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Cross-party group of MPs prepares to declare war on poor broadband – again

Monday, July 24th 2017 by Dan Howdle

Following the first Big Infrastructure Group (BIG) report, titled ‘Broadbad’, which launched scathing criticism at BT, Openreach and the state of broadband in the UK, rumour is now afoot that a second report, provisionally titled ‘Broadbad 2.0’ is to launch soon.

The original BIG report, signed by some 90+ MPs, called on Ofcom and the government to force BT Openreach to split its ‘natural monopoly’ – a term used in the report to describe BT’s ownership of the Openreach network that supplies the majority of broadband connections to UK households.

The original report also detailed the speeds available to the various different parts of the UK and argued that poor speeds were common, for which it blamed “BT’s lack of ambition and under-investment”.

The report, however, was roundly criticised by industry experts, both on its first claim: That 5.7 million people aren’t getting the 10Mbps promised by 2020’s Universal Service Obligation (USO).

And on its second: That BT Openreach had wasted the £1.7bn of public money it was handed to reach 95% of UK households this year with superfast speeds – a target it is now almost certain to reach.

Since Broadbad was published in January of last year, BT has indeed been ordered to split from Openreach, though BT Group itself will still technically own it as its 100% shareholder. This has led BIG to aim Broadbad 2.0 squarely at the precise manner in which the two should separate.

Broadbad 2.0 claims that “BIG has found that as many as 6.7 million UK broadband connections may fail to receive speeds above the proposed minimum download speed of 10 megabits per second (Mb/s).

“However, the data recording these connections, produced by Ofcom, does not differentiate between those customers that have actively chosen not to take up superfast broadband, and those customers that are failing to receive the speeds they pay for.

“BIG therefore calls on Ofcom to urgently improve its data collection to create an accurate picture of the number of customers that qualify for broadband compensation.”

However, IT news website The Register, which has apparently seen the Broadband 2.0 report in advance, has pointed out some potentially embarrassing inaccuracies, including conflation between ‘superfast speeds’ and the proposed 10Mbs (USO), and a failure to properly recognise the difference between availability (where you can get it) and take-up (proportion who actually want it).

The full report will be made available to the wider press on Saturday 29 July.

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