Ex-BT CTO hits back at government over

Former CTO of BT, Peter Cochrane, has responded to the government and BT who had hit back at his claims that UK's broadband plans were "visionless", by sarcastically encouraging the government to show off its plans to fast-growing economies like China and Korea.

The government did not take kindly to Cochrane's comments last week that it did not have a vision, mission or a plan, and responded by stating its plans to ensure 90 per cent of homes and businesses have access to superfast broadband by 2015 were sufficient and on track. In response, Cochrane told Computing: "Go and tell [your plans] to our industrial and commercial competitors and the people we are expecting to work with: China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Scandinavia, and South America." As a parting shot, Cochrane suggested that consumers who want access to superfast broadband in the UK should move to Jersey, where residents have access to superfast fixed and mobile broadband speeds.

"If you have to stay in the UK move to Jersey!" he joked. Meanwhile, Christine Conder, online animator of high-speed connections at the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012, criticised the government for creating an unfair playing field for alternative networks such as Vtesse and Smallworld. Conder is a founder member of Broadband 4 Rural North (B4RN), a community effort to provide fibre to homes in the Lune Valley and Trough of Bowland in Lancashire.

She said that BT is exempt from paying certain taxes that are imposed on other companies, leaving them unable to compete with the telecoms giant. "BT does not have to pay the Valuation Office tax that other companies have to; if companies lay fibre they have to pay tax on it per kilometre but BT does not. It does not know how much infrastructure it's got and it just has to pay a standard fee so it can lay as much fibre as it wants but other companies would be charged extra, so it is not a level playing field," she said.

A spokesperson for BT said that Conder's claims were misleading and claimed that BT is not given any unfair advantage. "BT does not receive an advantageous tax treatment on fibre investment. This assertion was the subject of a two year investigation by the European Commission which concluded that the system is fair. The courts in the UK have looked at the application of that system to the rating of telecoms networks and found that it has been applied properly," he told Computing.

"BT's rates bill is assessed using the same statutory basis or benchmark as that of any other operator - or indeed any other rate payer anywhere in the country," he added. Conder then insisted that some public money should go to alternative networks, especially for projects such as the superfast broadband implementation in Cornwall, as they would have implemented fibre to the home (FTTH) as oppose to fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), which BT has worked on.

"Vtesse was going to tender for the superfast Cornwall project, it is a fibre provider and network but even that was not good enough to fight BT so it had to back out. The main reason for this was the Valuation Office tax – something that Vtesse tried to fight against at the Court of Appeal but the government was reluctant to shift its views on this," she explained. While BT is providing £78.5m of the necessary funding for the Cornwall project, there is also a European Regional Development Fund Convergence investment of up to £53.5m, but Conder believes that BT should not have been given any funding for the project.

"All profits from that project are going to BT's pot, not government and not the EU, so there should be no need for any public subsidy. BT could have easily made a profit if it provided FTTH services. FTTC in the area is fine for the people near to the cabinets but it is not bringing a future-proof connection to that village, and all the people who live outside it, such as the SMEs and farms, are not going to be helped at all by the cabinets. "It is only a small percentage of people [that won't be helped] but it's a very important percentage because innovation stems from SMEs," she added.

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01 June 2020

31 05 2020

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