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£600m of funding to deliver Scotlands R100 superfast broadband target

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How the FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules Could Affect Everybody

The days of gap funding were looking to be drawing to a close with Westminster favouring voucher schemes for its full fibre push, but Scotland has stuck with a gap funding model to deliver its R100 project which it is describing as the first universal superfast broadband programme that has been launched.

£600 million of funding which has been announced as part of the Scottish Government’s 2018-19 draft budget has effectively pushed the R100 onto the procurement track and hopefully contracts will be signed late in 2018. The £600m is actually four years of £150m running until March 2022, and this tells us that the deadline for universal nature of R100 is 31st December 2021, which may differ to what some think when they see the words ‘by 2021’, but then this is a universal trick of programmes.

This is the biggest public investment ever made in a UK broadband project. It is a truly transformative moment for our broadband infrastructure and a statement of our intent to make Scotland a world-class digital nation.

Fast and reliable internet connection is vital for the economic and social wellbeing of all communities. This ambitious investment – which is more than three times what the UK Government is putting towards their own fibre broadband rollout – will revitalise the prospects of rural areas right across Scotland.

Building on the success of the Digital Scotland programme, we will deliver a future-proofed, national fibre network that will place rural Scotland among the best connected places anywhere in Europe.

I am confident that the scale of our investment, and of our ambition, will attract interest from a wide range of telecoms suppliers across the UK and Europe.

Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing

There has been some banter back and forth between Holyrood and Westminster of late, so it is part of our piggy in the middle role to point that the UK Government fibre broadband roll-out figure we believe is being talked about if the £200m LFFN but that has a different goal which is full fibre even if it means overlapping with existing superfast partial fibre networks.

For those not aware of the importance of the choice of wording, the reaching of 95% fibre broadband coverage by the end of the year for Scotland in reality means access to a 15 Mbps or faster broadband connection and as the existing Scottish project is running at the 30 Mbps and faster definition then 95% at the superfast milestone is going to be later, the official word is that 95% superfast is expected in March 2018 and we think they may hit by 31st March in terms of what providers tell them has been delivered with our verification once we have spotted the live infrastructure 3 to 4 weeks later.

Importantly in Scotland the 95% mark is not a point where tools will be put down and nothing happen, but there is more lined up for the rest of 2018 under the existing BT contract and so by the end of 2018 there will be a good idea of how much is left for the R100 project. Scotland is lagging in terms of full fibre roll-out but that is starting to change and this follows the usual BDUK project pattern that once the main bulk of VDSL2 has been delivered BT/Openreach resources shift to the more labour intensive FTTP that is planned.

Until the procurement is finished and planning done it will be anyones guess as to how much of the R100 roll-out will be fibre based and more importantly full fibre based and the background notes do have a caveat that people need to bear in mind “Although the initial R100 procurement will focus on delivering superfast access to premises, an equally important objective is that it delivers new accessible fibre in parts of Scotland that currently lacks this infrastructure”. So while the goal is more fibre based solutions we can expect a technology mixture with fixed wireless and maybe still some satellite connectivity.

We looked at the differences in what has been delivered so far in rural and urban areas of Scotland back in November but that looked at just the change in superfast coverage of a number of years, today using the same dataset we can share the full spread of technology and speed information. Normally we would try and ensure the data published was less than 24 hours old, but the work to keep as up to date on tracking the 95% progress means we’ve not had the time to re-run this analysis so apologies for using coverage that is two weeks old but the impact is not massive and we will revisit this dataset with a more up to date analysis in early 2018 and throughout 2018.

thinkbroadband analysis of Rural and Urban Broadband Coverage in Scotland
figures from 27th November 2017

Area % fibre based
VDSL2 or
FTTP or
Cable
15 Mbps or faster % superfast
24 Mbps or faster
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster
%
Full Fibre
and
Openreach FTTP
% Under 2 Mbps download
Large Urban Area 98.4% 99.4% 98.3% 98.2%

68.9%

1.11%

0.1%

0%
1,039,251 Premises 1,023,060 1,033,387 1,021,449 1,020,402

715,837

11,506

1,078

47
Other Urban Area 99.1% 99.3% 98.7% 98.5%

50.7%

0.1%

0.1%

0%
735,822 Premises 728,857 730,662 726,315 724,823

372,991

745

745

57
Accessible Rural 89.2% 78.2% 73.4% 72.1%

5%

0.34%

0.34%

5.7%
336,203 Premises 299,799 262,925 246,849 242,351

16,917

1,136

1,136

19,006
Accesssible Small Town 97.4% 99.1% 96.7% 96.3%

5.8%

0.19%

0.19%

0%
214,634 Premises 209,021 212,607 207,642 206,776

12,388

413

413

44
Remote Rural 81.3% 66.8% 61.9% 60.6%

0.3%

0.33%

0.33%

8.5%
87,938 Premises 71,536 58,775 54,466 53,271

288

288

288

7,463
Very Remote Rural 74.4% 61.6% 56.2% 54.4%

0.2%

0.24%

0.24%

7.5%
83,782 Premises 62,357 52,645 47,111 45,563

201

201

201

6,265
Remote Small Town 97.2% 99.4% 96.7% 96.2%

0% 

0% 0%
63,442 Premises 61,697 63,086 61,333 61,013

0

0

0

0
Very Remote Small Town 98.4% 98.5% 96.9% 95.8%

0%

0.01%

0.01%

0.1%
35,971 Premises 35,404 35,438 34,841 34,448

4

4

4 34

The table highlights the variations across the different geographies of Scotland with the general rule being if you live in a town then connectivity is likely to reasonable already, but there are still pockets in those areas that need resolving. As people will notice the 15 Mbps and faster column is sometimes higher than the fibre based column and this is because if you live close enough to the telephone exchange and have access to ADSL2+ then speeds in the 15 Mbps and faster region are possible.

In terms of what £600m can deliver, if Scotland reaches the 95% superfast marker then there would be 131,000 premises left to be brought up to a 30 Mbps and faster standard, so an overly simplistic sharing would mean a budget of £4,580 per premise and as the £600m is from the Scottish Budget we can expect additional funding from local authorities and the commercial partner too. Clearly though Scotland does not have a uniform premise density and while delivering Exchange Only upgrades for the remaining parts of the central belt will be relatively cheap i.e. in the usual £250-400 per premise range getting those in the very remote rural areas to superfast speeds may prove very expensive e.g. even if you reduce costs and used fixed wireless you might be looking at just 20 to 30 premises per mast (not per sector but total mast). The reason for not trying to do the envelope calculation by the different rural areas is that we can see some urban EO lines pencilled in for full fibre so need to see how much of that is delivered and there are even some smaller exchanges marked down for a mixture of VDSL2 and FTTP to still deliver. The budget does seem to support the idea of a high proportion of full fibre in the R100 project, so fingers crossed.

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Ofcom publishes its Connected Nation Report for 2017

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The Ofcom Connection Nations report is seen by many as the annual de facto status report for whats happening in the UK and looks at both the services that are available to order and the speeds that people are getting, something that has often been confused in last 12 months since the last report from Ofcom.

The headlines from the report are:

  • UK superfast broadband coverage in May 2017 was at 92% for the over 24 Mbps definition
  • UK superfast broadband coverage in May 2017 was at 91% for 30 Mbps and faster, a 2% increase compared to 12 months ago
  • Average download speed was 44 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload compared to 37 Mbps and 4 Mbps in 2016
  • Scotland saw superfast coverage increase 3% to 87%
  • Wales saw superfast coverage increase 4% to 89%

Of course as regular readers will know, we also are in the game of tracking broadband coverage levels and have been since 2012—our figure for the UK on 30th April 2017 was 92.8%. What is missing from the Ofcom data is any indication of decimal places and whether their figures apply the usual rounding or are taking floor values. Similarly there’s no confirmation on whether speeds are median or mean averages, so it entirely possible our figures were within a fraction of one percent, or a bit further apart. Our up-to-date statistics on our Local Broadband Information site are usually as low as a few days behind when we start seeing users on new faster connections.

There is a recognition of the work we have been doing in terms of tracking coverage levels in the UK in the report but there is potential for people to be mislead in what we do. We had been expecting a mention, but more around that while two different methodologies are used that the figures are within a reasonable range.

2.11 This figure is lower than some numbers reported elsewhere, such as by thinkbroadband.com, whose figures are cited by Government to track superfast broadband rollout. Unlike our estimate, which is based on analysis of speeds available to every residential and small business property in the UK, other such reports are extrapolated from consumer line speed tests for a small sample of lines.

Ofcom Connected Nations Report page 12 section 2.11

We expected to be within 0.5% of the Ofcom data analysis, but this paragraph from the report gives a false picture of how we arrive at our coverage data and therefore it is time to make it clear what we do.

  1. Government has access to data from operators (possibly the same data as Ofcom) and is able to track the coverage levels and this is an important part of the tracking the BDUK costs and also why DCMS is confident on reaching the 95% superfast target by the end of this year.
  2. This means where they are quoting our data, and similarly for local authorities we are referenced as an independent source and therefore why we will state that while providers may have said they have delivered the coverage by the end of December, we want a few weeks to independently verify that this is the case.
  3. The Ofcom analysis is done at the premises-level and our analysis is presented at the postcode level, with postcodes being flagged as superfast or not based on the majority of premises (we don’t ask for full postal addresses for privacy reasons). In previous years this gave wider error margins particularly in city centre areas due to Exchange Only lines but the number EO VDSL2 cabinets appearing and network rearrangement that has happened in 2017 means this issue is less of a problem in statistical accuracy terms than in 2016.
  4. We do not directly extrapolate coverage data from speed test results; these form part of our methodology in identifying superfast coverage however the sample size concerned raised by Ofcom are invalid. 
  5. Our speed test is not a line speed test, but it is a series of measurements on the observed download and upload throughput for a period of time. We are able to identify the technology in use for a speed test with a good degree of confidence.
  6. Our sample of lines could not be described as small; we believe that the speed test data we hold is the largest accurate data set for the UK in terms of broadband performance by area. Although there are some speedtest-focussed sites which may have more raw tests, these cannot correlate such data down to our level of detail. Based on our UK-specific knowledge, we are able to provide a much more informed insight into performance for consumers and are very visible when it comes to asking questions about a specific test.
  7. The year 2017 has seen a level of unpredecented work in verifying our model and ensuring that the many variations that do exist are catered for, rather than the model being a simple extrapolation system.
  8. While many media outlets will take up stories of consumers unable to order FTTC/VDSL2 services, we have a steady stream of contact with providers to solve ‘computer says no’ issues and these are most common for full fibre. The end result of this is that we know that providers’ own data systems are never totally accurate, and in fact no large data system will be error free. As we publish our UK postcode level data on our local broadband site, we do see more consumer enquiries and we do investigate these to ensure our data continues to remain the most live.

We do use a very different methodology to Ofcom and DCMS since we do not have access to the same data set which they originate their analysis from (which we’d be happy to ingest if the industry want to provide this), however we know that even that data set is not entirely accurate, as we feed back issues to providers.

The advantage to not using supplier-provided data (some smaller operators do supply data, but we still do periodic checks on these) is that there is freedom to use the data and share different types of analysis.

Of course given the political importance of the 95% superfast broadband target, there is a statement from the Minister for Digital in response to the Ofcom report.

We will have taken superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of the year but we are not complacent and there is more work to be done. We are making sure that by 2020, every home and business in the UK will have access to reliable, high speed broadband.

There is also a clear need for rapid improvement on mobile coverage. We’ve recently removed outdated restrictions, giving mobile operators more freedom to improve their networks including hard-to-reach rural areas. But industry need to play their part too through continued investment and improvement in their networks, making sure that customers are not paying for services they don’t receive.

Minister for Digital Matt Hancock

The Ofcom Connected Nation report is of course much more than just a single factsheet, but given how we have seen those specific facts used and extrapolated in the last couple of years we feel we had to make it clear where we stand on their superfast statistics claims.

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More than 1m 'forgotten homes' in UK do not get fast enough broadband

How the FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules Could Affect Everybody

A mother and daughter using a laptop




Families in rural areas are being left behind by slow internet speeds, Ofcom said.
Photograph: Inti St Clair/Getty Images/Blend Images

More than 1m “forgotten homes” across the UK are unable to get sufficiently fast broadband to meet a typical family’s needs, from watching Netflix to browsing YouTube.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, said 4% of UK homes and offices, about 1.1m properties, could not access broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps.

This is the minimum speed deemed necessary to cope with modern internet requirements, from downloading a film on Sky to streaming music and watching services such as Amazon and Netflix.

Ofcom said rural families were being left behind where properties are far from the local exchanges that provide fast speeds. It said 17% of homes were not getting decent internet, compared with 2% in cities and towns.

Steve Unger, the regulator’s chief technology officer, said: “Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work.

“Our findings show there’s still urgent work required before the people and businesses get the services they need.”

Ofcom’s annual Connected Nations report found there had been a decline in the number of households and offices without the minimum speed connection, from 2.4m in 2015 to 1.4m last year.

The regulator said the number of properties with superfast broadband – the government’s target of speeds of 30Mbps or more – had risen from about 30% to 40%.

Matt Hancock, the digital minister, said: “We will have taken superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by the end of the year, but we are not complacent and there is more work to be done.

“We are making sure that by 2020, every home and business in the UK will have access to reliable, high-speed broadband.”

However, a report in August found that Britain remained a global broadband laggard, ranking it 31st for average speed, trailing most of Europe, Thailand and New Zealand.

In July, 57 MPs published a report calling on Ofcom to make broadband providers such as BT and Sky compensate customers who do not get the connection speeds they are promised.

How the FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules Could Affect Everybody

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How the FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules Could Affect Everybody

How the FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality Rules Could Affect Everybody

By this time, you might have already heard — the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted 3-2 to repeal the net neutrality rules implemented back in 2015 (last month, the agency had first announced a proposal to reverse the rules). The said net neutrality rules were adopted a couple of years ago by the same agency under the administration of then President Barack Obama. But now with a new Commander in Chief in the White House, and a new Chairman in Ajit Pai, the FCC has decided to reverse the decision it made in 2015.

Just to cover all bases, net neutrality refers to the concept of having all web traffic treated fairly, with all Internet content made equally accessible to all users. The net neutrality rules also set guidelines that prevent broadband service providers and carriers from blocking, slow down, or granting preferred treatment to specific online content. 

So how does the repeal of the 2015 net neutrality rules affect people? Let us start with the consumers — advocates of net neutrality principles have always maintained that with nobody to police Internet service providers (ISPs), they can basically decide which gets access to whatever content on the information superhighway. While it is true that ISPs want to attract all the Internet users they can get, they will likely and realistically favor those who can pay more. It goes without saying that this would leave those who can only afford much at a disadvantage. 

The same could also apply to businesses relying on ISPs to offer their products and services. Those with big budgets will probably enjoy preferential moment from the service providers, while those who don’t will end up only with crumbs from the table. 

Obviously, the big telcos and broadband service providers will be celebrating the repeal of the 2015 net neutrality regulations. The fact of that matter is — with less government oversight, they get to reap a more bountiful harvest and enjoy bigger bottom lines. They have always argued that the net neutrality rules can hinder investment and stifle innovation in the world of Internet technology. But many are ready to counter argue that there never has been undisputed evidence that the 2015 regulations hamper progress.

So what happens next? Now that the FCC has voted to repeal, the matter will likely move to the courts, and perhaps a year from now, a final decision will be made regarding the implementation of the repeal. Also, it bears noting that the FCC right now has a Republican majority, but that could change next year or in 2020 if Democrats become the new majority. In that case, the rules could be reinstated.

 

B4RN EA starts the dig that will bring Gigabit full fibre to villages in Norfolk

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Avis and Continental Join Forces to Introduce Keyless Car Rentals

B4RN has been a brilliant example of what can be done when a community is motivated to act and their achievements are recognised globally at bringing Gigabit broadband to some of the most rural parts of England. Norfolk is now getting in on the act and with the fibre they are using running up from London Docklands to Lowestoft already the digging to connect communities has now started with a very cold group of volunters helping in the build out that should see Scole Community Centre to be the first building connected to the Gigabit symmetric network – a few more buildings along the route are likely to also get connected.

The full story from the day is on the B4RN Norfolk website and with some 130 villages having expressed an interest there is scope for the footprint to cover more premises than the original B4RN project if they all raise the funding required.

The situation in Norfolk is very different to the original launch of B4RN in 2011 as places like the community centre in Scole have access to VDSL2 with estimates in the 50 to 76 Mbps range and while Grove Farm in Billingford have access to Openreach FTTP that is pretty rare in Norfolk where native Openreach FTTP is only available to 0.13% of premises and the VDSL2 means 6% of premises while connected to an enabled cabinet are not likely to get superfast speeds. The range limitations of VDSL2 and dispersed nature of Norfolk means there is going to be a very willing market of people ready to help dig in fibre ducting if it takes them out of the hell of sub 1 Mbps broadband.

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2018 ISPA Awards the search for the stars is underway

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Avis and Continental Join Forces to Introduce Keyless Car Rentals

It is time again for the annual ISPA Awards to start the long journey towards the eventual gala ceremony and dinner in July 2018. So for all those companies that provide internet services it is time to decide which categories to enter with initial registration carried out at https://ispa.thinkbroadband.com

This year is special as it is the 20th anniversary for the awards and the categories have rejigged with three new awards:

  • A Twentieth Anniversary Award for individuals, companies or initiatives that have provided consistently exceptional service for the past 20 years;
  • The Best Project or Partnership Award that recognises partnerships and collaboration involving ISPs, community organisations, local bodies or interest groups;
  • The Best ISP PR Campaign to award agencies that have helped ISPs stand out from the crowd.

The timeline is that companies have until 31st January 2018 to get the initial entry form submitted with the formal written entry needing to be submitted by 29th March 2018. The broadband and hosting categories will have their usual technical testing and this starts on 12th February and will run until 29th March 2018 and is used to create the shortlist those categories.

For those not familiar with the awards there is lots more information on the process at https://www.ispa.org.uk/ispa-awards/ and an important one in the rules is ‘Entrants do not have an access to their performance data during the monitoring process’ which is a common request along the lines of are we doing well enough to be shortlisted the only response those being monitored will receive is whether the volume of testing seen is too small to provide a good assessment of their performance as a provider of the service being tested.

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Avis and Continental Join Forces to Introduce Keyless Car Rentals

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Avis and Continental Join Forces to Introduce Keyless Car Rentals

Avis and Continental Join Forces to Introduce Keyless Car Rentals

How do you modernize car rental services? For Avis Budget Group, Inc. and Continental, you do it by making the whole car rental process 100 percent keyless, and taking full advantage of perhaps the most ubiquitous electronic gadget existing today — the smartphone. Both companies have recently announced just this week that they are testing a new car rental system in which customers will be able to lock, unlock, and even start their rental vehicle by way of a mobile device, without having to worry about using a physical key or key fob.

How exactly is this made possible? Well, much of the credit goes to the Key as a Service tech developed by Continental. The cool thing about it is that it does not need to significantly alter the electronic circuitry or hardware of the automobile, mainly because Continental’s back end services do most of the heavy lifting.

Right now, the pilot program is being conducted in just one market, which is in or around the Kansas City metropolitan area in the state of Missouri. It goes without saying that if the trials in the City of Fountains prove to be successful, for sure the keyless car rental service will expand to other cities across the United States. 

According to the press release, the Kansas City pilot program also made the most out of Avis Budget Group’s Mobility Lab, which consists of over 20 Avis Car Rental outlets within the metro, each offering connected cars. These vehicles are capable of connecting to Avis’ fleet management platform, as well as the company’s mobile app. Quite impressively, Avis’ Mobility Lab is not just helping facilitate keyless rental cars, but also other smart city projects and efforts.

Convincing people to start availing of a keyless rental car service may be easier said than done. Most consumers are creatures of habit, and it might take a while before they open up to the idea of renting vehicles without using any keys. But the great thing about the whole concept is that it makes full use of a gadget that everybody already knows how to use — the smartphone. Any new technology always requires some getting used to, but if you look at mobile payment systems like Apple Pay, once people got the hang of it, they will eventually start taking full advantage of the tech more regularly. It is basically the same thing with the keyless rental car set up.

 

Oxfordshire hits 95% superfast coverage milestone

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The race to increase superfast broadband coverage across the country continues and BT has put Oxfordshire in the limelight as one of the counties that is now at the 95% superfast target, in fact the figures are 95.5% at over 24 Mbps and 95% at 30 Mbps and faster. The official release also gives the snippet that BDUK scheme in Oxfordshire has brought superfast options to over 73,000 premises and that take-up is running at the 50% mark.

Once we do the mathematics on our dataset for county and look at the overlaps with Virgin Media we believe the project has given the superfast option to some 73,500 premises and our take-up tracking at the end of the third quarter was at 40% with projects such as Essex, Berkshire, Durham, Derbyshire, Dorset and Cambridgeshire showing very similar take-up based on our tracking of people using the services once available.

thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast Broadband Coverage across Oxfordshire as of 12th December 2017
Area % fibre based % superfast
Over 24 Mbps
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% Ultrafast

%

Full Fibre All Operators

Openreach FTTP

% Under 2 Mbps
USC
% Under 10 Mbps
USO
Oxfordshire 98.2% 95.5% 95% 49.3%

5.72%

1.86%

0.5% 2%
288,913 Premises 283,627 276,023 274,522 142,383

16,524

5,367

1,470 5,895
BT/BDUK Better Broadband for Oxfordshire Contract Delivery 99.1% 93.3% 92.3% 26.7% (**)

8.96%

1.14%

1.1% 3%
95,750 Premises 94,888 89,334 88,377 25,565

8,579

1,091

1,053 2,872
Cherwell District 97.6% 95.6% 95.4% 30.6%

6.57%

3.43%

0.5% 2%
64,410 Premises 62,844 61,571 61,425 19,734

4,230

2,208

290 1,283
Oxford City 98.8% 98.7% 98.6% 86% 0% 0.1% 0.4%
60,074 Premises 59,379 59,278 59,253 51,622 0 58 224
South Oxfordshire District 99.1% 93.8% 92.7% 30.3%

6.13%

2.53%

0.9% 3%
60,457 Premises 59,906 56,704 56,063 18,313

3,703

1,531

514 1,785
Vale of White Horse District 99% 96.6% 96.1% 61.2%

11.45%

2.63%

0.4% 1.5%
56,227 Premises 55,682 54,343 54,041 34,380

6,438

1,477

236 821
West Oxfordshire District 95.8% 92.3% 91.5% 38.4%

4.52%

0.32%

0.8% 3.8%
47,676 Premises 45,689 44,009 43,622 18,322

2,153

151

363 1,830

(**) The ultrafast figure obviously includes Virgin Media and this explains why while the BDUK footprint was in the 96,000 premises region that once you eliminate the overlaps and account for the distance from the cabinet affecting VDSL2 the figure drops to 73,800. The actual figure is likely to be higher as while earlier in 2017 we did flag the rural FTTP as part of the project with the amount of work going on at present we have not had time to make the judgement calls on whether some FTTP was BDUK funded, or part of a new build delivery or just commercial.

The Gigaclear coverage is obviously an important part of the picture in the county too and drawfs the amount of full fibre from Openreach and as pressure builds for a richer full fibre future from Westminster we hope that the 1 in 20 premises in Oxfordshire with access to full fibre will increase substantially.

The funding to date has been £35.8 million of which £13.3 million is from BT and we believe this has given 511 live VDSL2 cabinets, and hints of another 20 cabinets on the way, plus of course the FTTP, so a pure back of the envelope calculation suggests a cost of £63,000 per cabinet but the final cost will depend on how many more cabinets and full fibre premises the project manages to deliver from the £35.8 million.

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What is net neutrality about? Protecting us from corporate power | Matt Stoller

Demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store in New York.




Demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store in New York.
Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

This Thursday, Ajit Pai, Donald Trump’s choice to chair the Federal Communications Commission, will force a vote to repeal net neutrality protections for broadband providers. This is an important step backwards for our democracy. It will affect what consumers pay for broadband and what we can buy. More importantly, it will affect what we as citizens can say and to whom we can say it.

In the age of Trump, a move to concentrate the power of speech in the hands of telecommunications giants whose financial fate depends on Republican political control is terrifying.

Quick guide

Net neutrality

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) treat everyone’s data equally – whether that’s an email from your mother, a bank transfer or a streamed episode of Stranger Things. It means that ISPs, which control the delivery pipes, don’t get to choose which data is sent more quickly, and which sites get blocked or throttled (for example, slowing the delivery of a TV show because it is streamed by a video company that competes with a subsidiary of the ISP) and who has to pay extra. For this reason, some have described net neutrality as the “first amendment of the internet”.

Why is net neutrality under threat?

In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to more strictly regulate ISPs and to enshrine in law the principles of net neutrality. The vote reclassified wireless and fixed-line broadband service providers as title II “common carriers”, a public utility-type designation that gives the FCC the ability to set rates, open up access to competitors and more closely regulate the industry. Two years on, Trump’s new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has pushed to overturn the 2015 order arguing they overstep the FCC’s jurisdiction and hinder corporate innovation. On 18 May, the FCC voted to support a new proposal that would repeal the order and started a 90-day period in which members of the public could comment. A final vote is expected in December.

Thank you for your feedback.

Net neutrality is a rule against censorship and manipulation. It means that if you are a broadband provider, like AT&T, Verizon, or Google Fiber, you cannot discriminate in favor of or against any of your customers. You aren’t allowed to carry the content or data of one website or video provider at one price and the content or data of another website or video provider at a different price. You can’t censor, throttle, or slow the carrying of data for any but technical reasons.

With net neutrality in place, whether you are a newspaper, a blogger discussing sexual assault, a video provider, or someone filming a public official at a town hall, Verizon or AT&T can’t slow or block your ability to put your content online and speak. Without it, they effectively can.

Net neutrality is a type of “common carriage” rule, and it is a bedrock of American democracy. More than a century ago, we had network monopolies like telegraph networks and railroads. Eventually, we regulated them via non-discriminatory principles very similar to net neutrality. In the 20th century, the regulatory framework for trucking, phone networks, airplanes, and electric utilities were also built on the principle of non-discrimination.

When you allow a private operator who controls a network with monopoly-like characteristics to pick winners and losers, they tend to do just that. In the 19th century, Standard Oil colluded with the Pennsylvania Railroad and Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central to acquire control over the oil industry. They did this with a scheme involving kickbacks designed to destroy competitors. Similarly, meatpackers used their power over the rail network to centralize control and power over farmers.

Then, as now, the threat was not just commercial, but political. During the 1876 presidential election, which formally ended Reconstruction, the militantly pro-Republican Western Union telegraph monopoly colluded with the Associated Press to throw a close contest to the Republican candidate, Rutherford Hayes, leading Democrats to begin calling the AP the “Hayessociated Press”.

In response, Americans put in place public rules to neutralize the power of these platforms. In the 1930s, for instance, Congress enacted federal legislation to stop AT&T from abusing its monopoly position in telecommunications. This legislative framework worked beautifully.

By the time the mass internet first emerged in the form of dial-up modems, AT&T could not block the use of its phone network to access it. It could not discriminate against you if you wanted to access, say, AOL or Compuserve. It could not choose to censor the websites you sought to visit or divert you to AT&T-approved content. We paid for the use of the network, not for AT&T to edit the public square.

In the mid-2000s, Michael Powell, chosen by George W Bush as FCC chair, eliminated important safeguards against telecom monopoly power, and set the stage for the removal of net neutrality-like common carriage protections in broadband. Competition in broadband died and the US, once the leader in broadband, fell behind the rest of the world.

For the next 12 years, as the fight continued, telecommunications corporations did sometimes censor traffic, but mostly they behaved. The telecom barons knew there would be a political reaction against them. They had to wait until their guy was firmly in power.

And now, he is.

The very same day Trump’s FCC chairman announced he was ending net neutrality protections, Comcast deleted from its website a public promise not to create internet fast lanes. In other words, now that the rules are poised to disappear, large telecommunications have decided to manipulate the flow of information in our society.

One thing this means is that you will get even less local news than now. As Matt DeRienzo, executive director of Local Independent Online News Publishers, wrote: “Big internet and wireless providers will be able to charge individual publishers for levels of speed and access, a scenario in which a handful of big companies with deep pockets could squeeze out” independent news publishers.

For years, Senator Al Franken has been one of the greatest defenders of net neutrality in the Senate. Recently, he took the brave step of proposing that those same basic principles be extended to tech platforms like Google and Facebook, which already have ample power to manipulate flows of information and news. Franken’s approach is the right approach, the one we should all adopt now.

The Trump FCC and the telecom barons think that once the rule has been changed, we will simply forget about it. But they are wrong. If they eliminate net neutrality, it will end up being the downfall of the telecom barons. Americans will soon conclude that the only possible way to address the damage Pai has wrought is to finally and fully break the power of the giants.

Americans have been here before. The power of Standard Oil once seemed unbreakable. But it wasn’t. Neither are today’s telecom barons.

Google Maps' New Feature Alerts You When You’ve Reached Your Train, Bus Stop

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Google Maps' New Feature Alerts You When You’ve Reached Your Train, Bus Stop

Google Maps' New Feature Alerts You When You’ve Reached Your Train, Bus Stop

According to a report recently published by TechCrunch last weekend, Google will soon roll out a new update for its Google Maps service, introducing a new interactive real time notification system for commuters and passengers. 

Sure, trains and buses are wonderful inventions for those who do not possess their own means for transport, but knowing the right stop can often be tricky, especially for those who are not familiar with a city’s rail or bus transport systems (or those fond of catching some Z’s while riding public transport). 

Thankfully, the folks at Google are updating Google Maps to literally help point people to the right direction, i.e. the correct bus or train stop. There is nothing complicated about making full of this new interactive notification system — just like the usual, the user begins by searching for transit directions through Google Maps. What is different this time is that users will soon see a start button placed at the bottom section of the screen. This button shows details about the transit journey, and then provides live updates during the train or bus ride. And of course, part of this functionality is a reminder that one’s stop is coming up right ahead.

Google’s newest update for its Google Maps also includes on the lock screen. The tech giant has cleverly included an interactive element to the proceedings, allowing users to scroll right through their transit journey’s progress. The world’s most popular source of directions is already pretty good with transit directions, but with the notifications and interactive mode, getting to the right destination is made easier. Sure, there are other interactive apps out there that offer real time data during the commute, but with the updated Google maps, Android users never need to install or even launch a separate app.

The last couple of months have seen Google introduce (or hint about) some changes to the popular Google Maps. Some may remember that a little more than a month ago, the tech giant had announced plans to add a new feature that will have Google Search, and eventually also Google Maps, to show estimated wait times for restaurants within a particular neighborhood or area in the city. Before, hungry users had to be content with getting information about the peak hours of that fancy new restaurant about two blocks away, but with the new functionality, they get to be updated about the wait times during, say, mornings on weekends.

 

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