September 11, 2011 in Adrian's tech blog
Recently we have seen BDUK announce the funding allocations to local authorities and the devolved assemblies, and the companies aiming hoping to get on the national framework have been short-listed. The sums awarded to councils were modelled by BDUK according to their understanding of need, and at the moment the framework companies are trying to develop a consistent understanding of what will be required of them and their shareholders should they be successful.
At stake is the investment of billions of pounds and public and private money, and the future competitiveness of the UK economy. Yet questions have been raise in several quarters for quite some time now about the accuracy of BDUKs data on which all this investment sits. So for the record I decided to correlate a source of data I have grown to trust – from Samknows who in turn get their DSL data from BT – against a set of BDUK data for the same area. The sample included a little over 19,000 postcodes.
(click the graph to see a bigger version)
The plot shows BDUK speeds along the horizontal with BT speeds on the vertical, with each point representing a postcode average. If the two sets agreed the points should broadly align along the diagonal but its clear there is a limited correlation between the two sets.
This data is for Oxfordshire, so the first location I checked was my own postcode. BDUK suggests that I should get 13971.456kbps while BT suggests I get 6Mbps with ADSL2+. With an ordinary ISP I do in fact get 6 Mbps (Be There uniquely allow me to tune the connection so I get a shade more).
In fact on 76% of occasions the BDUK data offers faster speeds than BT’s reported data, and on average 52% faster.
When focussing in on just the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment, relying on BDUK data would result in about 900 postcodes having a problem addressed which doesn’t exist, yet almost 40% of the areas which do suffer broadband at less than 2 Mbps would have been missed altogether.
In 63 cases the discrepancy was more than 22 Mbps – or rather BDUK expected people to receive what they now consider “superfast broadband” when in fact no broadband was available at all.
From what I understand none of the usual sources relied on by the industry provided BDUK with this data and that the speeds are reported to thousandths of a kilobit suggests Excel may have been involved somewhere along the line rather than empirical data.
This information was provided to BDUK but they were largely unconcerned about the discrepancy at the time.
I’ll allow you to come to your own conclusions about the impact this might have had on the decisions BDUK is making and the fairness of funding allocations. For organisations seeking to be part of the framework, this data appears to be having a continuing impact.
NOTE: This is one of a number of blog articles which had gone unpublished for some time, occasionally dusted off and updated but left on the spike. For much of BDUK’s existence I have been supportive, and after it became clear that they were ignoring offers of help and advice from many of the people I know I had remained reluctant to be openly dismissive. But as the programme evolved it has become harder and harder to be supportive, there became fewer and fewer good news stories to write about, and my own postings became less frequent and rarely positive good news stories.
I’m publishing this now to draw a line under the whole process – time to get on with projects that make a difference in reality.