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UPDATE London’s Tech City Still Suffering a Lack of Superfast Broadband

Friday, July 4th, 2014 (9:43 am) - Score 1,680
slow broadband speed

The government’s plans for Shoreditch’s Tech City have been criticised by Labour MP Meg Hillier after it was claimed that around a third of local businesses, not to mention many homes, are still without access to high-speed broadband, while the £3,000 Connection Voucher (“Super-Connected Cities“) scheme that was setup to help has been branded as a “national embarrassment“.

The Connection Voucher scheme offers grants worth up to £3,000 +vat in order to help individual premises (small or medium sized businesses) get connected to a 30Mbps+ capable superfast broadband service. The vouchers were originally setup after the broadband infrastructure side of the Government’s £150m Urban Broadband Fund ran into the possibility of a significant delay due to competition concerns expressed by the European Commission (here and here).

One of the issues the EC had was with making the argument for the use of state aid in dense urban areas where the case for investment by the Private Sector should be much easier to make (i.e. less need for public funds). Never the less many urban areas, including parts of major cities, continue to suffer due to the lack of access to superfast broadband from operators like BT and Virgin Media etc.

Labour MP Meg Hillier told Parliament (Islington Gazette):

I’ve had letters from constituents who work from home and they need access to high-speed internet. This is a joke, frankly. You can’t just throw money at a problem, it’s the infrastructure that needs changing. BT have done very well out of the public purse.

They’ve had breakfast with Boris, tea at No. 10 and dancing with the Business Secretary, but small businesses in Shoreditch still cannot get super-fast broadband.”

A quick look at a big part of Shoreditch, which connects to the local telephone exchange at Bishopsgate, reveals that coverage of BT’s FTTC and Virgin Media’s cable platform is extremely patchy. Likewise the layout of the area suggests that the only way for some companies to get a better connection might be if they aggregated their connection vouchers to cover the cost of a more significant infrastructure upgrade. Otherwise the only choice is perhaps an expensive leased line.

On the other hand it’s important to stress that BT and Virgin Media aren’t the only games in town, with Urban WiMaxs fixed wireless network reaching into the area and rival fibre optic providers, such as Hyperoptic, being ready and willing to engage with serious interest. ISPreview.co.uk has contacted BT in the hope of getting their response to the areas plight and we’ll report back if and when that arrives.

UPDATE 3:24pm

BT has kindly furnished us with a statement, which points to a few inaccuracies in the Islington Gazette’s original piece.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

Businesses in the Tech City area are extremely well served by high speed services, with all businesses able to access speeds of up to 10Gbps via BT’s Ethernet network and more than two thirds of all premises in the area able to access our open wholesale fibre network.

Fibre availability will rise to more than three quarters of premises over the coming months, whilst the area may benefit from further fibre expansion as a result of our additional £50m investment in cities.

It’s important to note that the Tech City area itself is not officially defined, whilst total fibre coverage across all networks will be even greater given the presence of other operators in the area.

We are also participating in the Government’s Connection Voucher Scheme which provides financial assistance to qualifying small businesses that want to take advantage of fibre broadband or high speed business services.

As for Hackney, more than three quarters of all premises in the area already have access to fibre, with even more set to benefit over the coming months, so the suggestion that ‘vast swathes’ of the borough are excluded is simply not true.”

BT were also keen to remind that it can be difficult to achieve 100% FTTC/P coverage commercially in any part of the country, including in certain parts of major cities – e.g. difficulties relating to siting of cabinets; planning issues; the need for streetworks; power issues. All of these factors can affect the commercial case for deploying fibre in such areas.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark

    But this isn’t just London’s tech city. I was looking at somewhere in the heart of Manchester’s business district recently and that doesn’t have any broadband to speak of, just ADSL2+ with close to zero upstream capability.

    Virgin’s network was built for residential television. Virgin has never been, shall we say, especially commercially orientated. Their business offerings until very recently consisted of just 20/2 basic cable connections with two year contracts.

    Virgin needs to be careful about expanding lest it become regulated under SMP. It is just not very interested. Even it had limitless cash it would need to think very carefully about the volume of roll-outs.

    Our local business park in Alton (Mill Lane, for anyone who cares) has no access to any capable broadband either yet 500m up the road, residentials can get VDSL.

    That any of this is a surprise to politicians indicates that there is no understanding of the monopolistic position of BT who would prefer to charge each unit to run a bespoke connection rather than deploy anything capable en-masse.

    It is very difficult to believe that there is no commercial case for supplying such areas with a broadband network. It is easy to see however that it is not viable to simply supply *only* those units with a new network from an alt-net.

    Joined-up thinking simply does not exist.

  2. Avatar New_Londoner

    @MarkJ
    Not sure Bishopsgate exchange serves much of the Shoreditch area, and in any case I though “Tech City” extended well beyond Shoreditch?

    It’s difficult to take any comment from a member of the NAC too seriously as their track record over the last few years shows they are hardly seekers of the truth, being more interested in self-publicity. Is she really suggesting no small businesses in Shoreditch can get fibre broadband from BT, Virgin or the various other networks in the area? A shocking lack of knowledge about her own constituency if that is the case!

    It’s about time we demanded MPs back up these sorts of statements with facts, as otherwise they get away with spewing out all sorts of opinions and other nonsense as though based on the truth. I doubt her constituents would be impressed if they found out she knew so little about the area she purports to represent.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      ^^^^^
      Meant PAC not NAC

    • I ran a check on several numbers over a fairly wide range in Shoreditch and most of them went back to the Bishopsgate exchange, although we do say this represents “part” and not the whole area. So as an example it’s still a valid one but equally you’re right, Tech City is fairly big.

    • Avatar gerarda

      The PAC at least show some counter balance to the nonsense spouted by the Government, Ofcom and BT. “Facts” have never been a feature of the broadband landscape for any of those.

    • Avatar Gadget

      a useful resource showing the coverage of Techcity (IE browsers not appartently supported) http://www.techcitymap.com/index.html#/

      Understand what “Boggits” is saying – if you are the likes of the big companies clustered around the Old Street roundabout then you would not be as interested in broadband but in a dedicated private circuit,mainly if you are a SME or small startup does broadband look to be the connection of choice rather than Ethernet private circuits.

    • Avatar DTMark

      I keep hearing that small businesses and “agile start-ups” are what are required to drag this country out of its financial mess.

      Such companies usually need affordable ubiquitous connectivity, not expensive private circuits.

  3. Avatar DTMark

    Whatever happened to this..

    http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2013/10/london-firms-seek-open-fibre-network-replace-costly-private-circuits.html

    A quick check on

    Address 16H, PERSEVERANCE WORKS, 38 KINGSLAND ROAD, LONDON, E2 8DD on Exchange SHOREDITCH

    ..reveals no useful broadband services available, just ADSL2+.

  4. As someone providing services under the Super Connected Cities voucher scheme the problem comes down to a perception issue. We can provide any speed you want to anywhere in the country (or world for that matter) there is just one problem, the cost…

    Where we can provide it “cheaply” is when you get 3 or more businesses who can “share” their connection – we have a current one in Salford that means 6 businesses can share a 1gbps circuit for under £100 each per month but it only works because they all worked together to get vouchers to cover the (quite high) upfront costs.

    Some of the councils have set expectations that the money will allow anyone to get FTTP for pennies per month but the rules prevent anyone building their network out on a speculative basis (or “extending their network” at they’ve phrased it) but there is some hope they may tweak it so that historical costs associated with voucher builds could be spread against future builds i.e. if I build to location X for 5 companies then any more companies can use their vouchers to cover any “at risk costs” associated with that build.

  5. Avatar No Clue

    Was MR Vaizey not blabbering some nonsense about 100% coverage the other day

  6. Avatar fastman2

    DT community offered to do something of perseverance works last july – community chose not to

  7. Avatar fastman2

    DT you have a view on the cost of enabling Mill lane not commercial viable either by commercial operator – is this covered by BDUK ?

  8. Avatar Come on OpenReach

    I work alongside 30 small businesses in central Shoreditch, about 400m from the exchange – the heart of Tech City. It’s ridiculous that there is no fibre availability here – the latest from BT reads:

    Thank you for your enquiry regarding fibre broadband enquiry. You are connected to SHOREDITCH exchange cabinet 7.
    The estimated completion date that we have for this cabinet is late Nov 2015. At the moment the project is in progress
    Once we have further updates available we will send you an email to update further regarding progress and expected completion date at the moment is 19-11-2015

    It’s an absolute joke that we are to expected to wait another year for fibre broadband!

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