By: MarkJ - 4 April, 2011 (12:06 AM)
free virgin media uk broadband upload speed boostbtA long running cable network ownership dispute between two of country's largest telecoms operators, BT and Virgin Media UK, appears to be holding up the provision of new digital cable TV and broadband internet access services in Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire).

Milton Keynes was formally designated as a new town in 1967 and at the time it was able to benefit from having one of the country's first ever analogue cable TV networks, owned by BT. EU competition concerns in the late 1990s forced BT to sell (lease) the network on to NTL, which later became Virgin Media.

Sadly most urban areas in the South East of England town have not been able to benefit from the new range of digital cable TV, phone and broadband ISP services that Virgin Media are able to offer elsewhere in the country. This is because Virgin and BT have been unable to reach agreement on physical access, which is so desperately needed in order to modernise the network.

A VirginMedia Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

"Virgin Media provides services in Milton Keynes over a network owned and maintained by BT. As Virgin Media services are delivered via underground cabling there will be no disruption to TV services during the digital witchover period, so Virgin Media customers do not need any upgrades to aerials or Freeview boxes as their service will continue uninterrupted.

"However we have been working toward upgrading the services delivered to Milton Keynes for some time now and we have been in ongoing dialogue with our network provider to look at the best way forward. We hope to be able to deliver our latest cutting edge services, including broadband with speeds up to 100Mb and our next generation TV service powered by TiVo as soon as we can, but due to the unique situation in Milton Keynes, unfortunately we are unable to commit to any dates at this stage."

BT claims to "never comment" on commercial arrangements between itself and customers like Virgin Media, which must certainly come in handy when faced with situations like this. BT of course has its own fibre optic deployment plans for the town and is already running a trial of 100Mbps FTTP technology in Bradwell Abbey.

A local resident, Diane, commented to ISPreview.co.uk:

"Those in the city that are left with no choice but analogue cable like me get a pathetic deal in terms of picture quality. £4 a month buys access to Virgin cable - with an old archaic box. Access to around 35 channels (they take them off satellite themselves). But they are all grainy as hell!

Last year a utility cut through our cable in the pavement and Virgin had to send bt engineers out to fix it as they weren't allowed to touch it in the ground! I watched as they sellotaped the severed ends. Complained to virgin but they said they couldn't do anything! So now my picture is sub analogue standard you could say!"

As if that wasn't bad enough Milton Keynes, which was once destined to be a "city of the future", has been built in dip (surrounded by higher terrain and trees). This means that Digital Terrestrial Freeview and Satellite don't work as well for most people as they would elsewhere.


Thankfully there could be light at the end of this very long and somewhat analogue tunnel. The local council has finally got involved and is calling for Ofcom to take urgent action. However, given how slowly the wheels of telecoms regulation tend to turn, we suspect that MK may have to wait a little while yet before the situation is resolved.
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Comments: 9

asa logowirelesspacman
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 7:37 AM
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Wouldn't it be a surprise (not!) if BT finally allowed the situation to be resolved once they had comfortably rolled out their own fibre-based solution!
asa logoMark
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 8:59 AM
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I might have missed something in the history of this, but as I understand it VM lease a naff near-useless outdated network from BT which they [BT] don't want upgraded.

So why not build their own like they do everywhere else, is it because the council won't let them dig up the roads again?
asa logoMarkJ
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 9:16 AM
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I'm not sure precisely what Virgin Media has planned but it would still be easier/cheaper to upgrade the old cable with digital kit than to stick a new one in the ground.
asa logoMark
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 9:30 AM
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This is messy, though. Are Virgin Media going to pay for BT's equipment to be upgraded to something useful, and then carry on paying BT to lease the network that VM built?

Of course, the moment VM did up the roads, then immediately comes the BT FTTC and FTTP service that everyone had been waiting for for a decade because suddenly commercial viability and cost fall away as issues.

I suppose it's generally the case that VM lead, BT follows and VM can't be bothered in this instance, which I can understand. Doesn't help the residents, though.
asa logotonyp
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 10:40 AM
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I have been told that it used to be verboten to put up terrestrial TV aerials though it seems that lately that planning restriction may be having a blind eye turned to it. This is a big problem for multi-tennanted buildings with a landlord managing TV facilities. I understand that some parts of MK are due to have the old cable system turned off too though I havn't seen the leaflet describing what is to happen.

However dishes are plentiful (not covered by the original restriction) and I guess Sky will probably clean up here. Of course there is Freesat.....
asa logohellwelovespurs
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 11:09 AM
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One thing holding me back from moving to new area is lack on bb speed what going to happen when 4g starts in 2014 when providers offering 12-18mg on mobile or alternative
asa logoMark
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 11:36 AM
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@tonyp - similar to Harlow New Town then, where I grew up. Originally all cabled by the state (?), it was sold off to someone whose name I cannot remember (blue Telewest style logo, many years ago) then bought up by NTL who then owned the network, so the situation there is different and pretty well all of Harlow has digital cable. There also used to be a restriction on aerials in Harlow too which needed planning permission since everyone could get a cable service, and the stipulation was that the commercial provider had to carry on supplying Freeview for free over the cable system because people couldn't have aerials.
asa logoMark
Posted: 4 April, 2011 - 11:41 AM
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@hellwelovespurs - a few (literally?!) lucky people can get about 7meg from their 3G service already. You just have to live next to the cell, and be the only person using it :)

We get 3 meg on a 3.6meg cell but it's rural and I might be one of only a few people using it hence the speed.

4G/LTE can support higher speeds than you state, though if it were the only real broadband option in a built up area I'm not sure it would deliver 12meg to many people except possibly in the middle of the night when most people are in bed.

Personally, I'd move somewhere else :-)
asa logoLisa
Posted: 7 April, 2011 - 6:45 AM
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Ofcom's silence in the matter speaks volumes on their bias toward BT. How can they not have looked at this as the disputes been going since 2000? If they have looked at, then, in my judgement, there's obvious bias towards BT.



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