Matt Hancock talks more cock about UK broadband

SUMMARY:

The UK Minister for Digital is quick to take credit but not so keen on getting a grip on BT.

Matt Hancock

Quick quiz: How do you know a UK government minister is talking a load of cock? Answer: His mouth’s open and his lips are moving.

Earlier in the week I discovered to my dismay that not only had we gobbled up 40GB of data – our monthly allowance on Three’s otherwise excellent 4G HomeFi – but had blown past that to 72GB…in 9 days. How the heck that happened is a mystery to me and Three. Be that as it may, it’s nice for Three as they suck an extra £52 from our bank in overages plus an extra £20 for an additional 10GB that might get me past this story. And no, the 100GB allowance isn’t available in my postal district. But – whooppee – I can get unlimited broadband at the download snail’s pace of 3-8MBpS if I can wait through 17th November for an engineer to turn up and wire the place with copper. OK – so we live on the edge of a large town and have the ‘benefit’ of rural living. When I recounted this tale of woe to my colleague Stuart Lauchlan his answer: “Welcome to my world.”

So imagine my surprise when a missive from UK Minister for Digital  Matt Hancock digitally floated past my screen, lauding the many areas of broadband progress for which the UK government wants to take credit. I say surprise when I really mean disgust at a government that has little clue about technology in the first place and which refuses to provide Ofcom with the powers it needs to whack the likes of BT, Virgin Media et al over the head with a clue stick.

I’ll get to Hancock’s nonsense in a moment but while we’re speaking about BT, it’s a timely reminder of Stuart’s polemic back in May when he said:

For weasel words, the very use of the word ‘aspiration’ in relation to BT’s leadership role in enabling Digital Britain is a disgrace of national proportions that any self-respecting Digital Minister in the next government would deal with as a top priority.

But he or she won’t. Successive UK governments just haven’t had the willpower to face down BT, having handed over the network infrastructure crown jewels all those years ago at privatisation. The next one will be no different.

And Ofcom, despite occasional flurries of boldness, won’t make a difference either.

The very fact that BT execs are currently going out of their way to praise the recent Openreach fudge brokered with Ofcom and the government should make it perfectly clear who’s in the driving seat here.

So post-Brexit Britain will trundle along in the digital slow lane, hostage to the fiscal self-interest of BT. That’s no comfort to  anyone concerned about the future of the digital economy or for those of us struggling to get a broadband connection that breaks 2 MBpS in a major city centre.

As for BT’s digital vision? That’s what I call talking out of your aspirations.

What’s miraculously changed? According to Hancock a great deal. Such as:

We have announced that up to £645 million is to be made available to help take superfast broadband coverage to 98 per cent of the nation over the next few years.

In total we are investing £1.1 billion in our digital infrastructure to support the next generation of fast and reliable mobile and broadband communications for consumers and businesses.

And to support businesses we are introducing 100% business rates relief for operators who install new fibre on their networks.

Superfast broadband is also now available to over 94% of premises, on the way to hitting our target of 95% by the end of the year, and on mobile, the MNOs are legally obliged to reaching ninety per cent geographic coverage by December. 4G coverage continues to rise sharply.

The Connectivity Index also predicts that, as these amazing digital technologies advance, our advantage will drive future economic growth. That’s one economic forecast I am prepared to make.

Oh wow – that’s amazeballs isn’t it? It gets better and, contrary to Stuart’s words, Hancock is prepared to go toe to toe with BT:

On the USO (Universal Service Obligation), we have published our consultation on the regulatory option and will be responding to the consultation shortly.

We are also considering the offer put forward by BT to deliver the USO. We welcome their proposal, and we are considering both options on the table, but unless BT can convince us they will deliver universal coverage by 2020 we will have no option but to go down the regulatory route.

We are determined to deliver high speed broadband to all by 2020.

Do you believe that? And 10MBpS as the low (or is it high?) watermark?

I’m old enough to remember 28K and the time it took to download a 500K file. In today’s world, 10MBpS is almost next to useless and feels like those 28K connections. I could get better than 10MBpS in rural Spain five years ago. But then I guess I’ve been spoiled the last couple of years with synchronous speeds of 100MBpS, the promise of 200MBpS and same day provisioning in metro San Diego.

In none of Hancock’s self congratulatory prose is there a mention of synchronous speeds. What Hancock doesn’t understand is that good upload speeds are vital for business. Hefting ever larger files, images and electronic documents isn’t going away any time soon so without high uplinks, it won’t make a jot of difference.

What’s his answer? Fibre of course. But that brings its own challenges.

In May 2017 the Broadband Stakeholder Group published its report ‘Tackling Barriers to Telecoms Deployment’. This looked at the factors slowing down the rollout of UK Broadband, including local authority planning and the business rates regime for fibre.

As a direct response to this excellent report, our Barrier Busting Taskforce aims to reduce the costs of street-works, liberalising planning, to simplify wayleave agreements and tackle every and any barrier to rollout. We will systematically examine every issues flagged in the report, and then working with local bodies to identify solutions or to implement best practice. We are working with local authorities to standardise their approach and reduce bureaucracy, and we’re prepared to change regulations if needed, on planning, transport, and wayleave rules if we need to. We want to hear from you about the practical barriers to deployment.

Nice talk but what of the reality on the ground? In mid-2016 and amid much flourish, Virgin Media announced they were rolling out fibre to our neck of the woods for the end of 2016. It never happened. Earlier this year they conducted a ‘show and tell’ at the local village hall, saying we’d all be wired up by Christmas 2017. Except that’s highly unlikely because large parts of our street are Grade 2 listed buildings. And Virgin say they won’t touch those with the proverbial barge pole unless they see appropriate planning permission. Which in itself is a load of cock as it’s not strictly required for the box on the wall. Be that as it may…

Nowhere in Hancock’s missive do I find anything concrete other than pouring money down the digital drain and an expectation that in some magical way, UK business is going to make it happen. WTAF is this guy on? Check this for taking zero responsibility:

We all want people to stop badgering us about their broadband. And I want to ensure they don’t have to badger us ever again, whether they are up in space or down here on earth.

We have set these goals. We’ve hired some brilliant people to deliver them. We are clear-eyed in our ambition.

But we can’t do it without you.

We can get the ball rolling. We can set the framework.

But it is you, the businesses of Britain, who are going to deliver the connectivity people crave.

So take this moment. Rise to the challenge. And together we will give Britain what it needs to be fit for the future.

Get your flags out boys and girls, Hancock’s got yer back. Or has he? Check this on BT:

While I welcome the work Openreach are doing to reposition themselves, I am concerned at the speed BT Group are moving in formally implementing the agreed split. Unless we make significant progress very soon we will have to talk to Ofcom about what would be needed to make this happen.

Doesn’t he know the answer to BT’s flanneling around? How about this for starters: impose a fibre tax on BT equivalent to the amount it blew on an Italian scandal, and passing that direct to those who will get their digital skates on. And keep doing it until BT takes action. It can’t be that hard. Can it?

In the meantime, I’m off to the local library a mere 20 minutes away, where I’m told I can use their wifi for free.

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