see, both citizens and businesses were starting to get antsy with the government and local councils for keeping schtum as to which areas would be benefiting from the state funded broadband roll-out and which wouldn't.
On top of that, smaller ISPs waiting to vie for the contracts to serve the unlucky percentage not covered by BDUK were fuming at BT for keeping locations hidden and stifling their plans to deploy their own networks.
But a meeting with the public affairs select committee in July blew the stalemate wide open when Sean Williams, group director of strategy, policy and portfolio at BT, put his foot in it and said his company has no issue with the location details being released.
The department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) followed this up with a letter from its minister, Maria Miller, to local councils urging them to publish details as soon as possible for the good of everyone.
In addition, both the DCMS and BT confirmed every council which had signed a contract on the BDUK framework had a list of postcodes confirming the areas which would be part of the roll-out.
Yet, the local councils were still hiding in their town halls and not publishing this key data.
So, we knew they had the data, we knew the main parties associated were fine with it being published and we knew whatever the DCMS or BT said, local councils would continue to drag their heels.
I decided it was time to chase them and get the details myself and as a result you may have seen the article we have been updating, both as councils come back to us with their responses and as new contracts get signed.
I wanted to write a blog and update you on my progress. The quest - and seriously, it has become one - is far from over but the way I have been dealt with has been quite eye opening.
There were no sneaky tactics used on this side when trying to get the information. A simple email was sent to the appropriate person pointing to what was said in the PAC committee and Maria Miller's letter and asking for a copy of the postcode data.
If this was declined, a follow up email was sent, again referring to the government and private sector stance on it and pointing out that it was in the public interest to do so.
If declined again, an FOI request was put in.
It has been three weeks and the responses we have received, or not received, have been varied and on the whole disappointing.
- Nine of the councils haven't even deemed my continued emails worthy of replying to
- Four councils told us they were still concerned about contractual obligations to BT which deem the information commercially sensitive
- Some still claim they haven't completed surveys of where broadband will go, despite signing the contracts
- And others have just been rude...
A lot of the replies I received said they were concerned the plans would change, meaning they would get in trouble for leading people up the garden path. But, as I said to these councils, if that caveat is included, there is still no reason not to publish the postcode data.
Credit to some of the councils, like Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, which has published both a map and postcode checker with where the projects will reach. But even they didn't give us the list of postcodes.
Today's response took the biscuit though. After trying to negotiate the list out of Staffordshire County Council, I sent an FOI request as I knew they had the information and there was no argument it wouldn't be in the public interest to release it.
The response? My FOI was denied under section 22 as the information was intended for future publication. Basically, a middle finger up at me saying we will publish it when we damn well choose.
Dear God/Allah/Buddha/Dawkins, why are these lists so closely guarded? Is BT still pulling the strings behind closed doors or are local councils just that badly organised they can't remember where they put them? Both are viable options from my experience...
But, the ludicrous nature of these flippant responses has only made me more determined and I have been given a nod to a new tactic that may help. Regardless, I will carry on pushing until we get all of these councils to publish their data.
If you have any information that could help, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.