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Bobdogs

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Having watched BBC news at 10 for the first time in ages I was impressed by the quality of the programme considering the rows of empty seats in what I assume is the news room.
Radio programmes on the BBC have maintained their excellent standards of quality and content despite some presenters working from home supported by minimal production staff.
I have always wondered what those people in the news room were doing
.
Similarly, why on a showsuch as Have I got News (pre lockdown) are there seemingly 20 plus people on the credits.
In other words, is our licence fee being used to pay a surfeit of unnecessary dead wood?
 
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ainsworth74

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I assume quite a lot of people are working from home when it comes to things like the newsroom being empty. Whilst for something like Have I Got News For You there will be plenty of production staff working in the studio (director, lighting, sound, audience wrangling, make-up, etc) who aren't required when the show is being filmed from people's homes. Indeed those people are all probably laid off currently wondering when they'll next have work...
 

WelshBluebird

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Errrr, just because you can't see the people, doesn't mean they aren't doing necessary work!
Much of what the team in the newsroom do can be done at home I would imagine!
As for production staff - who else do you expect to do things like lighting, camera work, sound etc etc?
 

Qwerty133

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Errrr, just because you can't see the people, doesn't mean they aren't doing necessary work!
Much of what the team in the newsroom do can be done at home I would imagine!
As for production staff - who else do you expect to do things like lighting, camera work, sound etc etc?
But production staff also includes people like make-up artists and frankly the current crisis has shown that make up artists aren't really necessary in the news department as presenters are still appearing looking perfectly fine (albeit with differently styled hair in some cases).
 

LMS 4F

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It does appear that the BBC has a lot more staff than commercial TV companies, certainly judging by how many people they send to events such as the Olympic Games compared to their rivals.
 

ainsworth74

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It does appear that the BBC has a lot more staff than commercial TV companies, certainly judging by how many people they send to events such as the Olympic Games compared to their rivals.
Which is surely related to the scale of coverage that they provide for the Olympics?
 

AM9

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Which is surely related to the scale of coverage that they provide for the Olympics?
The BBC has three commercial subsidiaries that provide services to the broadcasting industry, - two of them worldwide. They in turn provide an income that subsidises the core UK broadcasting operation, over and above the TV licence income. See here:
https://www.bbc.com/aboutthebbc/whatwedo/commercialservices
Although partitioned for competition purposes, much of the UK output is sold around the globe and integrates with the World Service as well as other countries' national broadcasts. All of that doesn't happen on a skeleton staff.
 

EssexGonzo

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The fact that the quality of the News output has largely been maintained with many staff working at home will absolutely have an impact on the future property strategy of the BBC and many other large employers - especially with desks in lovely London buildings costing upwards of £10k per desk per annum. I've seen some of the ambitious numbers from my employer (50k+ employees) in respect of a reduction in desk numbers whilst maintaining staff numbers, once things begin to settle down again.

I really wouldn't like to be in commercial property right now. Whilst empty office blocks will eventually be turned into flats, that'll take some time.
 

AM9

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The fact that the quality of the News output has largely been maintained with many staff working at home will absolutely have an impact on the future property strategy of the BBC and many other large employers - especially with desks in lovely London buildings costing upwards of £10k per desk per annum. I've seen some of the ambitious numbers from my employer (50k+ employees) in respect of a reduction in desk numbers whilst maintaining staff numbers, once things begin to settle down again.

I really wouldn't like to be in commercial property right now. Whilst empty office blocks will eventually be turned into flats, that'll take some time.
Ironically, it might prove to be less fovourable to the Media City operation in Salford if the need for some office accomodation is removed. There will always be a long-term need for live studios in which politicians, international celebs etc., can be interviewed, and even when HS2 is completed as far as Manchester, the lack of an appetite for guests to traipse all the way up there will probably not make the London venues redundant.
Much more interesting is the radio news operation where the main broadcasts are run with presenters and journalists in their own homes. They get an ISDN mixer, a couple of microphones, and a couple of laptops. The ISDN line gives a pretty good speech circuit with no discernable delay and the two displays enable the standard scheduling software to be run alongside the BBC website giveing the presenter almost as much accessibility as they would normally have in the studio. A casual listener probably wouldn't notice the difference from normal now.*

*One interesting thing was a few days ago when on 'pm', Evan Davis was interviewing Marcus Wareing, the resauranteur. Marcus was having a rant about his likely business problems when the line dropped out. Unlike the usual situation where the presenter says something like "oh dear we seem to have lost the line ...", this time it was Evan's line that dropped, leaving Marcus mid-rant saying hello? ... hello?, until the continuity person stepped in. Not funny for Marcus but it did sound quite amusing.
 

EssexGonzo

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Absolutely, I definitely think that the need for studios and infrastructure that support high production values will always be required. But that's the tip of a very large iceberg.

Of those other people that you see in the BBC newsroom (as an example) you have to believe that many could work remotely. E.g. editors, writers, compliance, fact checking, general news gathering, website management...........

Incidentally - we are getting more conditioned to seeing presenters, politicians, "celebrities" and experts talking from home using their webcams and it normally doesn't reduce the impact or quality of the message. I haven't yet seen a line drop on live TV, as you describe. I'm sure they're more likely but given the money, time, virus risk and environmental benefits, the line risk is worth taking IMHO.
 

dosxuk

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Having watched BBC news at 10 for the first time in ages I was impressed by the quality of the programme considering the rows of empty seats in what I assume is the news room.
Radio programmes on the BBC have maintained their excellent standards of quality and content despite some presenters working from home supported by minimal production staff.
I have always wondered what those people in the news room were doing
The majority of the desks visible on TV are occupied by those working directly on that day's programming output - so producers, editors, directors and even presenters writing scripts. At the moment the output has been cut down significantly, with much simulcasting between the UK News Channel and BBC World News, which reduces the number of people needed there. There is also an emphisis on remote-working, where those roles that can be done remotely are being done so.

The News department takes up a lot more of the building than is apparent from what you see in the background of the studio, so it's very difficult to get a grasp of just how empty the building is compared to normal.

It does appear that the BBC has a lot more staff than commercial TV companies, certainly judging by how many people they send to events such as the Olympic Games compared to their rivals.
Do you really find it odd that the UK rights holder to the Olympics sends more people to cover the Olympics than other UK broadcasters? ITV / Sky aren't even allowed on the sites to film during the games. Incidentally, at the last World Cup, where rights are shared between BBC & ITV, ITV sent significantly more people over than the BBC.

Also, the large proportion of people working on those broadcasts will be freelancers who work for all the broadcasters, rather than just BBC staffers.
 

AM9

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... Also, the large proportion of people working on those broadcasts will be freelancers who work for all the broadcasters, rather than just BBC staffers.
That's true. Anyone who went to see the 2012 Olympics will have seen the OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) crews. They are mandated by the IOC to prevent national providers 'bias in the selection of camera angles etc..
 

AM9

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I assume quite a lot of people are working from home when it comes to things like the newsroom being empty. Whilst for something like Have I Got News For You there will be plenty of production staff working in the studio (director, lighting, sound, audience wrangling, make-up, etc) who aren't required when the show is being filmed from people's homes. Indeed those people are all probably laid off currently wondering when they'll next have work...
HIGNFY has a plethora of staff that make the show possible. If you've ever been to a recording of it, there's the director, control room crew, editors, news researchers and lawyers, all required for the current virtual programme. So ignoring the normal studio staff like floor managers, lighting, camera operators, sound engineers, etc., there's a whole plethora of crew that you don't see for major programmes.
 

LMS 4F

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I would seem to have upset a lot of BBC supporters. I would maintain that if the BBC was required to fund itself then its operations would be a lot leaner than at present.
As for the standard of news programmes across all channels I would suggest that the standard has dropped considerably over the last few years. Lots of items can hardly be called news and are all too often adverts for later shows, even on the BBC.
Hopefully before too long the TV licence is consigned to history and commercial ideas are allowed in.
 

83A

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My vocation is a broadcast engineer, I work for a company that provides equipment to the industry, think vision mixing desks, cameras, infrastructure etc.

My main focus is outside broadcast (so sport) but I’ve spent plenty of time doing news as well.

The interesting thing about TV, there is a huge amount of effort and skill in making a TV program look simple to those viewing on the idiot lantern in their living rooms.

To the public it looks like a news reader speaking to camera but the technical and creative effort put in every day to achieve that look is huge.

I haven’t been involved with the BBC during lockdown but I’ll guarantee it’s a massive effort to keep things moving.

Oh and I’ve seen news production from New Zealand to Norway and I consider the BBC to still be some of the finest, so ignore the BBC hate you might read :)

I have however been working behind the scenes for a certain sport channel and the effort we as a manufacturer have put in to remote production during lockdown, will I feel have a permanent change to how things can be and will be done. The sheer improvisation has also been impressive.

Here is a nice video to demonstrate my points!


Cheers
 
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theblackwatch

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That video is really interesting @83A , thanks for sharing it. It gives a real insight into what is needed to produce a professional programme, and how people have risen to the challenge in difficult circumstances.
 

Andrew S

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But production staff also includes people like make-up artists and frankly the current crisis has shown that make up artists aren't really necessary in the news department as presenters are still appearing looking perfectly fine
Perhaps the obvious home backgrounds help reduce our expectations. Also, are we sure that news programmes use make up artists normally?
 

83A

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That video is really interesting @83A , thanks for sharing it. It gives a real insight into what is needed to produce a professional programme, and how people have risen to the challenge in difficult circumstances.

Thank you. It’s actually been quite interesting if a little hectic.

Remote production has been on the cards for some time.

As an example. Sending an articulated OB truck full of crew and kit to every football match on a Saturday afternoon is very time consuming, expensive and resource hungry. It’s also not very “green”.

Moves to centralise production and just send a camera crew to each game will be the goal. <- (Excuse the pun)

It has been a mission for some time and the development of uncompressed video over IP has enabled this. However the current lockdown situation has suddenly pushed this and other concepts we’ve been toying with to the top of the “ToDo” list!
 

AM9

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Thank you. It’s actually been quite interesting if a little hectic.

Remote production has been on the cards for some time.

As an example. Sending an articulated OB truck full of crew and kit to every football match on a Saturday afternoon is very time consuming, expensive and resource hungry. It’s also not very “green”.

Moves to centralise production and just send a camera crew to each game will be the goal. <- (Excuse the pun)

It has been a mission for some time and the development of uncompressed video over IP has enabled this. However the current lockdown situation has suddenly pushed this and other concepts we’ve been toying with to the top of the “ToDo” list!
Thanks for the info. I have no problems understanding the deployed kit, but what I am curious about is how wide bandwidth video is piped around to and from domestic locations. Unless microwave links are set up, DSL is presumably beset with latency issues and also packet and routing delays. Is ISDN with it's minimal latency used as a cueing channel and then fixed PTP links used for bulk data transport? Would appreciate any info if you can share it, - if BT, (the greater organisation) has the network, I'm sure that BT Sport would be benefiting by using it for their programmes.
 

83A

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Thanks for the info. I have no problems understanding the deployed kit, but what I am curious about is how wide bandwidth video is piped around to and from domestic locations. Unless microwave links are set up, DSL is presumably beset with latency issues and also packet and routing delays. Is ISDN with it's minimal latency used as a cueing channel and then fixed PTP links used for bulk data transport? Would appreciate any info if you can share it, - if BT, (the greater organisation) has the network, I'm sure that BT Sport would be benefiting by using it for their programmes.
Hi. I must admit I’m not completely across how BT are shifting that data between sites that’s not really my expert area (I could probably enquire) but within the studio environment SMPTE 2110 is rapidly becoming the default standard.

It splits the audio and video into separate IP streams and uses PTP to time it all together.

2110 uses UDP Ethernet transport which means connecting the broadcast kit is done with standard COTS Ethernet switches/infrastructure and 10/25/40/50/100G SFP connections, depending on what type of video you are using (1080i = 1.5G, 1080p = 3G, UHD = 12G)

Most broadcast kit is still internally processing video in native SDI, it’s then converted to IP within the box or using racks of SDI-IP endpoints.

The increased use of software control and menus means I can sit at my kitchen table and access my test kit via VPN in the office and work quite effectively during lockdown!
 

PauloDavesi

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Thank you for the informative video.
I have noticed a drop in image quality, compared to the pro level cameras used in studios and normal outside broadcasts, but the fact that the BBC, and others, are still poviding news coverage is much appreciated.
Also, we shouldn't forget the good work done by BBC teams and presenters on the radio at a national, regional and local level. For many people isolated at home BBC radio is an essential link to the outside world, as well as providing useful local information.
 

AM9

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Hi. I must admit I’m not completely across how BT are shifting that data between sites that’s not really my expert area (I could probably enquire) but within the studio environment SMPTE 2110 is rapidly becoming the default standard.

It splits the audio and video into separate IP streams and uses PTP to time it all together.

2110 uses UDP Ethernet transport which means connecting the broadcast kit is done with standard COTS Ethernet switches/infrastructure and 10/25/40/50/100G SFP connections, depending on what type of video you are using (1080i = 1.5G, 1080p = 3G, UHD = 12G)

Most broadcast kit is still internally processing video in native SDI, it’s then converted to IP within the box or using racks of SDI-IP endpoints.

The increased use of software control and menus means I can sit at my kitchen table and access my test kit via VPN in the office and work quite effectively during lockdown!
Thanks, that's interesting. I assume that the VPN must have very low latency so maybe there is a programme of key domestic premises being hooked up with fttp with a high packet priority privilege, (fttc with vectoring might just about manage 100Mb/s which wouldn't really be adequate for source video and way below the needs of raw). That would seem the only way to give near instantaneous transport times that are required for conventional interviews etc., in real time. It seems that distributed production has benefitted from very new Internet programmes to increase speeds. Shuffling sdi data around the home is comparatively easy now, (I use Gb ethernet and that copes with 4k compressed or 2k pro-res). Interesting stuff, but slightly (actually way) off topic for this thread. It does however affect so much in broadcasting for the next few months at least.
 

dosxuk

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Uncompressed video links between locations is still the realm of specifically connected venues or satellite vans. But getting a good-enough quality compressed video link from domestic premises is doable over FTTC or 4G connections. I believe Jake Humphrey's BT Sport contributions are being done entirely over 4G.

The key to understanding the way this remote working works though is that the high quality signals don't get sent around to everyone involved in the production. Even the people directing and vision mixing a programme are only seeing low-bandwidth low-latency versions of the signals. So the control surface at the home of the vision mixer isn't controlling a switcher in his garage connected up to all the signals, it's in a broadcast centre somewhere else with the access to the high-bandwidth high-latency signals. The challenge then being to get the latency of the control data and output video down enough that it doesn't become confusing.

For recorded shows another option opens up, as is believed to be being done with Have I Got News For You, where the contributors do the show over something like Zoom, but their video/audio is recorded locally and then sent after they finish to be edited. That way you can get pretty decent quality, even from poor bandwidth locations.

Connection wise, BT Openreach have stopped installing new lines to all but nationally essential services at the moment, so if you didn't have a good enough connection before this started, you can't get one now (line transfers and other work that doesn't involve going to customer premises is still on going). ISDN is also being phased out and I don't believe new lines are being fitted, as BT are decommissioning the part of their network that the ISDN service runs on.
 

dosxuk

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I would seem to have upset a lot of BBC supporters. I would maintain that if the BBC was required to fund itself then its operations would be a lot leaner than at present.
No, you were pulled up because you're basing your opinions on incorrect assumptions.

Would you like to answer my question about why you think it's odd the BBC send more people than other UK broadcasters to things where they're sole UK rights holders?
 

LMS 4F

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No, you were pulled up because you're basing your opinions on incorrect assumptions.

Would you like to answer my question about why you think it's odd the BBC send more people than other UK broadcasters to things where they're sole UK rights holders?
I based my comments on a report I saw some time ago comparing the BBC with ITV regarding the numbers of staff sent to cover the Olympic Games. Without wishing to widen this too much from the original post I am convinced that if the BBC was a commercial organisation which had to compete in the market place then not only would it cut back on its staff it would also pay some of its staff a lot less than it does at the moment. As it is its takes from the poorest the same as the richest for its services and gives a lot of it to a few, an unsustainable model in the long run.
 

AM9

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Uncompressed video links between locations is still the realm of specifically connected venues or satellite vans. But getting a good-enough quality compressed video link from domestic premises is doable over FTTC or 4G connections. I believe Jake Humphrey's BT Sport contributions are being done entirely over 4G.

The key to understanding the way this remote working works though is that the high quality signals don't get sent around to everyone involved in the production. Even the people directing and vision mixing a programme are only seeing low-bandwidth low-latency versions of the signals. So the control surface at the home of the vision mixer isn't controlling a switcher in his garage connected up to all the signals, it's in a broadcast centre somewhere else with the access to the high-bandwidth high-latency signals. The challenge then being to get the latency of the control data and output video down enough that it doesn't become confusing.

For recorded shows another option opens up, as is believed to be being done with Have I Got News For You, where the contributors do the show over something like Zoom, but their video/audio is recorded locally and then sent after they finish to be edited. That way you can get pretty decent quality, even from poor bandwidth locations.

Connection wise, BT Openreach have stopped installing new lines to all but nationally essential services at the moment, so if you didn't have a good enough connection before this started, you can't get one now (line transfers and other work that doesn't involve going to customer premises is still on going). ISDN is also being phased out and I don't believe new lines are being fitted, as BT are decommissioning the part of their network that the ISDN service runs on.
I realise that high quality video didn't need to go between every location, even on a live production, however, even the talking heads of presenters and guests at home (as sources of some video) seem to have better quality images than can be got back to the broadcasting centre by anything less than a very good FTTC or FTTP link, and there would be a penalty of delay that comes with any compressed video where the GOP is large enough to squeeze it into a compact stream that adds onto whatever the IP routing causes. So I presumed that it would be intra only compression. I must admit that I had forgotten 4G, (and indeed 5G if it is usable anywhere yet), so maybe if a genuine 50Mb/s+ can be reliably supplied as an upload, and GOPs reduced to the minimum, it is just do-able, especially when there is a commercial imperative at work.
The BBC is still very much into ISDN for audio and much of the current news output relies on presenters using ISDN mixers at home, so presumably, their personal phone lines have been converted to that, or they have managed to get some extra lines installed at short notice.
 

Hadders

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I based my comments on a report I saw some time ago comparing the BBC with ITV regarding the numbers of staff sent to cover the Olympic Games. Without wishing to widen this too much from the original post I am convinced that if the BBC was a commercial organisation which had to compete in the market place then not only would it cut back on its staff it would also pay some of its staff a lot less than it does at the moment. As it is its takes from the poorest the same as the richest for its services and gives a lot of it to a few, an unsustainable model in the long run.
Given that ITV don't cover the Olympics it's hardly surprising that the BBC sent more staff to cover them than ITV.

Seriously, complaining about the BBC in this country is as common as complaining about the state of the railways. The BBC is obliged to do many things that other broadcasters aren't and there are times when a national public service is an absolute asset. The current crisis is one of them. No organisation would be able to respond in the way the BBC has with online learning material, for example.

BBC News is always accused of bias. The Tories complained about it when Labour was in power. Labour complain about it when the Tories are in power. That suggests to me that there's not an awful lot wrong.

As for cost could savings be made. Probably - tell me an organisation that can't save some costs. On air talent would generally earn much more in the commercial sector than at the BBC.

As for the license fee at £157.50, this is an absolute bargain. Compare and contrast to a Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky or BT subscription. They don't provide the breadth of TV coverage the BBC does or the radio (both local, national and World Service) or online content.

The BBC is far from perfect but be very careful what you wish for.....
 

dosxuk

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I based my comments on a report I saw some time ago comparing the BBC with ITV regarding the numbers of staff sent to cover the Olympic Games.
A premise, that while factually true, is missing the key factor that the BBC have the rights to broadcast the Olympics, while ITV do not. It's like asking why the BBC sent more people to the Olympics than my local newspaper, or why there are more bus drivers in London than my village. You're not comparing the work that those people are doing, just the raw numbers. Therefore your comments are based on a fallacy, and your conclusions are therefore invalid.

I can guarantee that ITV would send more people to the Olympics than the BBC of they were the rights holders instead. Being a commercial company has nothing to do with it (indeed, you should see the numbers the Americans send over).

I realise that high quality video didn't need to go between every location, even on a live production, however, even the talking heads of presenters and guests at home (as sources of some video) seem to have better quality images than can be got back to the broadcasting centre by anything less than a very good FTTC or FTTP link, and there would be a penalty of delay that comes with any compressed video where the GOP is large enough to squeeze it into a compact stream that adds onto whatever the IP routing causes. So I presumed that it would be intra only compression. I must admit that I had forgotten 4G, (and indeed 5G if it is usable anywhere yet), so maybe if a genuine 50Mb/s+ can be reliably supplied as an upload, and GOPs reduced to the minimum, it is just do-able, especially when there is a commercial imperative at work.
The latency of the high bandwidth feeds (5Mbit is usable, 10Mbit starts to be good, 50Mbit is higher than would be sent over satellite for a primary programme feed) is less of an issue, as long as the timings stay consistent as you can delay feeds appropriately where you put them together. You can use simultaneously a low latency feed at much lower bitrates to give you confidence / talkback / return video feeds and reduce delays between participants.

4G connections have become fairly standard for remote inserts, primarily in news, but also other programming. I believe the Timeline kit being used by BT Sport was originally bought for coverage of women's football, with all the production happening at their base and all cameras fed back over 4G (most matches are single camera jobs).

Basically the clever bit is the linking up of the various technologies that have become standard over the last few years in different areas of broadcasting, and then translating that to having your production staff in separate locations as well as your contributors.

The BBC is still very much into ISDN for audio and much of the current news output relies on presenters using ISDN mixers at home, so presumably, their personal phone lines have been converted to that, or they have managed to get some extra lines installed at short notice.
The BBC have also been using a lot of IP connections over standard broadband connections for their radio broadcasts, using software like Luci Live.

As I said before, Openreach have stopped going on to customer premises, so an upgrade or new line isn't going to happen at the moment.
 

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