A lot of people are asking questions about what BT is actually going to deliver from its £2.5bn programme to fibre up its street cabinets to provide “superfast broadband” for all within the two-thirds of the country where BT says it is economical to lay fibre.
In response, BT said, “Openreach averages 85% coverage of homes and businesses within an enabled exchange area.
“The economics of deployment dictate that the cabinets serving the largest number of homes and businesses are most likely to be enabled, though the costs involved in enabling each cabinet are also very important. However, the 40-50% figure quoted [in the reports] is inaccurate – on average, well over 70% of cabinets within an exchange area are enabled.”
That 85% average still leaves 15% of the homes and businesses in a fibred area without access to the service BT is rolling out. Add to that the one-third of homes and businesses that lie outside BT’s currently planned fibre footprint, and the numbers could be interpreted to mean that nearly 50% of UK premises might see no immediate benefit from BT’s investment.[Editor’s note: see below]
BT, of course, works for its shareholders, while Openreach, the division that builds its physical network, is regulated by Ofcom because it has “significant market power” (ie a virtual monopoly) over two-thirds of the land area of the UK.
Unfortunately BT does not publish which cabinets it will upgrade or when – it only publishes the schedule for exchanges. Anyone who wants to buy a house or open an office in a fibred exchange area can’t be sure if they’ll be able to get even “up to 40Mbps”. It also means that residents find it hard to attract alternative fibre suppliers. No alternative network operator wants to risk competing with BT, which can amortise its costs across the entire nation, in an area where BT already finds it hard to make money.
The net result is that a large chunk of the population could struggle to get access to the superfast broadband supplier of their choice. Is that what the government intends with its broadband strategy?
[Editor’s note: This blog was amended from its original version after BT’s clarification published as a comment below. BT has pointed out that it is not the case that the 15% and 33% figures are mutually exclusive and we are happy to make such a correction – but acknowledging also that there remains confusion in areas of the market about the detail behind some of these figures].