Local Broadband Maps

Local Broadband Maps (Feb 2014)

In my first post in far too long, I wanted to look at maps and broadband, more specifically the coverage maps many local authorities and assemblies are publishing in the UK relating to their broadband programmes.

Its a welcome move that some are now publishing maps and deeply frustrating that some are holding out when its clear that no local authority has found itself in court for releasing information about their publicly funded programme.

The inset map is my trawl of local websites for maps of local plans as of 7 February 2014. Some of the red areas have not published a map at all while others have published maps that are of little value to investors. (And its possible I’ve missed some so please let me know)

There is a simple message to those that aren’t publishing maps: The telecoms market considers that you are closed to investment!

And to those that are publishing maps I ask them to consider who the maps is intended for.

In my mind there are two key audiences:

    • Homes and business in your patch that will be affected one way or another by your plans, and
    • The telecoms industry who may be considering an investment in your area.

Some of the maps are helpful to local people but only a few are useful to the industry without quite a lot of work. For an operator to see whether there is any realistic opportunity to investment in your area, they will need to:

    • Scan your map into a GIS tool,
    • Overlay postcode data
    • Attempt to extract the colour under each postcode then
    • Determine what that colour means – is it in a build phase or is it an opportunity?
    • Review the table of data that it produces to see whether there are useful opportunities

And they need to do this for every area they are considering investing their own funds in, and need to retrace all the steps every time the map changes. Not every operator has the skills to do this, and many more will struggle to justify this on any scale.

For high-quality pdf or jpeg maps this is fiddly but possible – Kent and Lincolnshire are good example, alongside the pioneers Northamptonshire.

For flash maps that require the user to click on an exchange area and to accept the caveats before seeing a small fragment of map, its virtually impossible – these maps look pretty but are virtually useless to the industry. (See North Yorkshire or Oxfordshire for examples).

(The similarity of these maps suggests a single hand behind the design – a cynic might say that they serve their purpose rather well in that case)

So I’d encourage every area to publish a map, and please make it clear and of sufficient quality that someone could consider whether there are investment opportunities.

Better still, make it easy to be considered for investment – offer the industry a spreadsheet they can download!

UPDATE: Trefor Davies makes a similar point in his blog published on 8 February

UPDATE: I decided not to update the map to include the recently published Cumbria map. The map is low resolution and doesn’t align with the Cumbria county boundary so any analysis is unlikely to be something I’d want to rely on. 12 March

  1. cyberdoyle says:

    Does any council want investment and complications in their patch when they already believe they have a solution with BT and their copper phone lines? The Emperors new clothes?

    • Adrian Wooster says:

      It varies a lot.

      Some clearly do think only BT is the only solution, and in some cases that may yet prove to be their downfall.

      Others are more open, and increasingly so – I’ve had some heartening conversations in an increasing number of areas.

      I suspect when they get their allocations for the £250m (which they will need to match) and understand the challenges of a new procurement, value for money, the growing pressure for transparency and the impending elections they may become even more open to new ideas.

      For a small number of counties, they may find no-one is interested in investing there even if they asked because of their past behaviour.

      And some, like Wiltshire, they may find themselves having to explain their decisions to shun investment.

  2. benhainesuk says:

    Not convinced the Lincolnshire maps are useful. They may be PDFs but the maps are at such a ridiculous scale that it is impossible to determine who/what is covered and what isn’t.

    Use the search feature on the Onlincolnshire website however and it tells you that only ~50% of residents in PE9 4L will get superfast broadband. Yet our patch is fully covered by green in the Phase 7 map.

    It is a farce plain and simple!

    That said, thank you for covering the issue and helping it get a bit more attention.

    • Adrian Wooster says:

      The Lincolnshire map is one of the more curious ones. Its possible to extract the bits where it looks like there are no plans, which appears curiously centred on a number of fairly large areas but, as you say, this is only a small part of the story.

      What it doesn’t tell anyone is where there are plans for a bit of an area.

      The danger of this kind of map is that it risks not managing anyone’s expectations while failing to encourage investments from other operators, leaving underserved areas high and dry.

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