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Shropshire UK Moots Ultrafast FTTH Broadband Alternative to BT FTTC

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 (12:07 pm) by Mark Jackson (Score 841)
shropshire bduk broadband rollout map

The Shropshire County Council in England, which recently warned (here) that it was struggling to find match-funding for the Government’s proposed allocation of an extra £11.38m to boost the local coverage of BT’s superfast broadband (FTTC) services, looks as though it might be considering a rival county-wide deployment of ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) and wireless technology.

Since the last update SCC has put in a formal expression of interest to the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK office, although finding enough money to match with the £11.38m remains a fundamental problem and as a result SCC are understood to be exploring a number of solutions. One of those options involves seeking additional investment from the EU but ISPreview.co.uk understands that there is a more radical alternative on the table.

At present the £24.64m Connecting Shropshire project expects to cover 93% of local premises with up to 80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) connectivity by the end of Spring 2016 (excludes Telford & Wrekin), which is based on a funding split of £8.2m from Shropshire Council, £8.6m from BT and £7.84m from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office. The extra £11.38m would thus be all about connecting the last few percent.

In theory the easiest approach would simply be to extend this programme with BT, although the funding dilemma has opened up the prospect of an alternative proposal from Broadway Partners that would leverage private investment to match with the additional BDUK funding and without costing the council directly.

According to ISPreview.co.uk’s sources, the Broadway Partners proposal will tomorrow aim to demonstrate that nearly all homes and businesses in rural parts of Shropshire could eventually be connected by ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) through adopting a similar approach to the one that recently helped the Cotswolds Broadband bid in West Oxfordshire (here).

At this stage very little is known about the proposal, which will be presented by Michael Armitage and Adrian Wooster of Broadway Partners tomorrow to BDUK and Shropshire’s Rural Broadband Partnership, the latter of which is chaired by Steve Charmley. The co-investment package would ultimately aim to bring FTTH to virtually all premises but not immediately, due to the high costs and slow deployment.

Instead Broadway Partners envisages a two-stage process where the first stage would blanket the county with high speed wireless, which would start to provide a return on investment. As more people signed up, the income that accrued would pay to gradually roll out FTTH and the wireless connections would be replaced (this is technically permitted by the BDUK and EU State Aid rules – i.e. the requirement for an eventual upgrade to fibre).

Communities would also have the flexibility to commit their own funding and thus skip past wireless and take the road directly to a deployment of fibre, although this might make it more complicated to predict a firm timetable for such deployments. Similarly the private model would perhaps have to give priority to communities that could demonstrate strong demand.

But as it stands this proposal is sitting on a “knife edge“, with many unanswered questions hovering around, and that’s perhaps unsurprising given the amount of money that would be involved; risk aversion will no doubt weigh heavily upon the councils shoulders. On the other hand the alternative would require SCC to find a lot of its own money and at a time when they’re already trying to find £60m of savings in the next three years.

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24 Responses
  1. H Gill

    Good luck to all involved – I hope you get the green light. This has got to be the way to go when it comes to the 5-10% not spots. I wish other councils would take a leaf out the Shropshire County Council book, especially where I and my family live/work/school/play in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

    • gerarda

      Everybody keeps quoting 5-10% but that is a national average. If you look at where the BDUK money is being spent FTTC is failing to cover at superfast speed up to 50% of those areas so other solutions need to be used.

    • New_Londoner

      @Gerarda
      Quote “If you look at where the BDUK money is being spent FTTC is failing to cover at superfast speed up to 50% of those areas so other solutions need to be used.”

      A rather bullish claim, even for you! Do you have any actual evidence to back this up, or is it just another personal opinion presented as a fact?

    • gerarda

      Yes i do – have a look at the second open market review for Suffolk. This showed that phase 1 of the BDUK rollout was going to take the coverage of superfast (even though only defined as 15mb plus) from 58% in the commercial rollout to 75%. Thinkbroadband’s analysis (you can find it under the relevant article said that even a full FTTC rollout (which presumably was too expensive for phase 1)would only get 24mb plus to 79% coverage.

    • buyer beware

      Suffolk County Council took a different approach with how it spent its first BDUK allocation. It prioritised plus 2mbps as quickly as possible for all properties. This was linked to making savings as quickly as possible transferring council services online which is only possible once everyone has a working connection. Suffolk has some areas with a high proportion of retired residents. It also had many properties below 2mbps. 24mbps was not its priority, apart from key areas for economic development. It has probably benefitted from a bigger pay out in SEP because it had more to do to reach the government’s promised 95% superfast by 2017 promise.

    • gerarda

      Suffolk has not prioritised sub 2mb lines and in fact had to defend itself from the usual criticism of the BDUK/BT rollout that it was starting with semi-urban areas.

  2. This strikes me as an outstanding plan on many levels, not the least of which being that when faced with competition BT nearly always magically find things financially viable.

  3. Bob2002

    While I admire the ambition isn’t the wireless infrastructure going to have to accrue significant ROI(much more than for a typical urban rollout) in order to fund rural FTTH?

  4. buyer beware

    http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/OxonCoverage/Viewcoverageinyourarea?:showVizHome=no#1

    Select the parish of Fyfield and Tubney – this looks interesting, connecting random post codes around a commercially installed network. Any suggestions? It’s West Oxfordshire so 100% superfast coverage promised.

    • X66yh

      Fyfield and Tubney are in the Vale of The White Horse District Council area
      …..not West Oxfordshire district Council area

    • buyer beware

      Fyfield and Tubney is in Vale of White, my mistake, anyone with suggestions how unserved post codes should be connected?

    • X66yh

      Well in that area of the county….as they are nearby
      Ask Gigaclear to come and ‘do’ the place is by far the best, cheapest and quickest solution by far with their totally BT-free new FTTH network.

    • buyer beware

      XX66yh, Gigaclear has already built a network but it does not cover all post codes. The map shows about 17 post code areas connected by Gigaclear commercial network. However, there are seven post code areas without 24mbps plus and without funding from the county plan. There’s also the complication that the area has a private network so is it that no market failure means no subsidy can be used to connect the remaining seven post code areas under EU state aid rules? So far there’s been no clever suggestions on how to connect random post codes. There must be plenty of similar situations.

    • gerarda

      @X66yh

      I suspect these places are too small for Gigaclear’s 400 premises minimum requirement

    • buyer beware

      Having looked more closely at the area concerned, I don’t think any subsidy can be used. The commercial market has installed a network so there is no market falure. The problem is the private network does not cover all post codes. This seems similar to streets that are missed out in BT’s commercial roll out of FTTC. It is for Gigaclear to go back and build privately its network to the outstanding post codes except presumably there is no demand or insufficient demand otherwise it would have included them?

    • X66yh

      I think @Buyer Beware is correct based on their latest post – and that Gigaclear are already there. I was not aware of this.
      Like you I’d imagine that when GC did the neighbourhood those post codes omitted were omitted for a reason. Maybe because there was totally zero interest or for some other logistical reason meaning getting fibre to the individual properties was going to be hugely expensive…..

      You could argue that there has been market failure in those individual post codes
      and the GC should be subsidised through BDUK/RCBF funds to cover those omitted ones!

      I guess it will be up to the current and future (more internet savvy) residents of the ‘left out’ to get GC to extend to them and maybe have to pay some contribution to them towards this.

      As you say not greatly different from those in a similar situation re FTTC cabinets being not covered by BT.
      Perhaps altnets are finding the same problems over their last 5% and the costs associated with giving them a service as BT/BDUK are having.

  5. MikeW

    Sounds like an excellent plan.

    If it succeeds in doing what B4RN does well (getting community involvement, getting landowner wayleave permission for £0, and getting volunteer installation), and succeeds where B4RN doesn’t do well (getting county council acceptance & buy-in, and co-operation with the local BDUK project), it could do very well.

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s report, after they meet…

  6. dragoneast

    By nature I like innovative ideas. But there’s a big downside: the financing industry doesn’t, and the public often aren’t far behind them. Regrettably in the last century very few long-term projects have got anywhere without Government money. I expect lots of noise, even expressions of goodwill; it might even get off the ground – but how far will it fly? I hope I’m proved wrong. Close your eyes and dream.

  7. New_Londoner

    Interesting idea.

    It appears to propose that you buy fixed wireless today on the promise of FTTP in the future, but the article does not make it clear whether the FTTP element is a contractual commitment with firm timescales, or simply an aspiration. If it’s not contractual then it’s really a fixed wireless proposal in fancy packaging, which is clever but hardly ground breaking.

    Anyone know if the proposers have the financial strength to contribute to this, or would it essentially be funded in full by us poor taxpayers? In other words, are the proposers taking much of the risk? And does the company have any track record building either fixed wireless or FTTP networks?

    No doubt these and other questions will be addressed if the county decides to run a procurement.

    • buyer beware

      There is also something odd about the way consultants have moved from paid by the taxpayer as BDUK consultants directly to using information that we taxpayers paid for to gain from private contracts. Are they presenting the facts fairly?

    • gerarda

      @buyer beware

      If the facts have been fairly presented this would be fairly unusual in this arena

    • DTMark

      So to put that into the context of VDSL deployments, if I sign up for VDSL when BDUK brings it here (apparently) and accept the enormous downgrade from 4G to “fibre” in terms of speed, what commitment is placed upon BT to pop round and replace that knackered old copper and aliminimum with fibre very shortly?

      If fixed wireless providers are somehow required to upgrade to fibre-optic, why is BT not committed to supply fibre-optic access under the same conditions?

      Fixed wireless, done even reasonably well, is more than capable of outperforming VDSL anyway (even 3G can beat it comfortably in certain scenarios) and as far as we know, neither has any sensibly upgradeable future.

    • No Clue

      Even if they did come and replace the massive loop of copper you have DTMark BT FTTC still is not capable of the upload rates your 4G can technically do at this moment.
      Unlike Mobile also when something does go wrong you are expected to sit in all day “praying” the BT engineer actually turns up.

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