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UPD Fibre for Middleton Broadband Campaign Criticise BT Viability Assessments

Thursday, November 1st, 2012 (2:20 am) - Score 8,543

The Fibre for Middleton group, which started campaigning for better broadband earlier this year and has been working with BT to get several street cabinets in the Leeds suburb upgraded to support its 80Mbps capable FTTC tech, has questioned the operators commercial viability assessments after finding contradictions in its methodology.

BTOpenreach are due to upgrade the local telephone exchange to support their latest Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) based superfast broadband service in December 2012, which could potentially help those in the Middleton area where speeds of between 0.3Mbps and 2.5Mbps appear to be the norm. If only it was that simple.

Carl Thomas, Fibre for Middleton Campaigner, told ISPreview.co.uk:

We have been working towards persuading Openreach to deploy their fibre throughout the area for several months, through meetings with them, local and national government, volunteers knocking door to door, a poster campaign, an online campaign and encouraging and registering interest on their behalf.

We have done a great deal to sell Superfast Broadband in an area where 2Mb speeds, available since the early 2000s, are the extreme exception rather than the rule, yet the area is on the outskirts of a major city which is growing and developing rapidly with these new estates a testament to that growth.”

The exchange upgrade is only part of the equation because FTTC technology is more dependent upon local street cabinets being similarly updated. Sadly some cabinets will inevitably end up being classified as not commercially unviable for such work, which can result in many areas being excluded from the rollout.

As part of the recent talks BT initially confirmed that several cabinets on the estate would be eligible for rollout within their existing £2.5bn private investment strategy (i.e. cabinets 22, 40, 43, 60 and 90), which was apparently thanks to a change in the way that BT assessed its cabinets. But BT also advised that they could not go ahead with cabinets 62, 82 and 91 because they were not deemed to be economically viable. So far, so normal.

Carl Thomas said:

Throughout this period we have been repeatedly told that some cabinets are just not economically viable despite the inevitably high uptake, given the poor quality of services currently available.”

According to the campaign, BT initially indicated that they would be willing to revisit the issue if the group surveyed local people to help identify how much interest actually existed. After successfully completing this work the group was then told by BT that they would instead need to seek funding via the state aid Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) process; despite the possibility of additional cash potentially coming from a local supermarket and several housing authorities.

At this point the group began to cast a more questionable eye over BT’s economic viability assessments and identified several apparent contradictions. In particular, the group noted an interesting comparison between BT’s rejection of local cabinet 82, which is believed to connect around 300 properties, and the planned upgrade of a considerably smaller cabinet (53) in Haywards Heath (West Sussex). Cabinet 53 serves 143 homes in an area that appears to be filled with wealthy homes and swimming pools.

The BTWholesale checker states that “cabinet [53] is planned to have WBC FTTC by 31st December 2012” (check performed on a line connected to the Haywards Heath cabinet). Indeed planning permission for the FTTC upgrade of cabinet 53 was submitted in February 2012. But oddly Openreach’s complaints department told the campaign that neither 53 nor the local 82 cabinet were due to be upgraded because they’re not in BT’s commercial “footprint” as they have “a low total [of] homes passed”.

Carl Thomas added:

With these statements ringing loud and clear in our ears it’s extremely disappointing to see a cabinet in Haywards Heath which serves fewer premises than at least one of our ‘uneconomical’ cabinets receiving service and even more dismaying that Openreach themselves don’t seem aware that they are enabling this cabinet.”

ISPreview.co.uk contacted Openreach to query the situation and have been told that cabinet 53 was/is deemed to be commercially viable but its upgrade is likely to have been delayed due to issues with the power supply, ducting costs and access rights.

Meanwhile the Fibre for Middleton group is left to ponder why such a small cabinet looks set to be upgraded when a larger one like 82 is not. A spokesperson for Openreach similarly told one local resident that cabinet 82 “is a small cab with a small number of premise connected to it. Our calculations showed that it would not be commercially viable to upgrade.”

In fairness it should be said that every area is different and all will inevitably face their own unique and often unexpected challenges (restricted access, blocked ducts, power supply costs, road closures etc.), some of which could make it cheaper to upgrade certain cabinets with fewer lines than others with potentially more lines. The figures of homes passed or directly connected aren’t the only gauges that BT uses to make such an assessment.

The Fibre for Middleton campaign have now pinned their hopes to the still uncertain prospect of public funding from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, which could be used to help achieve some of what might potentially have been done without needing any state aid.

UPDATE 2nd November 2012

Friday’s article explains a bit more about the issue of cabinet costs and power supply issues.

Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

    It should be noted that the Haywards Heath cabinet does not have Virgin Media available to it.

    It’s also bizarre that BT are installing a Huawei 96 FTTC cabinet, the smallest they have right now, in an area their commercial modelling head considers unviable due to low homes passed and are continuing with the upgrade despite the aforementioned power, ducting and access issues, all of which would make the project yet more expensive.

    A real kick in the teeth for those who’ve had their far larger homes passed upgrades cancelled after such issues.

    1. Avatar Vic says:

      It should also be noted that Middleton does not have access to Virgin Media services

    2. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      Fortunately the story didn’t claim this to be the case.

  2. Avatar DTMark says:

    Does cabinet 82 service any businesses?

    1. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      Unsure. It does have tons of people working from home, or trying to, and one resident wanted to order FTTPoD and offered to put down 2,000 quid.

      Either way an FTTC business line is no additional revenue to Openreach over a residential one. Any businesses who require serious connectivity on cabinet 82 would be using leased lines as the DSL is abysmal.

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      I raise the point since from what I have seen locally, businesses are skipped in rollouts, and I have also seen anecdotal evidence of this elsewhere.

      By operating the scarcity model, if you have a dozen businesses who have no infrastructural choice and therefore have to take whatever BT offers up, and who require something useful, you end up with the leased line subscribers you mention paying ridiculous sums of money for fairly basic speeds.

      If enabling a particular cabinet is likely to lead to the loss of leased line revenue, then even though doing so might enable modern services for hundreds of others, it may not be “commercially viable” if it leads to the loss of those prized leased line services.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Business in my area have not been skipped, I thought you said your dentist was covered?

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I live on the outskirts

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I live on the outskirts of a city and our two l

    6. Avatar DTMark says:

      Town is Alton, Hampshire.

      I spent several hours trying the online checkers with a whole stack of addresses and numbers, and then eventually went and drove round the town to look for cabinets.

      All of the dedicated business areas e.g. the large “business park” (called Omega Park) and the whole of the light industrial and small office areas have been skipped.

      As for the “town centre” (shops and offices) there are two fibre cabs in the vicinity and only one of those appears to service mixed residential and business, no idea what the other one services. In that area some are also “direct exchange” lines making the availability worse.

      I have managed to find exactly three business premises in the town which can have FTTC and at a guess that number might be as high as ten from that cabinet I saw yesterday.

      I was wanting to rent an office over there and still would but I gave up then.

  3. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Our Local retail parks which house Argos asda comet tk max m & s boots currys next and they all have access to fttc ( forgive my phone for the earlier comments )

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    Many oddities in the Middleton roll out. Our cabinet (62) was originally planned for December 2012, but OR have now said December 2013!! This despite the cabinet at the other end of the road being enabled. All cabinets up Belle Isle Road have been upgraded, some on the Middleton Ring Road (golf club up to old Miggy Arms) are being upgraded. None in the middle of the estates are being upgraded. Is it any coincidence that the majority of properties are local authority owned?

    1. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      If you’re on 62, near St George’s, you’re not on the rollout plan at all right now. OR told you porkies, it was never planned and remains unplanned.

    2. Avatar Ignitionnet says:


      Sorry my response could’ve done with being more complete.

      In BT speak they call it the ‘fibre spine’ – this is the fibre line that the cabinets connect to. It runs down Belle Isle Road, Throstle Road North, and Sharp Lane on its way to Rothwell.

      From what I can gather here’s the route:


  5. Avatar George Reid says:

    I live on stonebridge fold in east ardsley and have just come across ur website we like our neighbors in middleton have the same trouble how did you get them on the case?

  6. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

    I’m pleased to say that BT have reconsidered and 82 is going to be upgraded.

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