Coalface: July 2012

29 June 2012, CMA

Noses vs. faces?

So BT has halted its 'super-fast' broadband deployment in Kensington and Chelsea after the council deemed the necessary cabinets weren't in keeping with the look of the area.

The lucky denizens of London's premier residential area (outside of Poplar that is) were looking forward to all sorts of uplifting films, plays and Panoramas-online when their elected reps called a halt to any more of the 108 green cabinets that BT wanted to install on their streets. BT's response was in the best traditions of Coalface: 'The council said the cabinets weren't in keeping with the historic streetscape. Now they can have the historic broadband to match.'

Brilliant!

To add a touch of sauce to the dish, the council came up with this hope - half pious, half apologetic, half cock-eyed: 'We regret that BT are not proceeding with super-fast broadband in the Royal Borough but we expect other providers will want to offer super-fast broadband to our residents, in a very valuable market, without ruining our historic streetscape.'

Coalface is old enough to recall the uproar that followed the cable companies' programme of trench-diggery, 20 years ago. Come on, people - what'll upset you next? Mobile phone masts maybe? Amazon is doing a nice line in refurbished magneto exchanges at the moment. Or, if that's too much for you, queue at your local branch of Waitrose for your ration of parchment and quill pens.

'Genuine'?

'The European Commission has found a proposal by the United Kingdom to grant around €6 million of public financing for the construction of an ultra-fast broadband network in the city of Birmingham to be in line with EU state aid rules, in particular because it will be genuinely open to all operators and will therefore promote competition.'

Is Coalface alone in wondering about the mind-set that caused the word 'genuinely' to feature in that sentence? Is it because previous declarations of open-ness by suppliers and regulator in the past haven't been genuine? Surely not! Heaven forefend!

'The Commission's investigation found that the ultra-fast network of Birmingham was designed in a pro-competitive manner, exceeding in several respects the requirements of the EU Broadband Guidelines. In particular, open access will be granted for at least 25 years for alternative operators, whereas the guidelines require only seven years. Moreover, the network will be operated on a wholesale basis so as to ensure more competition at retail level. Finally, all possible wholesale access products will be offered to third party operators, including dark fibre, which is one of the most pro-competitive wholesale access products.

'The project is also fully in line with the requirements of the new draft Broadband Guidelines (published on 1 June for public consultation), in particular by offering significant enhanced technological characteristics as compared to existing networks (for instance symmetric speeds). There is expected demand for such qualitative improvements from numerous local SMEs active in the 'creative industry'. Moreover, the subsidised network will be operated as a wholesale only network.'

If all that's true - why is BT still proclaiming that there's no demand for high-speed access? Why isn't Ofcom calling them to account? Why isn't Virgin Media compelled to open its network to all comers? Why...oh, never mind. Coalface has bloody knuckles from beating on the door of DCMS policy-makers (all two of them by now, probably. Policy-makers, that is: not doors).

Cumbria? Where's that?

I can't help wondering if the heady mix of Leveson and the bloody battleground that seems to be BDUK is why Jeremy Hunt has suddenly and surprisingly decided to visit the B4RN project in Lancashire. A desire for hotpot? A bolthole from ill-intentioned journos (none of whom can be found beyond Watford Gap)? An undiscovered interest in altnet projects maybe?

(Local MP Eric Ollernshaw (a Tory) asked: 'I wonder whether Jeremy Hunt would be prepared to meet the Broadband for the Rural North community group in my constituency or visit the Lancashire uplands, taste the air there and see what extra we can do to maintain the momentum of this vital project.'

Jeremy Hunt responded: 'We would be delighted to provide support in any way we can, and certainly I or the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. friend Mr Vaizey, would be delighted to meet him and his constituents.'

Naturally, Mr Ollernshaw wasn't putting a planted question. Maybe he's keeping a seat warm, next to him on the back benches?

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