BT to give fibre to the premises in Dolphinholme (Lancashire) but not fibre to the cabinet to Smithfield (London EC1)

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In whose interest is it for BT to offer a short order, fibre solution to the premises solution to a community in rural Lancashire (I have had a geography lesson since I first posted this entry) that is too remote for fibre to the cabinet, in order to match the timescale offered by a local community start-up, but not to upgrade its services to small firms in parts of Central London where it currently has an infrastructure monopoly?

I have received some interesting feed-back since I blogged on the apparent BT policy of not enabling fibre to the cabinet for exchanges which are mainly used by business in order to avoaid cannibalising its leased line business. One input was from a small firm which had tried to complain to the Office of Fair Trade, but been told the OFT had delegated competition issues with regard to telecoms to Ofcom. When they contacted Ofcom they were asked to submit a formal complaint. As an individual small firm they had neither the time nor funds to do so. They also feared retaliatory action. (You will note from the links in my previous blog that Ofcom has formally deregulated some of the exchanges affected so one can imagine the reluctance to act unless forced)

That raises the interesting question of who could/should collate the evidence necessary to sustain a formal complaint to Ofcom. In the case of the Smithfield area, the meat traders, and others, might ask their Common Councilmen whether the Corporation might care to do so. The jewellers of Hatton Garden, on the other side of the River Fleet, might similarly approach the Mayor of London, if Camden Council does not help. 

Alternatively both groups might be more imaginative and ask whether London (City or Greater) has considered a Stokab solution as part of its planning process. I remember visiting with a Parliamentary group when the Swedes were originally planning a shared dark fibre network to avoid the chaos that would be caused by alternative network providers digging up the bridges and causeways that link the archipelago that is central Stockholm. The recent evaluations of what has happened since show a massive benefits and a phenomenal rate of return on investment.I had never realised that the total public sector "investment" was only 50,000 krona for the original study. Stokab was a public interest partnership funded almost entirely with a mix of soft loans and conventional bank loans, underwritten by service contracts from a wide variety of customers, public and private sectors, plus additional revenue plough back as the services came on stream and usage began to soar. No wonder Google is seeking to help publicise the lessons.   

What is really interesting is how the incumbent telco also benefited from Stokab.

Given that the new BT management team is committed to a quadruple play strategy and is about to face serious competition from Vodafone - O2, EE, Liberty - Virgin, the Macquarrie Siblings (Arqiva, Airwave, City Fibre et al) at the same time as it has embarked on a price and content war with Sky, its shareholders (including me !!!) might well benefit from a similar switch from opposition to enthusiasm over co-operation in new infrastructure build for CIty centres. BT would certainly make a better, safer, return from the expansion in traffic that would result from businesses replacing their leased copper with fibre to the premises after fibre to the cabinet has not only whetted their appetites but given them the added business revenues to fund the next stage.

Conversely, BT content ambitions will also take a hit when Dublin leapfrogs London (let alone Bristol) with the provision of ubiquitous fibre to the premises. The cost to BT, as well as to the UK economy as a whole, would be very serious were our multi-media complexes, currently struggling with expensive and slow copper lines and exorbitant business rates in Shoreditch (for example), to emigrate en mass to a congenial cultural centre with cheap fibre and low taxes. 

This brings me back to the original question of why BT is playing hard ball with "competitors" like B4RN (where I am also a shareholder - my younger brother was Assistant RCC Countryside Officer for Cumbria before he died of cancer, having been out on the fells the night the fall-out from Chernobyl came down). Why is BT not adopting a co-operative approach towards servicing  communities that are also supposedly "uneconomic", albeit for very different reasons, there are no leased line revenues to canibalise?

I suspect that the reason is more to do with the adversarial culture fostered by those who believe that co-operation is evidence of a cartel, than with any rational commercial self-interest. That does not make the answers any easier  - but it may help explain why the questions are so difficult.
  
For the context of the BT offer to Dolphinholme (which I suspect may be used as evidence to the Public Accounts Committee meeting next week) see the e-mail below, which I have been given permission to reproduce.   

I thought you might be interested in an update on how BT is behaving around the B4RN patch.

We are busy digging towards a village called Dolphinholme (included in our list of postcodes for B4RN build out which RCBF/BT and LCC have had for a very long time). As we are getting close interest has climbed and some villagers held a meeting to see how to progress things into the village and the distribution around it.

One inhabitant of the village  is very pro BT and went back to Lancashire County Council to ask for an update on where the Lancashire County Council SFBB project was in relationship to Dolphinholme.

LCC wrote back saying they were going to deliver SFBB soon and there was no need for them to support B4RN, the villager then emailed everyone saying B4RN wasn't needed as BT were going to do it.

I responded saying the patch was in the B4RN build out and we thought we had an agreement that LCC's build out wouldn't overbuild us. Also that because the village was a long way from the exchange and there was no PCP then FTTC would not deliver true NGA broadband to the village.

This was apparently fed back to LCC/BT (see snippet 1/ below) and triggered what appears to be a general letter about to go out to residents, see snippet 2/ below


 

1/

In view of Barry Forde's comments, I wrote and subsequently spoke to Andrew Halliwell, Assistant Director at the Lancashire CC, overseeing the roll out scheme throughout Lancashire, and he has assured me the roll out to Dolphinholme is still on schedule to arrive sometime between September and December, 2013.  In order to allay any scepticism, Andrew Halliwell  has agreed to give us written assurances and I will notify you upon receipt of same.  

2/

Dear <resident>,

Due to the distance from the exchange BT will use FTTP technology in order to ensure that you and your residents in Dolphinholme get the best possible service.

This means that the cabinet location will not effect the installation of fibre into Dolphinholme as this will be fed direct from the exchange to the homes and business's.  

This is excellent news for you and your residents and I will look forward to keeping you upto date with the latest plans!

With Kind Regards

Judith Brown

Superfast Lancashire Programme Control Manager


So what do we make of the fact that BT are choosing to roll out an FTTP deployment, focused entirely within the B4RN footprint targeting the core of a village we are digging into?

Also that they can find the resources to do this between September and December, before any other bits of the county are done but coincidentally matching the time frame for our service build and go live dates . I've not got any data on which properties they are targeting but wouldn't be surprised to find it's just the easy to service core of the village and that all the surrounding isolated properties are excluded unlike our project that is 100% inclusive.

Have you ever come across a more blatant bit of evidence of anti-competitive behaviour?

 

Regards

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27 Comments

I wonder if the resident managed to get written assurance from LCC? I very much doubt it, as many who have asked have only got the written blurb that '97%' will get 'superfast'. It will be interesting to see. Its a shame that people are being misled in this way, the same thing happened in 2003 when BT assured the country that everyone would get 'broadband'. The definition of broadband then was 2Mbps. That changed to 'connected to a broadband enabled exchange' and we found many in this area of Lancashire couldn't even get dial up. B4RN was set up to rectify this.

BT have had a decade to deliver a connection to us. Its amazing how they can manage to do it just as the community figures out a way to do it themselves? This proves the point that competition is needed in this country if we are ever going to get connectivity to everyone.

Handing public money over to a single company who already has infrastructure is not the solution, as they will try to keep the old copper working for as long as they can instead of building out new fibre.

Those of us with long memories can see history repeating itself as policy makers take the easy way out instead of supporting new businesses and looking after the rural people.

I can't see LCC spending many hundreds of thousands of pounds to fibre up the farms and SMEs in Dolphinhome. What I can see them doing is offering their FOD (fibre on demand) product, (which we all know will include massive excess construction charges) which means people will have to dig it themselves, get free wayleaves, then hand it over to BT. Its called 'build and benefit BT'. It is similar to B4RN in some ways but it only benefits BT and not the community, whereas anyone digging for B4RN gets shares in the business and all profits are returned to the community under the cooperative model. Build and Benefit BT will also cost a lot more, and not deliver the same gigabit service. BaBBT is £50 a month for 300Mbps but B4RN is £30 a month for a gigabit symmetrical uncontended.

Just my humble opinion but felt I had to comment as its local...

B4RN's service is not uncontended, for the record.

One would think that the presence of one operator intending to offer service would bar the use of public money to subsidise investment by BT - wasn't hat the whole point of the White/Grey/Black mapping ?

"we thought we had an agreement that LCC's build out wouldn't overbuild us

That's anticompetitive, according to Article 101 of the EU Treaty http://ec.europa.eu/competition/antitrust/overview_en.html

"agreements between two or more independent market operators which restrict competition are prohibited by Article 101 of the Treaty. This provision covers both horizontal agreements (between actual or potential competitors operating at the same level of the supply chain)........."

light reading...
http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/10/01/outsourcing-and-democracy-the-liverpool-direct-scandal/
we have lost our cleo to OneConnect already. the schools are leaving in droves. dunno if it adds to the case or detracts. staff resigning, bt asset stripping?

Each customer has their own wavelength of a gig straight to peering, its not gpon Phil.

LCC and BT have had our maps for months, they know which area we are operating in, and BT stood there on prime time tv and said they couldn't do it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MiN35JcPBg

We still await their maps, they just say they can do 97% but don't say where it is. It seems its in all the urban areas except for business areas. Strange why those are 'uneconomical'. Strange why a little village like Dolphinholme can be fibred all of a sudden. Funny old world. Proves competition is what is needed in this country.

The agreement referred to isn't between "independent market operators" but between an independent operator (B4RN) and the local government, in order to prevent unfair competition by state subsidy (of BT) pursuant to Article 107 of the treaty, et al.

i.e. it is alleged that the local government agreed that subsidising BT to build in the village of Dolphinholme would be in contravention of state aid rules as it would distort the market for B4RN's intended (and demonstrated) commercial offering.

IP costs around £1/Mbps/month at major UK peering centres.

1Gbps uncontended = £1024 per month yet B4RN charges £30 per month?

Chris said that each customer has their own dedicated wavelength which gives 1Gbps uncontended "straight to peering". The contention which happens at the peering point is a separate matter, but easier to monitor, and more importantly to upgrade as usage and/or costs change.

If you have contention to that peering point, then it is much harder to increase performance without expensive upgrades. If 1Gbps peering is proving insufficient, add another 1Gbps, or 10Gbps as required. The point is that increasing the peering capacity can be done simply.

Alternatively, if I require the capacity, I can pay B4RN £30/month for transit and use my own peering agreement on top for dedicated 1Gbps.

Guy,

"Uncontended" refers to the access network.

B4RN connections give each subscriber their own fibre pair to the B4RN hub. This is not the same as shared access technologies like those used by Wireless, Cable TV or GPON FTTH networks where a single link {wavelength,cable,fibre} is shared by multiple users and they "contend" with each other for bandwidth in the "first mile".

Of course the Internet as a whole is "contended" - but your choice of measuring contention at a transit point is purely arbitrary. I would have thought B4RN will also be using private interconnects and peering as well as hosting CDN nodes on-net.

The first mile is the part the ISP has least control over once installed. If any other part of the ISP's network is slow it can be fixed incrementally (more transit, peering, backbone links or faster routers), but getting the first mile right at the outset is critical to ensure the investment in the network is going to last.

What terminology would you suggest would encapsulate the benefit of a dedicated fibre link to the ISP's backbone, as opposed to a shared link, in one word or catchy phrase, since you're unhappy with "Uncontended"?

It appears there is a PCP serving Dolphinholme, as both the pub and the village school give the same feedback on the line checker -

"Telephone Number 01524791233 on Exchange FORTON is served by Cabinet 2". Inconvenient fact perhaps. Maybe it's a long way off ??

The 1 Gig is not dedicated all the way to peering, just to the hub ? From memory the business plan said peering was 2 * 10 G so you can only have 20 uncontended 1 G links on that. Corrections welcome.

Contention ratio = capacity sold divided by bottleneck capacity.

I understand that just like FTTC or ADSL access network is uncontended to the DSLAM the same applies to B4RN, but the service is contended when you assess the connection from the end user to the internet or even on the trunk connection to the peering point.

Indeed the State Aid position is clear. No "agreement" is necessary if B4RN have notified LCC via the open market consultation of a planned NGA build in an area then that area would not be "white" for NGA State Aid purposes. Did that happen ?

BT would of course be at liberty to supply services on a commercial basis if a customer in Dolphinholme enquired, but neither B4RN nor BT should receive funding if one of them (or any other operator) said they were covering an area commercially.

Exactly Phil, which is why it is puzzling that B4RN now seem to be chasing RCBF handouts?

Agreed Joel, the point I was making is that 1Gbps of IP transit/peering costs around £1000 per month, not £30.

For sure each B4RN customer can reach the peering point uncontended (presumably using DWDM kit) however what use is that on its own?

Rob,

you are absolutely right re getting the first mile fixed access built in a future-proof manner ie p2p FTTH.

It is of little use to customers though if that super speedy connection takes them to a peering point in eg Telecity Manchester then goes no further, is it?

ie what people are buying is internet access and to have 1Gbps uncontended (aka CIR Committed Information Rate) costs around £1000 per month not £30

I don't believe they are providing a DWDM wavelength to the peering point. There are 10 GigE switches in villages etc and also at the peering end in the Business Plan description of the network.

I'm not au fait with current DWDM kit but it doesn't sound likely that they would be using a few hundred wavelengths to me. It would be excessive over-engineering at this stage, and consequently wastefully expensive.

I estimate the contention at 30:1 for 300 connected 1 Gig customers with a 10 Gig internet peering link or switch, increasing as customers are added. That fits with Guy's uncontended £1000/month quite nicely.

But a lot of transit is billed at the 95th percentile - you only really need the CIR when you have an awful lot of traffic. It is very hard to flood 100Mbps at 95th percentile, never mind 1Gbps.

Also, if the likes of Akamai put an edge node on the B4RN network, then the uncontended 1Gbps to peering becomes very relevant, as that will deal with most streaming video on the web, which takes out a lot of potential traffic from having to transit your peering link.

I don't understand your persistence in trying to rubbish the network that B4RN are building (I assume you work for a major Telco).
B4RN are building a true fibre network (simplex to the home before we argue about that!), what they are putting in the ground will be fit for purpose and still current for decades. The transmission technology will get faster and cheaper meaning all B4RN needs to do is make a simple upgrade of equipment.
As anyone knows building out the physical infrastructure is the expensive part.
BT on the other hand is trying to push a imperfect medium in the guise of FTTC and conning customers delivering PON fibre to the home and advertising it as true fibre. This approach means that the next step increment in speed (they are already investigating FTTDP) will require the government to get their cheque book out again to build a whole new infrastructure costing billions of pounds.
The truth is B4RN are so far ahead of the curve in terms of what they are delivering most home PC's cannot come close to straining it. Also being this far ahead means it will take a while for the rest of industry to catch up.

As for all your comments about contention at the peering point you obviously do not understand how a proper ISP operates as Chris says increasing capacity at the peering points is easy and unlikely they will have to for some time.

when you look above you see the dangers of tax payers funding community projects. Sadly you need more than just effort.

To claim that B4RN is uncontended is ridiculous. That everyone has a wavelength to peering is even more ridiculous, and even if true (!) means nothing about the actual Internet connectivity.

If every single customer than B4RN provides service to now or in the future was to try and download at the same time, you'd see the reality of what the service actually is, sure it'll still be fast but it won't be uncontended and you won't get 1G.

Many people criticise the industry for up to speeds but to then be hypocritical about their own service - it shows the lack of capability that if public money was invested in such schemes it would be flushed down the toilet. If communities want to build their own, with their own money then I wish them well.

We talk about altnet's - who are these organisations? what track record do they have? look at yorkshire, they are not the only example.

As a tax payer - No thanks. As an Internet Evangelist - No thanks.

Companies with strong track records need only apply. We wouldn't let electricians administer drugs to the sick, or taxi drivers arrest criminals.

Where are the other broadband providers? It would be great to see the others building infrastructure - you have to ask yourself why they aren't?

Neil.
(yes I work for BT which must make me evil and green in colour but I speak for myself - someone who pioneered Internet Access in this country over twenty years ago and has worked across many organisations as employee and volunteer to make the Internet better and better every day).

My problem with the term "contended" is that it is a reference to an outdated business model where subscribers to a service were passive consumers of paid content, where money travels in one direction and service in the other. Think pay-TV or even telephone service. The Internet changes this.

Those old style companies want to maintain their traditional business model so they steer the debate using loaded phrases. They imply that Internet means "downloading" from servers they host or control. They implement asymmetric access speeds so that their "consumers" are primed to "download" the content they choose to sell them. They promote NAT to avoid giving their customers useable IP connectivity. They block ports to stop people running servers and proxies to interfere with the IP end-to-end model.

In the "proper" Internet every connected site is a peer, and anyone can be a content provider. If someone in the B4RN footprint publishes some content on their connection, any other B4RN subscriber can access this at full speed. 1Gbps UNCONTENDED if you like i.e. they're not competing with people downloading unrelated content from elsewhere.

It's simply not the case that all traffic has to travel through some contended bottleneck (transit or exchange point) like a traditional ISP (or "BT reseller" as you might call the majority of them)

So can we stop talking about contention at all? Clearly B4RN is installing state-of-the-art connectivity (unlike the incumbent) and we should be celebrating this, and asking why we can't do this nationwide, not sniping and picking at words.

While I don't like discussion of contention, the use of "uncontended" throughout the telecoms industry generally refers to the network edge (and to a lesser extent the ISP's own core network), not the peering points, which as Neil says cannot be uncontended once you have a sizeable number of subscribers and even if it could be, it wouldn't be cost effective to do so).

Given this, B4RN are using this terminology in the same way as other ISPs up and down the country. Whether it should be a utilised term is another thing, but unfortunately once one company uses it, everyone else feels the need to use it to "keep up". (The same as everyone calling FTTC "fibre broadband", it gets on my wick. It's no more fibre broadband than ADSL was (in that both are backhauled by fibre from the DSLAM), but already lots of other companies other than BT have been forced to say the same thing when marketing).

Cheers,
Rob

I am not rubbishing anything, merely trying to ensure that we discuss what it actually is. I find discussion is usually better when based on facts:-

B4RN does not provide customers with a single wavelength to the peering point, unless the business plan is wrong. The number of wavelengths that are said to be in use is well below the number of customers. So Joel's otherwise valid points are based on a false premise. B4RN could provide a single wavelength all the way to peering no doubt, but isn't. "From our core node B4RN has leased a fibre optic cable to Telecity in Manchester, 128Km away. This fibre cable utilises DWDM technology to support up to 32 wavelengths"

B4RN customers traffic passes through 10 GigE switches I believe. "These links will initially operate at 10GbE speeds". So in the terminology in general use for retail internet access it is a contended service in that all of the customers cannot achieve their rated service speed simultaneously. 50 * 1 Gig customers on a 10 Gig link is 5:1 contention.

Factual corrections welcome. You can keep your Ad Hominems to yourself.

"So can we stop talking about contention at all?"

as Basil Fawlty would say - well you started it (Chris did, actually). LOL.

Contention isn't a problem, Talk Talk's customer base are in the range 40 to 100:1 and you don't hear protestations about it.

GFor comparison, Gigaclear costs £69/month for Home 1000 or £37/month for Home 50 (also fibre to the home and symmetrical) http://www.gigaclear.com/home-use/

They are struggling to attract sufficient signups in some areas, perhaps the folks with £22/month TalkTalk ADSL & phone are resisting or something.

Gigaclear's business prices are £59 for 50/50 contended rising to £499 for 1000/1000

Uncontended Enterprise 50/50 is £299/month.

OK so you can't talk about anything but "contention."

How are you happy that Gigaclear can have an Internet access product called "uncontended" but B4RN can't? You're not making sense.

Why do you think 50 B4RN subscribers are channeled down a 10Gbps link before they can communicate with each other? This is the way BT would design it, but not how a modern community network works. Communication between subscribers doesn't use any trunk bandwidth.

Or to use another phrase, it's "UNCONTENDED"

Now please can we move on?

This article was about shaming BT for fighting against independant rural broadband networks (whilst claiming they're not able to supply service in rural areas) and at the same time, holding back roll-out of new technology in urban areas where it might cannibalise their more-profitable legacy products. Both of which might be seen as an abuse of their (de facto) monopoly position.

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