Decent broadband ‘denied’ to millions in UK

Turtle sign

More than 1.4 million homes in the UK cannot get decent broadband, reveals.

But the number of homes that cannot get a service of 10 megabits per second (mbps) or higher has fallen by one million in the last year, it found.

The report looks at how the UK’s mix of fixed and wireless communication networks are developing.

Ofcom said despite the fall, “much more” had to be done to improve the UK’s communications infrastructure.

“Mobile and broadband coverage continued to grow this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a good service,” said Steve Unger, Ofcom’s director of strategy, in a statement. “We think that is unacceptable.”

Ofcom’s report found a significant urban-rural divide on higher speed broadband. About 25% of properties in rural areas, more than 900,000 homes, are too far from telephone exchanges to get a 10mbps service. This speed is now necessary to meet the needs of typical households, it said.

Estimates by Ofcom suggest it would take £1.1bn to boost networks in remote areas so they run as fast as the “decent” 10mbps networks in towns and cities.

The report noted that one-third of UK homes, 9.1 million, have signed up for superfast services – designated as 30mbps or higher.

Ofcom said the UK’s mobile networks also needed to tackle areas where coverage fell short. Its report estimates that only 40% of the UK’s landmass can get 4G mobile signals from all four operators. This was an improvement on 2015, when only 8% enjoyed that “total” coverage, it said.

Ofcom is now talking to network operators about “radical and ambitious” ways to fill the “not-spots” and to boost speeds.

“The advent of 5G draws ever closer, which seems extraordinary when a third of the UK’s geography can’t even get a call signal from all four networks,” said Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at USwitch, in a statement.

“It’s a bitter irony for anyone living in a coverage blackspot, who’d gladly settle for a voice call let alone 5G,” he added.

The Ofcom report is published soon after a from the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission called mobile coverage on trains and motorways “appalling”.

It found that the UK’s 4G network currently ranks 54th in the world in terms of coverage.

Apple will charge £65 to replace one lost Airpod

Airpod

Apple has said customers who lose one of the new wireless Airpod earphones for a replacement.

The devices went on sale via Apple’s website this week and a pair costs £159 in the UK.

They are sold with a charging case and connect to Apple devices such as iPhones and Macs via Bluetooth.

One tech analyst said the Airpods would be “easier to lose” than conventional, wired earphones but pointed out that the design also had some advantages.

Customers will also be charged £65 to replace a lost charging case. It costs £45 to service the battery in a single Airpod or the charging case itself.

It is not surprising that replacing a lost product would incur a charge, noted IHS Technology analyst Ian Fogg.

“What’s striking I think about this is more that, because the Airpod is so small and doesn’t have a cable, it’s going to be easier to lose,” he told the BBC.

He added that one benefit of wireless, miniaturised devices like the Airpods was the fact that connecting wires would not snag on clothing, for example.

But it might be possible to develop features for wireless earphones in the future that would help users find a lost Airpod and avoid having to pay for a replacement.

“Apple could have a ‘find-my-Airpod’ feature,” suggested Mr Fogg.

Other companies making wireless earphones also have replacement charges.

For example, Bragi’s The Dash earbuds – which retail for $299 (£240) as a pair in the US – can be replaced for $129 each.

EDF to cut gas bills but raise electricity prices

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EDF Energy plans to cut gas prices from January but will increase the cost of electricity in March.

It will reduce variable gas prices by 5.2% on 6 January, then will raise electricity bills by 8.4% on 1 March.

After both changes, EDF’s dual fuel customers will pay 1.2% more a year, taking their energy costs to £1,082.

The company last raised the cost of electricity three years ago but said that it “has been rising for some time”.

National Lottery firm Camelot hit with £3m penalty

National Lottery tickets

The Gambling Commission has imposed a £3m penalty on National Lottery operator Camelot for poor controls which resulted in it paying out on an alleged fraudulent claim.

It relates to a prize payout in 2009, but which only came to light last year.

The commission said it was not 100% certain a fraud had been committed, but it was satisfied it was highly likely.

Camelot apologised, saying it was a one-off and had nothing to do with the National Lottery’s integrity.

It said this could not happen now as it had improved its systems.

The Gambling Commission also stressed this was a one-off and there was no evidence of similar happenings.

But the poor controls meant that Camelot had breached the terms of its licence and committed “serious” failures, it said.

The money Camelot must pay will be ploughed back into good causes, the commission said.

The exact size of the payout, and details of how the alleged fraud was committed, were not disclosed.

However, the commission estimated that about £2.5m of lottery funding would have gone to good causes had the prize not been paid.

The police were brought in once the suspected fraud was uncovered.

Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison said “The Gambling Commission’s chief concern is to ensure the National Lottery is run with integrity and that player interests are protected.

“Camelot’s failures in this case are serious and the penalty package reflects this. Importantly, the package also ensures that good causes will not lose out as a result of Camelot’s licence breach.

“Lottery players can feel reassured that our investigations have found no evidence of similar events happening and that controls are in place today to mitigate against future prize payout failings of this type,” Ms Harrison said.


The commission found that Camelot had breached the terms of its operating licence in three key aspects:

  • its controls relating to databases and other information sources
  • the way it investigated a prize claim
  • its processes around the decision to pay a prize

The commission said in a statement that its “investigation has established that the circumstances of this case were specific and did not uncover systemic failings of the kind that would call into question other prize payouts”.

The chief executive of Camelot, Andy Duncan, said: “It’s really important that people understand that this allegation relates to a unique, one-off incident dating back to 2009 and involves a potentially fraudulent claim on a deliberately damaged ticket. It has nothing to do with The National Lottery draws themselves.

“We accept that, at the time, there were some weaknesses in some of the specific controls relevant to this incident and we’re very sorry for that.”

Since its launch in 1994, the National Lottery has raised more than £36bn for good causes including sports, community and heritage projects across Britain.

During the financial year 2015-2016, more than £4bn in prizes was successfully paid out to players of the lottery.

Super Mario Run: Players ask ‘Is the app worth it?’

Super Mario Run

After the sort of anticipation you’d expect for the return of the world’s most famous plumber, .

While a free version acts as a brief demo, access to all three modes of the game costs $9.99 in the App Store in the US, and £7.99 in the UK.

But as players start to download the app, social media reaction is not just about game play – but whether the price of the full game is worth it.

Nintendo’s big hit of 2016 was Pokemon Go – an app that was free to play up front (though the creators made their money through in-game purchases).

So perhaps it’s no surprise some people believe the price is too high.


“$10 is absurdly expensive for a cheap Mario game. Rather get new super Mario bros Ds for the same price,” said one Twitter user.

Another said: “At 6 levels it feels extremely short at that price. I was expecting more content.”

But others have been quick to jump to Nintendo’s defence, saying the price is fair.

Twitter user titowrestling said: “Wow… People are actually complaining… Have we become so addicted to free-to-play? Not expensive.”

And games designer Teddy Dief, who said he was enjoying the game so far, told the BBC that all entertainment creators deserved to be paid for their work – “the product of their passion, effort, and time”.

“Whether a game is premium, or free to play, the developers are hoping to be paid for their creation. How they choose to monetise is up to them, whether through ads, micro transactions, or simply asking to be paid upfront.”


“A game like this isn’t cheap to make. In my opinion, there’s $10 worth of experience in Super Mario Run. But of course, the exact worth of a piece of entertainment is hard to pinpoint,” Mr Dief said.

“If a player is worried it’s not worth their $10, that’s their choice to make, and Nintendo has given them free trial content to enable them to make that choice in an educated way,” he said.

IHS Technology consultant Piers Harding-Rolls said that while “quite big”, the payment was a “one-off”. “I don’t think people will think Nintendo is trying to rinse their audience,” he said.

And TheXbone wrote: “Millions scream at their $700 phone that the $10 Super Mario Run is the most expensive thing they’ve ever seen in their entire lives”.

For now the title is restricted to Apple’s iOS platform, but Nintendo has “at some point in the future”.

Banks told to combat payment scams

Woman on a phone

Banks must do more to tackle scams where people are tricked into transferring money to a fraudster, the regulator has said.

The Payments Systems Regulator (PSR) was responding to a “super complaint” from consumer group Which?.

This complaint highlighted the growing problem of “push” fraud whereby victims are tricked into giving bank details.

However, the PSR stopped short of recommending that banks should be forced to compensate customers.

The regulator said banks needed to work together to help detect this type of fraud, adding they could do more to identify potentially fraudulent payments.

The PSR’s managing director, Hannah Nixon, said it had not taken the regulator long to realise the issue was serious: “In a short space of time we have built a clearer picture of the problems we are facing, and it is evident that this type of scam is a growing problem that needs to be tackled.

“Tens of thousands of people have, combined, lost hundreds of millions of pounds to these scams. We need a concerted and co-ordinated industry-wide approach to better protect consumers, and we need it to start today.”

Actavis UK accused of overcharging NHS for vital drug

Tablets

Actavis UK has been accused of overcharging the NHS for a “life-saving” drug by raising the price by more than 12,000%.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has accused Actavis UK of breaking competition law by raising the price for 10mg hydrocortisone tablets from 70p to £88 over eight years.

Hydrocortisone treats life-threatening conditions such as Addison’s disease.

Between 2008 and 2015, the NHS’s spend on the drug rose from £522,000 to £70m.

Actavis UK was unavailable for comment.

NAB sent details of 60,000 customers to wrong email address

The National Australia Bank (NAB) has taken “full responsibility” and apologised for the sending of personal data of 60,000 customers to an “incorrect email address”.

The email contained each customer’s name, address, email address, branch and account number, as well as an NAB identification number for some customers. Those impacted were customers who had their accounts created by the bank’s migrant banking team while they were overseas.

“This error does not impact customers who set up an account in Australia,” the bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon. “We take the privacy and the protection of our customers’ personal information extremely seriously.

“The error was caused by human error and identified following our own internal checks and as soon as we realised what had happened we took action.”

NAB said it had not seen any unusual activity on the affected accounts, and 40 percent of those customers had either closed their accounts or not used them in 2016. The bank said 19,000 accounts contained less than AU$2.

“We are sorry for this error and we will continue to work hard to improve and strengthen our processes,” the bank said.

NAB said it had notified the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

In October, NAB posted a AU$352 million statutory net profit for the 2016 financial year and praised its reduction in “technology incidents”.

Six pharmaceutical firms accused of price-fixing

Rows of pills

US authorities have accused six pharmaceutical firms from the US, India and Australia of price-fixing.

It is alleged the companies conspired to raise the price of the antibiotic doxycycline and diabetes drug glyburide.

The civil lawsuit has been filed in 20 US states.

It follows criminal charges being brought against former executives at one of the accused firms.

US drugmakers Mylan, Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical USA and Citron Pharma are named in the lawsuit alongside India’s Aurobindo Pharma and Australia’s Mayne Pharmaceuticals.

Mylan, Teva and Aurobindo have denied the allegations.

Heritage has been accused of being the “principal architect” of the case. On Wednesday the US Department of Justice charged two former executives with price-fixing. Heritage said it was co-operating fully with the probe and had filed its own civil complaint against the pair.

Australia’s Mayne confirmed it was among the companies named in the case brought by anti-trust investigators.

Its shares plunged 22% on the news, and while it did not comment on the allegations, it said the probe and legal proceedings would “not have a material impact on its future earnings”.

“No assurance can be given as to the timing or outcome of the investigation or legal proceedings,” a spokesperson added.

Citron Pharma is yet to comment.

The civil case follows a two-year investigation started by the office of Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen – and alleges that firms conspired over steak dinners and “girls nights out.”

Mr Jepsen told Reuters that lawsuit was just “the tip of the iceberg”, saying price fixing in the generic industry was “widespread and pervasive”, involving “many other drugs and a number of other companies.”

One Democrat Senator claims the price of 500 doxycycline tablets rose in the US from $20 to $1,849 in just seven months.

ATO summons expert to review ‘unusual and unfortunate’ outage

Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan has announced an independent review into the “unprecedented failure” of the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) storage hardware that took its online services offline earlier this week.

The ATO’s website, tax agent, and business portals initially crashed on Monday, as a result of a “world first” hardware issue. The outage continued through Tuesday, which is when the ATO called in Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to help it determine the underlying cause of the problem that the ATO said was encountered for the first time anywhere in the world.

Jordan said on Friday it was the ATO’s worst unplanned system outage in recent memory.

“This was an extremely unusual and unfortunate event,” he said in a statement. “The issues we have experienced this week do not relate to our overall IT capability or skills.”

Almost everything was back up and running on Wednesday morning, when the tax office admitted that it did experience “some” data corruption — not an entire petabyte, however — as a result of the hardware-related incident, and noted it was in the process of having the data fully restored from a back-up.

“We are realistic that there may be some intermittent performance issues in the next couple of days as the full restoration process proceeds,” the commissioner said Friday.

The storage hardware in question was upgraded in November 2015 by HPE and was seen by the ATO to be “state-of- the-art” at the time, with the ATO noting it is “basically the same” hardware used by other large clients of HPE.

“What compounded the problem beyond the initial failure was the subsequent failure of our back-up arrangements to work as planned,” Jordan explained. “The failure of our back-up arrangements meant that restoration and resumption of data and services has been very complex and time consuming.”

“We, and HPE, will continue to work on the stability and performance of all of our systems and we will have staff working over the weekend to catch-up on any backlog of work.”

Jordan said the review will be conducted by an independent expert who will determine the nature of the failure(s) and their root cause(s), the adequacy of back-up and contingency arrangements, and the likelihood of recurrence.

It will also consider the ATO’s response to the failure, including how it managed business resumption processes and the effectiveness of its communication on the outage.

“I will be doing everything I can to learn from what has happened this week and to put in place any necessary changes to minimise the risk of any recurrence,” Jordan said. “Please be assured that I am committed to providing a quality, reliable, and contemporary service to the Australian community.”