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UPD2 Altnet Opportunity as BT Give Only Slow Broadband to Elberton Village

Friday, Jul 19th, 2013 (10:03 am) - Score 1,753

Residents of the tiny rural Elberton farming village in South Gloucestershire (England) appear to have become one of the first communities to officially be told that they won’t get a superfast broadband connection from BT or via the state aid supported Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme.

At present BT, BDUK and South Gloucestershire Council are spending tens of millions on a joint project that aims to make superfast broadband (FTTC/P) connections available to 94% of local homes and businesses by the end of March 2015. As part of this effort some 100 kilometres of new fibre optic cabling and over 50 new street cabinets will be installed.

But that still leaves 6% of predominantly rural South Gloucestershire, which will be stuck in the slow lane, and until recently BT has preferred to remain tight lipped about their expected coverage (though this situation might be changing). Local Elberton resident, Andrew Watkins, has now confirmed that his village will be one of those left off the superfast map.

Michael Dunn, BT’s Regional Manager, told Watkins (Gazette):

The cost of such an exercise would not be justifiable to provide faster broadband to the village. It is unlikely that speeds will improve in the near future although we continue to trial and test solutions which may bring an improvement to service.”

Apparently Dunn then went on to say that slow local speeds, which currently hover around the 1Mbps level, were to be expected in Elberton. “This proves South Gloucestershire Council have been misleading the public by saying those served by commercial providers will get superfast broadband. It also proves that the claim of 100 per cent of residents to get a minimum of 2Mbps is a load of rubbish,” fumed Watkins.

In fairness some communities were always bound to be in the last 6% for superfast connectivity, although Watkins does have a right to expect a minimum connection speed of 2Mbps. But it might equally be the case that some village lines already produce estimates of 2Mbps, even though real-world performance could fall someway short, which is an issue that the government’s BDUK policy hasn’t yet had to tackle (it’s also a tough one to diagnose as the issue could be down to poor home wiring etc.). If the 2Mbps target was a USO then BT would probably have to fix this but it’s not.

Never the less this does open the door to the possibility of a smaller ISP (altnet) stepping in to offer an alternative network solution. Mind you history has shown that as soon as this happens then BT can take a sudden and unexpectedly renewed interest in previously neglected areas.

UPDATE 20th July 2013

Just had an additional statement from BTOpenreach.

An Openreach spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

Unfortunately Elberton hasn’t been included in the intervention area for the local BDUK project. We are however keen to discuss how it can be included in the BDUK deployment plans with the community, the local council and BDUK as soon as possible.”

UPDATE 17th September 2013

Elberton locals finally met with BT, BDUK and council officials earlier this month to discuss the situation but the outcome was apparently far from ideal (here). According to Andrew Watkins, the council and BT weren’t willing to “move the goalposts” for Elberton and instead suggested that locals submit a community bidwhere they work out a commercial viability and if there is any shortfall, the community fills the gap“.

But Elberton is a tiny community and the nearest BT cabinet is at Alveston. The ideal solution would be to install a new street cabinet in the village but this could cost anything from upwards of £25k to £75k.

A BT Spokesperson said:

We met with some residents of Elberton to explain the situation and the options available. We have offered to investigate the costs and work involved if the villagers indicate they want to help fund a community project to bring fibre broadband to Elberton.”

Locals are now exploring the possibility of establishing a community fund but it’s feared that this could pose a significant challenge for such a small village. Mind you it’s worth noting a comment from the South Gloucestershire Council representative, whom said, “Because Elberton is served by a street cabinet which is part of BT’s commercial roll-out, it is not eligible for any government or council funded investment.”

This comment would appear to twist the principal of BDUK’s approach, which is to help upgrade areas that have been left neglected by commercial investment. Nobody in Elberton can get an FTTC connection, although old style ADSL2+ (21CN) is supported but only for speeds of between 1Mbps and up to 3.5Mbps max.

Problems like this will surely become more common as councils gradually reveal their rollout plans and the last 5-10% of areas, which won’t benefit from a superfast broadband upgrade through BDUK, are identified.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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