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UPD Lancashire Council Might Stop Funding BT FTTP Rollout in Dolphinholme

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 (1:01 pm) - Score 1,030

Campaigners who support B4RN’s community driven deployment of 1000Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) broadband in the Lancashire village of Dolphinholme will be pleased to learn that the county council looks set to stop the funding for BT’s rival deployment of 330Mbps capable FTTP in the area, but it may not be quite so clear cut.

A spokesperson for BTOpenreach told ISPreview.co.uk earlier this year, “BT is currently planning to roll out FTTP to Dolphinholme as part of our partnership with Lancashire County Council to extend fibre to 97 per cent of premises by the end of 2015 using a mix of fibre technologies. Our fibre roll-out in the area should come as no surprise as our plans have been in the public domain for several months.

The deployment by BT drew strong criticism because the village has been present on B4RN’s roll-out plan since 2011 and the community scheme claims that Lancashire County Council (LCC) were made aware of this fact (ISPreview.co.uk has seen some documents that appear to support this), including during the Open Market Review process, although LCC has disputed that (detailed summary).

The EU’s State Aid rules prevent overbuilding of an existing superfast broadband network, which would have presented a tricky situation if LCC and the related Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme were found to be using public money to help support BT’s deployment in an area where a rival was already installing a Next Generation Access (NGA) network without state aid.

However, despite all of this and a quiet probe into the matter by BDUK, both deployments have continued and B4RN recently stole the initiative from BT by becoming the first to connect the local Village Hall and several houses to its service (here). Indeed B4RN’s biggest asset has been the operator’s community focus. Local residents, many of whom have helped to build the network in return for shares, often end up feeling both emotionally and financially incentivised to pick B4RN.

Stopping BT’s State Aid

Now B4RN looks set to win a second victory after a report by Ian Grant claimed that LCC had “agreed not to fund the BT rollout in Dolphinholme as B4RN is already active there. The Dolphinholme postcodes have been removed from the LCC SFBB contract” (i.e. if BT wanted to continue the roll-out of FTTP then they’d have to do so commercially – at their own cost), although no clear source for the claim was offered.

ISPreview.co.uk quickly set out to confirm this and after some hunting we discovered that the quote had come from B4RN, which was distributed as part of a private local mailing list for the project. Meanwhile BT’s press office appears to be short staffed today (we’ve been told the response might take a little longer than usual) and we’ve also yet to receive a reply from LCC.

Thankfully we have managed to get in touch with B4RN’s CEO, Barry Forde, who confirmed that the situation is a little less clear cut than suggested in Grant’s report. According to Forde, on 12th May LCC provided B4RN with a spreadsheet listing some postcodes that LLC said “will not form part of Superfast Lancashire” (de-scoped) and amongst them are the Dolphinholme postcodes.

But crucially, and this is where the confusion occurs, the spreadsheet included a description that made reference to postcodes associated with nearly 500 premises that achieve less than 24Mbps, which are described as partial post-codes where Superfast Lancashire will still be deploying to some premises within those postcodes. So the statement “will not form part” might not be entirely correct.

Understandably B4RN aren’t sure what to make of this conflicting commitment and have rejected the list until LCC can confirm that all of their related postcodes have been fully de-scoped, with no more public funding going towards BT’s FTTP roll-out in Dolphinholme.

Meanwhile BT’s physical deployment appears to have picked up again and Forde suggests that they might be rushing to complete it before July 2014, which looks like a tall order for such complicated and expensive work. Mind you if BT can complete the effort before LCC confirms their decision then they could have a claim for public funding to cover the bill.

As it stands neither BT nor B4RN have completed their coverage of the village and even if state aid was stopped then BT could still potentially continue the expensive deployment of FTTP under their £2.5bn commercial programme, which won’t breach any state aid rules but will raise different questions of economic viability etc.

Meanwhile the locals in Dolphinholme would at least benefit from the rare choice of having access to two competing fibre optic infrastructures with different pros and cons. For example, B4RN’s service is faster and doesn’t require the customer to take an old phone line alongside their fibre deployment, although BT’s platform gives subscribers’ access to a variety of mainstream ISPs with very different service options.

Now, while we wait for LCC or BT to respond, here’s another video of B4RN knocking the socks off one of their latest customers. We like the bit where the customer is initially surprised to even get above 1Mbps via their old line before seeing the new service hit around 500Mbps (note: the line might be 1000Mbps capable but not all computers/routers can actually handle that).

UPDATE 24th May 2014

BT has chosen not to comment but after a few days waiting a spokesperson for LCC finally told ISPreview.co.uk, “The B4RN Newsletter was produced without prior consultation with Lancashire County Council. Dolphinholme is part of the overall Lancashire superfast broadband and has not been removed from the County Council’s contract with BT.”

Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. SlowLincolnshire says:

    Never get tired of watching a real fibre connection putting copper to shame. I think it’s safe to say that once you’ve had true fibre you’ll never go back. Keep up the good work B4RN!

    1. Chris Conder says:

      This is so true! everyone used to say they got faster connections at work, but now its the opposite, the work connections seem pitifully slow after using the B4RN at home. Even the B4RN office in town is slow, but hopefully we’ll get the fibre to it soon. Its on BT’s ‘superfast’. But it isn’t.

    2. No Clue says:

      Id suggest B4RN play this smart again. Just as previously suggested on here beating BT to the punch with the roll out B$RNs next stage in war with BT should be to ensure the area through word of mouth or other means are aware of the situation. Get the community to write to the local and county council asking them why their taxes will be handed to BT when a superior performing product from B4RN is already available and demand funding to BT is stopped. Maybe play even more dirty like BT would and have a nudge, nudge, wink, wink agreement that anybody that helps gets a discount if they sign up to B4RN.

      Drumming up a hornets nest using the press may not be a bad idea either, they love a good story right now about wasting money when we are all meant to be having a financial crisis. Get them to go to the government asking for explanations… Pressure on Camerloon and chums with local and national elections coming up is a nice bit of artillery to have also 😉

      The first battle of beating BT to the punch has been won, now time to finish the war and crush them at their own shady games.

  2. Phil says:

    Why is upload faster than download on this B4RN video speedtest. Download speed of just 482.76 Mbps but upload is crazy faster at 576.93 Mbps.

    1. Chris Conder says:

      The speedtests vary widely Phil. If you go to a tester in Ireland or often in London you are lucky to get anything over 100 Mbps. If you go to Amsterdam Ookla you can often get way into the 900s. Nobody is going to put a bespoke server online for a single person to speedtest, millions are done all the time and the server often does other work, so its the luck of the draw. Some servers also have better uploads than downloads. Its not the B4RN connection, its the server, and they are only used to doing tests from slow copper networks because not many people have access to a real fibre connection. Even iplayer stuff comes in at less than 50Mbps because that is all the BBC send it out as. 1000 Mbps connections can’t really work to their full potential on one device yet, its over spec but cheaper than deploying 100 Mbps lights. The beauty of having a 1000 meg one is that many devices can use it at the same time and at peak times with no noticeable difference.

    2. SlowLincolnshire says:

      I can only presume that the server that they were using for the test had more upload bandwidth available at that particular moment. This test also was most likely conducted using WiFi rather than Ethernet where they would have most likely got a higher reading possibly nearer the 900Mbps range on both up and down

  3. Chris Conder says:

    wifi only goes up to about 90Mbps on good machines, phones get about 20-25 meg, ipads 40-80 meg depending on model. That test was done on ethernet. Most folk have old computers and that is a good reading for one of those. Some really old ones only have 100Mbps ethernet cards in them so that is as fast as they can go. Those with newer models often go into the 900Mbps range but its not worth buying a new pc just to get a good speedtest. The strength of the fibre infrastructure means you will always be able to get as much as you need, when you need it. Unlike the throttled and contended old copper phone lines which weren’t designed for data.

    1. GK says:

      My year old phone goes a little faster than that: http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/a/834834344 . And my laptop from something like 2008 maxes my connection out when more than a single thread. So close to B4RN, my main machine would max it out. Oh well, guess I’m stuck with ‘superfast’ copper.

    2. MikeW says:

      Are you saying the B4RN service is uncontended? It sounds like it

  4. zemadeiran says:

    I think that when B4RN get to a certain user base they should stop being an isp and become an open infrastructure provider.

    This would allow peering with ANY isp minus the hassle of dealing with day to day support. B4RN members could chop and change isp’s within an hour should they not be happy with the support being offered by their current isp.

    This makes sense as the BT FTTC vdsl2+ bridge does this and the isp’s router does PPPOE through the BT network. As long as B4RN provides fiber to ethernet bridge, the isp can provide the client router.

    This in my mind would be the logical path to take along with the advantages of being an open network owned by it’s members 🙂

    1. NGA for all says:

      Agreed, once built, passives can remain the property of barn and maintained separately. Services can be sold over one of the emerging wholesale platforms which are there or there abouts. In this form it can be treated as a piece of national infrastructure rather than being regarded as someone’s hobby. It would be interesting to see whether BARN is engineered such that BT could use their fibre to deliver a BT FTTP service.

    2. FibreFred says:

      zem, it won’t happen, its too small an area/customer base for any of the bigger ISP’s to bother with

    3. NGA for all says:

      @fibrefred Clutching at straws perhaps but size may not matter if the industry supports just one alternative which will not look that different to EMP. It is case of having too to prevent the re-monopolisation of the local loop.

    4. buyer beware says:

      Who will Broadway Partners announce as retailers on its West Oxfordshire wholesale network serving 4,000 properties? If it has commercial agreements it has been strangely quiet refusing to give details of ISPs, prices and packages.

      The likes of Talk Talk require much bigger customer numbers before they will consider the costs of installing their equipment.

    5. FibreFred says:

      NGA for all, it just won’t happen 🙂

      How many users are there at the moment 300-500 something like that, in the end (years to come) there may be 2-3000?

      No big ISP is going to go through setting up agreements/contracts etc for a slice of 3000 users, not even if they could bag all 3000

  5. Andy says:

    How I wish I lived in the B4RN area! – please extend southwards to the Chorley / Coppull district 🙂

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