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UPDATE4 Gigaclear’s West Oxfordshire Cotswolds Broadband Rollout Cancelled

Posted Monday, January 9th, 2017 (11:10 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 2,364)
gigaclear rural path fibre optic broadband

The state aid supported Cotswolds Broadband CIC project, which is supposed to be deploying a new mixed Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and Fixed Wireless broadband network to rural premises in West Oxfordshire (England), has been “terminated” following a supplier dispute.

The project, which was acquired by Gigaclear just over a year ago after initially being established by Hugo Pickering, originally aimed to ensure that an additional 6,000 or so properties in West Oxfordshire would gain the capability to connect at 24Mbps or greater speeds, with the deployment phase beginning in May 2016 (here) and completing by May 2017 or possibly sooner.

The related contract was supported by an investment of £1.6m (grant) from the Government, as well as £1.6m in the form of a loan from the West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) and £3.2m coming via private investment from rural fibre optic ISP Gigaclear. However we haven’t seen any major updates on the roll-out since last May and the deployment plan on their website is dated from 2014 (here), which may no longer be relevant.

On Saturday ISPreview.co.uk became aware that there might be a problem after one of our readers received the following response from Gigaclear last week when enquiring about the project’s status.

Gigaclear Statement on Cotswolds Broadband

Cotswolds Broadband has been working closely with West Oxfordshire District Council and BDUK, the Government body responsible for national broadband delivery, to provide full coverage of superfast broadband across the West Oxfordshire.

Unfortunately, the project is currently on hold, while we work to resolve issues with our supplier. Due to the commercial sensitivities involved, no further comment can be made until this process is complete.

All parties are keen to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and will issue further information as it becomes available.

The Cotswolds Broadband project has always been a bit vague when it came to the detail, which made it difficult to know what local homes and businesses could expect to receive or when. A detailed roll-out schedule was promised last year, but it never emerged and we still don’t know what the final fixed wireless products will look like (note: the FTTP side will most likely reflect Gigaclear’s own Gigabit capable packages).

According to the original tender, the supplier involved is the ITS Technology Group and we are attempting to clarify this (we recall the earlier Fibre GarDen dispute in Cumbria), but so far we’ve only been told by Gigaclear’s PR firm that the West Oxfordshire District Council will be “issuing a statement shortly.” We understand that the statement is due sometime early this week.

Expect further updates as we learn more about this breaking news story. It may also be worth pointing out that WODC, like many UK councils, is currently suffering from strain on their budget due to Government cuts and past council tax freezes (here).

UPDATE 7pm:

We’ve noted that ITS Tech’s accounts appear to be overdue and their financial situation may be under a bit of strain (here). Meanwhile one of our readers has also discovered that ITS Tech was last year spotted on the Companies Court Winding Up List (CR-2016-004108), but that was only an application and so far it doesn’t appear to have gone any further (i.e. an agreement may have been reached to resolve the problem).

So far we’ve yet to get a full statement from any of the parties involved.

UPDATE 10th Jan – 3:24pm:

We’ve had an update from ITS Technology on the winding up petition mentioned earlier. The good news is that this isn’t related to the current situation in West Oxfordshire.

The winding up petition stemmed from an overdue payment issue with HMRC in August 2016, which is said to have occurred because of an incorrectly reported amount of VAT that was still in the process of being disputed.

We are told that the judge advised both parties to resolve the matter within 90 days and to agree the correct amount. Both parties later resolved the issue and the outstanding amount was paid in full, thus no further action was taken.

UPDATE 12th Jan – 10:15am

We’ve just been informed via a joint statement that the contract between Cotswolds Broadband and ITS Technology Group for the delivery of superfast broadband to West Oxfordshire has been terminated by mutual agreement. Cotswolds Broadband has therefore “regretfully decided to withdraw” from the West Oxfordshire Superfast Broadband project.

Steve Brealey, Cotswolds Broadband Project Manager, said:

“The decision to withdraw from this project was not an easy one to take but there were no other options available. We have contacted all residents who have placed an order or have registered an interest to advise of the situation.”

David Cullen, Director of Regulation and Strategy at ITS, said:

“ITS have worked hard with all stakeholders in an attempt to explore alternative options, however no viable solution could be found.”

So far no public money has been spent on this specific project and West Oxfordshire District Council are still said to be “committed to securing superfast broadband access for everyone in the district“.

UPDATE 12th Jan – 11:38am

The West Oxfordshire District Council has now chimed in to confirm that they and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme are “determined to ensure superfast broadband coverage is available throughout the entire district as soon as possible” and have confirmed that public sector funding remains available to make this happen.

In keeping with that the WODC is commencing a new project immediately. This will start with a formal Open Market Review (OMR) followed by public consultation to determine, with as much accuracy as possible, which premises need connections. The Council will then procure a new supplier. It is estimated that this process could take in the region of 6 months, with the build phase starting 3 months after that (i.e. end of 2017).

Cllr Colin Dingwall, Cabinet Member for Broadband at WODC, said:

“It is very disappointing that Cotswolds Broadband’s project failed after so much hard work. The delay for residents is really frustrating. Taking on the procurement process ourselves demonstrates that we are absolutely committed to securing superfast broadband access for everyone in the district as soon as possible.

We are working very closely with BDUK on the new project and are confident that it can be delivered successfully.”

Whilst the broadband project procurement and delivery phase is taking place, those individuals and businesses with little or no connectivity (under 2Mbps) can also apply for a subsidised basic service through the Government’s Better Broadband Scheme. More information, including an application form, is on the Better Broadband for Oxfordshire website.

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30 Responses
  1. Steve Jones

    I know that Robert Llewllyn (of Red Dwarf fame) has got his Gigaclear fibre connection in Temple Guiting (Glocs) going as he’s been happily tweeting about it.

    I assume this is a local supplier issue and not one that has implications for the recently signed Connecting Devon and Somerset FTTP project.

    • This story is solely about the West Oxfordshire project, which is currently nothing whatsoever to do with any of the other deployments elsewhere in the UK. In fact it’s quite a bit different from Gigaclear’s others due to not having originally been created by that ISP.

    • TheManStan

      HMRC dispute explains both the late accounts and the petition.

      Good to know that the dispute is behind them and won’t go any further.

  2. New_Londoner

    Tempting to say what a superfarce, what we need are people of fibre, moral and optical, to get this done ….. ! 😉

    More seriously, it does highlight the downside of using smaller suppliers, not everything in the alt-net garden is rosy.

    • gerarda

      For once I agree with you. There would have been far less criticism of the BDUK process had the majority supplier had any moral fibre.

      Of course BTs use of 3rd party contractors has not been without its downsides – as a number of people in this part of the world found to their cost.

    • Ignition

      So BT should’ve directly employed all those doing their work? VM presumably should be doing the same for Project Lightning?

      They are both struggling to get enough manpower to build what they want to build. Should they be working on human cloning?

    • New_Londoner

      What part of the world is that Gerarda?

    • gerarda

      @Ignition – merely pointing to New Londoner that problems with suppliers is not confined to altnets.

      @New Londoner – East Anglia- at least 4 simultaneously failed AIO migrations with apparently the failures not communicated to other parts of Openreach

    • Steve Jones

      @gerarda

      No, but the ability to manage sub-contractors certainly is, especially with regards to the ability to meet contractual requirements. Small operators can be very agile of course, as they are less restricted by the processes required to run a large company. However, small operators also tend to lack the sheer commercial power with suppliers so that they can iron out really large scale roll-outs. Witness what happened to Fibre Garden. Well run outfits (like WarwickNet) can be successful in their own chosen market area, but if you have to deal with dozens of smaller operators then some will simply not have the means to complete contracts, which is why state and local authorities usually include commercial viability evaluation criteria in procurement tender evaluations over a certain level.

      For the most part the BDUK local projects have met contractual requirements pretty well on time, with just a few exceptions. For most local BDUK projects it has been done at below cost, and that’s before gainshare is taken into account (which I don’t count as a saving as its a contractual obligation, but still a reflection of relative success).

      Note that the failure of a sub-contractor will not cut much ice with those in the public sector who grant the contract. They will want to see matters resolved quickly. Note I’m not talking about this contract in particular as I’m not party to the issues in question, but about the general issue.

    • fastman

      Gerada my understanding of your issue as you well know what is termed live to live – but lets not worry about facts eh

    • gerarda

      @steve jones

      Recent local experience suggests that the processes for managing sub-contractors within BT are OK if there are no problems but compound the issues when there are.

      @fastman

      Not just my issue, and not just live to live, and totally avoidable if sub contractors and engineers were allowed to communicate with each other.

    • fastman

      depends what you mean by engineers — and also what you mean by communicate with each other

    • gerarda

      @fastman

      “Engineer” someone employed by Openreach to rectify faults as in “we will send an engineer to fix the fault on Friday”

      “Communicate” share or exchange information, news, or ideas. (Oxford English Dictionary)

    • fastman

      thats sounds like an issue between you and your service provider !!!! who ever that happens to be

    • gerarda

      No nothing to do with any service provider – but your reply seems to be indicative of the culture within BT that seems to prevents anyone admitting that things have gone wrong

    • Fastman

      Gerada

      so I do not know who your service provider is — so my question is
      A Did they tell openreach there was a problem
      B did they actually ask Openreach to send an engineer
      C did they actually tell Openreach what the problem was
      D did Openreach tell the service provider that depending on what the service provider told Openreach there might be a charge fro the vis and therefore that was not communicated with you

      openreach wanted to have more conversaition the the isp customer – but the ips does not want that in any shape or form

      t

    • gerarda

      @fastman

      as I keep telling you ad nauseum this is nothing to do with any service provider purely an internal openreach issue

  3. MikeW

    Nicely dug out, Mark.

    Whatever the issue is, it must be rather major. You don’t put a whole project on hold because of a small problem with one small supplier.

  4. TheManStan

    Happy New Year to one and all!

    Been a bit busy recently.

    Putting research hat on shows there was a winding up petition for ITS Technology, from google, but as the has been no advertisment in the London Gazette there must have been an agreement between creditor and ITS. Very bad news for this to reach an actual high court petition… banks get twitchy…

    Companies Court Winding Up List Court Listings 17/11/2016, details …
    http://www.thelawpages.com/court-hearings…/2016-06…/Companies-Court-Winding-Up-List
    2 Jun 2016 – CR-2016-000977 Alphabet City Trading LTD; CR-2016-001901 Ellis Barker Limited …. CR-2016-004108 ITS Technology Group Limited …

    and

    http://windinguppetitionsolicitors.co.uk/insolvency-lawyers-london/companies-court-winding-list-07-11-16/

  5. Nik Bridge

    Wow so many companies still being wound up! Thought the economy was improving

    • fastman

      this industry is hard – network infrastucture costs massive amounts of money , returs take many years — thats the reality

    • 125uS

      Building infrastructure is hard.

      Even if everything goes exactly to plan there’s a chance that ever declining prices mean you can’t repay the people who loaned you money with the revenue you make from the thing you built.

      If you run into delays or problems, you have to start paying people back the money they loaned you before you’re making any revenue. If you can’t, they take the thing you built from you.

      It’s been true throughout history – railways, electricity, telephones – build it privately and you’ll probably end up in all sorts of bother and being owned by the government. State owned infrastructure can be built with much lower financial risk as the government can just lend money to itself.

      It can be done privately – the mobile networks for example – but the cost to the public of that approach is that provision will often be focused on the most profitable areas.

  6. FibreFred

    Support the Altnets!

  7. TheManStan

    Oh dear, not good news at all.

    I wonder if it is a scale and complexity issue for ITS technology?

    Their existing community projects have all been quite small footprints, both this project and the Fibre GarDen appear substantially beyond the scale of their previous projects.

    Probably the reason Gigaclear has harnessed Atkins too, in that their existing project management staff are getting stretched with all the new work.

  8. MikeW

    After Update #4 (Cotswold BB have withdrawn, and WODC starting a new project)

    If Cotswold haven’t used any funds, and haven’t supplied any service, is a new OMR warranted?

    IMO these last 2 updates are worthy of a whole new story

    • MikeW

      And…

      If Cotswold BB have withdrawn from the project, but Gigaclear acquired Cotswold BB, does that really mean Gigaclear withdrew?

    • TheManStan

      I agree a new story would be appropriate.

      I suspect that the new supplier will be Gigaclear without ITS technology…

  9. Fastman

    Hmmm that will be interesting view you need a new OMR and then a procurement (that Alone will be 250k at least of public money costs) and probably take significant number of months and you also will need some form of state aid coverage

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