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Trouble for Altnets as UK Village Gets Annoyed by Lack of Broadband Choice

Friday, September 20th, 2013 (10:46 am) - Score 1,322

Altnet schemes are often praised for bringing faster broadband into areas that previously could not receive a good service. But what happens when their performance suffers and residents feel trapped by a lack of ISP choice. Could the situation with Rutland Telecom in Essendine (Lincolnshire, England) be a harbinger of things to come?

Back in 2010 Rutland Telecom, a Gigaclear ISP, announced that the small rural village of Essendine would soon become the next to benefit from its “super-fast” unbundled (SLU) up to 40Mbps FTTC broadband service (here), which offered speeds that would be well above the previous best of 0.5Mbps via BT’s platform. The service went live and everybody seemed happy.

But Rutland Telecom’s investment also meant that Rutland County Council (RCC) had to exclude Essendine from its £3m state aid supported Digital Rutland / Broadband Delivery UK scheme, which isn’t allowed to overbuild an existing “superfast” fixed line service by using state aid money. Now Thinkbroadband has spotted a council statement from May 2013, which claims that “there is much disquiet within the village“.

Essendine Parish Council – May 2013

Essendine Parish Council deplores this decision [to exclude Essendine] – we consider this to be discriminatory and contrary to the “competition” mantra, giving Rutland Telecom a virtual monopoly. British Telecom currently has no plans to extend its Broadband coverage to Essendine, and Rutland Telecom seems reluctant to share its cabinet with other UK ISPs.

This leaves Essendine few alternatives other than to lobby other ISPs, Rutland Telecom themselves, and to take the matter up direct with BDUK and Ofcom … Rest assured that the Parish Council will fight this injustice vigorously, and appreciates the wholehearted support which residents have already expressed.

Strong stuff and no doubt a concern for other Altnets, especially those that will be looking to spend a significant amount of their own private investment. The irony of a village also using a similar “monopoly” argument against a smaller altnet provider, that’s often levelled against BT’s dominant use of state aid funding through BDUK, is surely not going to be lost.

It’s presently unclear precisely why, other than the lack of ISP choice, locals are so riled up about Rutland Telecom’s service but another new community led rural broadband project for South Lincolnshire, FibreLincs, suggests that the Rutland Telecom may have been suffering from some “ongoing service issues” (e.g. slow speeds perhaps?).

The good news is that Rutland Telecom appears confident that they can resolve the local service issues within the next couple of months. But in the meantime it’s a situation that other altnets could face going forward. On the other hand we should remember that Essendine does still have a choice, locals could go back to BT’s much slower network, but it would be a tricky switch.

Rutland Telecom’s parent company, Gigaclear, has also recently partnered up to adopt Fluidata’s Service Exchange Platform (SEP) that should give those covered by the operators network a greater choice of around 50 ISPs. But it’s unclear whether or not this extends to the service in Essendine or how much choice people really get.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. Ignitionnet says:

    So they’re complaining because they can’t have the taxpayer subsidise BT to overbuild a company that spent their own money deploying SFBB to them?

    I would suggest they direct their ire at the company that doesn’t want to spend its own money to serve them rather than having this attitude of entitlement to the taxpayer’s pockets.

    1. Roberto says:

      Indeed it sounds more like sour grapes that Rutland is not available in Essendine. Why are they moaning at Rutland about that, it is hardly their fault they were not paid to do that area and that even if they were the rules of BDUK funding prevent them from deploying there.

      They should be moaning about the company that is in their area that only provides 0.5Mbps and refuses to upgrade.

  2. Matthew says:

    Hang on a minute, so an Altnet uses private funding to give a rural area with previously terrible connectivity a much better service than they were previously getting then the users in that area complain.

    I’d probably tell them to sod-off to be honest there are plenty of other areas that would appreciate the ability to have a decent broadband service

  3. Alex Lane says:

    It’s easy to accuse the Essendine Parish Council of naivety or wanting to have their cake and eat it, but there’s a wider problem here which Mark has raised.

    Altnets need to be able to recoup their investment in projects such as this, and communities have a right to expect a competitive choice of providers. Essendine may have made their bed and have to sleep in it, but a model for other communities wanting to attract an altnet to fill BDUK’s gaps might be to offer a limited monopoly of 5 years in exchange for inward investment, after which other ISPs would be able to use the infrastructure to compete for customers (paying a wholesale rate to the altnet).

    It’s a significant failure within the BDUK programme that it doesn’t encourage arrangements such as this, or mandate common technical standards which would allow national ISPs access to altnets acting as infrastructure providers instead of vertically integrated local monopolies. Chi Onwurah’s testimony in this summer’s Parliamentary select committee suggested that Ofcom discussed such standards but they were ruled out. Perhaps it’s not too late to correct this oversight.

  4. dragoneast says:

    Sorry but this is what happens when you have privatised utilities and rely on competition. That’s what we legislated for several decades ago. The village want to be treated the same as everywhere else, and why not? That was what privatisation promised, the god of consumer choice (however much a mirage). Hands up anyone who wants to pay more for broadband (or anything else for that matter) than they have to. And a reminder that no broadband (or anything else on this earth) is perfect.

  5. sheffieldowl says:

    No different to the demise of Digital Region,once its closed there are many of us who will no doubt be cast back to sub 2mb speeds of ADSL as there are no fibre alternatives,then all but basic browsing will become impossible.

  6. Claire Brown says:

    I’m not sure that it prevents over building if there is already a super-fast service. It just prevents UK and European money being spent. BT Openreach could build there if they choose to and if their customers (Sky,TalkTalk,etc) want that area included. However, looking at SamKnows Rutland Telecom is only in Market 1 or 2 exchanges where other ISP’s don’t provide a service through even LLU so this sounds like BT sour grapes bending the councils ear…they’ve done it before!

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