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Westminster City Council Calls for Better Business Broadband

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 (9:21 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 817)
westminster uk government

The Westminster City Council in central London has added its voice to the growing calls for local businesses to be given access to better broadband connectivity, which comes after it was earlier revealed by Ofcom that only 47% of the city’s premises have access to “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) speeds.

The concern appears to stem from a report by the councils Environment Policy and Scrutiny Committee, which was held on Monday and after a little digging we were finally able to find a copy of the related document (here). “[Superfast broadband] coverage is remarkably poor given the intensity of ‘dark fibre’ in the centre of London,” said the report.

However the report also noted that “caution is needed on these statistics as the definition of what constitutes ‘access’ is unclear. For example this term may only relate to premises within direct exchange areas where fibre is being rolled out, rather than actual access to broadband cabinets which are actually connected to fibre.”

Report Statement

All major cities require advanced broadband to compete internationally. Westminster is host to 49,700 enterprises, 65% of which are small or medium sized firms. Connectivity is especially important to cities such as Westminster with a high proportion of high growth firms in diverse sectors such as the media, design, digital and telecommunications. The City Council’s last full Business Survey (2012) identified that nearly half (43%) of businesses in the city conduct the majority of their business online.

The chair of the Environment Policy and Scrutiny Committee, Ian Adams, similarly said that he wishes to “establish why superfast broadband coverage in the city is so low and to discuss ways in which we can work with providers to ensure the situation improves. For the sake of UK PLC, we cannot afford to let a lack of broadband connectivity threaten the ability of businesses in the city to stay competitive in the global market.”

Local firms can of course take advantage of the Government’s Connection Vouchers scheme, which offer grants worth up to £3,000 in order to help get SMEs upgraded to a superfast broadband connection.

But such grants often don’t cover anything like the full cost, especially in dense and complicated urban environments. Meanwhile smaller businesses cannot usually afford the kind of Ethernet or Leased Line style connectivity options that are currently available (note: often cheaper FTTC etc. solutions aren’t available due to Exchange Only Lines).

Similar problems have over the past few months been highlighted by Ofcom, Hyperoptic and the City of London Corporation (here and here). Meanwhile the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (Conservative), also claims to be developing a new strategy that could help to improve the situation (here) and this intends to make affordable superfast broadband available to 99% of London premises by 2018. But so far we’re still waiting to see some real detail on that.

Meanwhile BT are currently trialling a new VDSL based form of Fibre-to-the-Basement (FTTB) and Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node (FTTrN) broadband technology in small parts of central London, which might provide a solution for Exchange Only Lines. But until some form of commercial deployment is detailed then people will continue to raise concerns.

This week the Government’s Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said that he is also busy investigating other ways in which Broadband Delivery UK investment could be used to improve the situation. Our sources indicate that a new round of funding could be announced during early February, although this is likely to be aimed more at rural homes than businesses (though there’s always a cross-over).

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13 Responses
  1. Ignitionnet

    Hmm. Where are the usual suspects who pop up on anything related to lack of coverage, or does the indignation just apply to rural areas rather than urban areas such as zone 1, Central London?

    • FibreFred

      I don’t believe there are any farms in the area so… no interest

    • I have doing some checks in areas close to Westminster. The issue is similar but there is a vibrant market in selling private circuits to solve what is a distance problem. In one triangle of premises 11 private circuits were sold while only 2 needed the properties of a private circuit.
      Tennants move to find the connectivity they need, but there is much frustration.
      I can see London Councils threaten to build duct of their own and make it available to all on some equivalent basis to begin forcing more action from BT.
      Ofcom’s SME consultation said there was 15-16% problem which they were minded to ignore, but research by Jigsaw was a satisfaction survey rather than one presenting the options.
      Connection vouchers are reninforcing the private circuit sale rather than forcing more FTTP broadband.
      A more aggressive move on passives through BCMR might help solve this one.

    • Gadget

      Or perhaps resolution of the Westminster Cable issue with Virgin Media?

    • nga for all

      @gadget you have a point. and altnets happy to sell private circuits.

    • FibreFred

      I’ve said this before and I will say it again

      This area of the UK must be one of the easier areas to deploy fttp
      This area definitely has the most alternate service providers in the UK (i.e not bt) London is rammed with service providers

      Yet other providers have not stepped in, why?

      Before reverting to the default “slang off by” answer that question and you will find the same answer to many other questions all around the UK

    • TheFacts

      Surely a built up area like the centre of London is very difficult for FTTP. Wayleaves, avoiding other services, driling through foundations etc. How how much installation cost?

    • FibreFred

      They manage to install fibre to business premises, Ethernet circuits, DWDM etc?

    • TheFacts

      At some cost.

    • FibreFred

      Correct

      So there’s a large installation cost
      Not a massive amount of revenue compared to a business provision

      That is why service providers BT (and the rest) aren’t that eager, little in the way of returns.

      Its the same in other parts of the UK as well

  2. No Clue

    I guess whether it be rural or city the only clear thing is infill schemes and the funding for them along with actually getting it done rather than promising to get it done, is still an issue.

  3. Did Westminster council ever back track on planning permissions for the larger FTTC street cabinets? If you’ve got high competition density from other providers and a council who won’t give permissions for cost effective deployment, what do they expect?

  4. nga for all

    Banning Tv aerials and dishes as ‘ghastly’ would kick start Fttp overnight.

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