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Broadband, Mobile & Energy News: Weekly Roundup 26/11/18


Here’s a roundup of last week’s top stories related to mobile, broadband, and energy:

Two Hackers jailed for involvement in TalkTalk cyber-attack

Two hackers, Matthew Hanley (23) and Connor Allsopp (21) have been jailed at the Old Bailey criminal court in London this week. They were both involved in the 2014 cyber-attack against ISP TalkTalk’s website. The cyber-attack cost TalkTalk £77 million and left the personal data of 156,959 customers unprotected.

The attack involved a Distributed Denial of Service assault and an SQL Injection exploit against the ISP’s website. These allowed the hackers to access customers’ data, including the bank information of over 15,000 accounts. Not only was TalkTalk’s reputation damaged, but the Information Commissioner’s Office found that similar cyber-attacks had been attempted on their own website. This discovery caused TalkTalk to be fined £400,000 for their “failure to implement the most basic cyber security measures”.

Last year, the Met’s Cyber Crime Unit identified Allsopp and Hanley as being involved in the hacking and both were arrested. Hanley has been jailed for 12 months and Allsopp for 8 months under the Computer Misuse Act.

Following the crime, TalkTalk worked to implement “tougher security procedures, new systems and a completely new website”.

New survey by ISPreview reveals doubt over Government’s plans to achieve ‘full fibre’ networks

In a recent survey of nearly 2,000 readers, broadband news website found that 86.8% support the Government’s move toward “universal coverage of ultrafast ‘full fibre’ broadband ISP networks by 2033”. However, only 43.5% of those surveyed actually thought it could be achieved.

This year saw the Government commit to deliver the ultrafast Gigabit capable ‘full fibre’ to 15 million premises by 2025, with universal coverage by 2033. The commitment is made with the expectation that the private sector will accomplish most of the work, with the “final 10% (i.e. most rural areas)” potentially requiring public funding of between £3bn and £5bn.

79.6% of readers supported this public funding, although nearly as many wanted the Government to do more when extending the current “5 year business rates (tax) holiday on new fibre”.

At this time, the UK only has ‘full fibre’ coverage for 5% of premises, lagging behind every other country in the EU. The plan to increase ‘full fibre’ coverage is “ambitious” as it would require massive improvements in civil engineering on all levels.

Extra Energy goes bust, leaving customers waiting for Ofgem to choose a new supplier 

Extra Energy has now ceased trading, but regulator Ofgem has promised to provide help to the energy supplier’s customers. Ofgem now must choose a supplier to take on Extra Energy’s customers, 108,000 of which are domestic and 21,000 which are businesses customers. The customers will continue to receive energy during this time.

Last year, Citizens Advice found Extra Energy to have received more complaints than any other UK energy supplier, receiving only 2.05 stars out of five for the months between January and March.

Extra Energy’s customers are being advised against switching suppliers right now. Instead they should take a meter reading and wait until the new energy provider who takes over Extra Energy’s books contacts them first. This will help make process of switching, and making sure outstanding credit is paid back, much easier.

Philippa Pickford, Ofgem’s Interim Director for Future Retail Markets said: “If you are an Extra Energy customer, under our safety net, we will make sure your energy supplies are secure. We will also ensure that domestic customers’ credit balances are protected.

“Ofgem will now choose a new supplier and ensure you get the best deal possible. Whilst we’re doing this, our advice is to ‘sit tight’ and don’t switch. You can continue to rely on your energy supply as normal. We will update you when we have chosen a new supplier who will then get in touch about your new tariff.”

Deficiency in Member State funding puts broadband targets in danger

The Centre on Regulation in Europe has published a recent study which analysed all 157 broadband measures “that have been notified to the European Commission by Member States” between 2003 and August 2018. The study found that the current level of public funding is “insufficient”.

Presently, the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) strategy is trying to follow through on its promise of “ensuring that every home in the EU can access a 30Mbps+ capable Next Generation Access (NGA) superfast broadband connection” by 2020.

The EU has proposed a “non-binding Gigabit Society commitment”, which would oblige all member states to guarantee universal access to speeds of 100Mbps by 2025. However, public funding varies drastically between member states, with France paying €215 per capita but others paying less than €10. Due to this difference in spending, the report said that, “At this rate it will take Europe nearly 30 years to meet its FFTH targets”.

With Brexit approaching, it is questionable whether the Gigabit Society commitment will even be relevant to the UK. At the moment, the UK does have a goal for “around 98% of the UK should be covered by ‘superfast broadband’ by 2020” with the desire to have universal coverage of Gigabit capable ‘full fibre’ by 2033.

National Audit Office urges Government to reconsider smart meter deadline

The National Audit Office (NAO) has found that consumers might have to pay an extra £500m due to the introduction of smart meters and that with 39m old meters still needing to be replaced, the programme will not meet its deadline at the end of 2020. Instead, it is predicted that only 70-75% of households and small businesses will have a smart meter by 2020.

In response to the worrying findings, the NAO encouraged the government to consider pushing back the deadline and a group of MPs will discuss whether there should be a change to the deadline or not.

The NAO has said that the additional £500m cost is a conservative estimate and would likely be much higher when energy companies’ marketing costs are taken into account. There is also the problem of SMETS1 meters ‘going dumb’ when customers switch energy suppliers, meaning they still have to submit meter readings manually.

In an effort to improve the energy system, smart meters give automated readings, making it easier for households and businesses to understand and change their energy consumption. Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, is still optimistic about the programme: “Costs are rising and timescales slipping, but smart meters can still succeed over time”.