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Shropshire UK Moots Ultrafast FTTH Broadband Alternative to BT FTTC

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 (12:07 pm) - Score 891

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.

Mark-Jackson
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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