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Detailed Map and FTTP Broadband on the Way for Rural Northumberland

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 (5:00 am) - Score 2,019

The Northumberland County Council in North East England are preparing to upload a much more detailed map of their local superfast broadband roll-out through the state aid supported iNorthumberland project. But the new map also provides fresh evidence that BT is ramping up deployments of their “ultrafast” 330Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology.

At the time of writing Northumberland’s updated maps aren’t yet online, although we’re assured that they should surface sometime this week. So currently the best that locals can access via the iNorthumerland page is a high-ish resolution map with some very vague coloured areas (here) and not a lot of area-specific detail. It’s not the worst we’ve seen, but like others they could still do a lot better.

As the CEO of the Government’s related Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, Christopher Townsend, told us on Monday: “38 projects [out of about 44] have now published detailed broadband rollout maps, 26 of these are to 7 digit level. I wrote to the others in July encouraging them to do likewise and we will continue to press this with the local authorities” (here).

Thankfully the County Councillor for the Rothbury Division, Steven Bridgett, is currently chairing an important committee that’s been putting pressure on council officers and BT to release (somewhat reluctantly we understand) a more detailed map and last night the area committee finally had its wish granted. A sample copy of the map for Cllr Bridgett’s area is displayed below – pay close attention to the yellow areas (thanks kindly to Steven for this). Note: We shrank it a bit to fit.

rothbury broadband map sept2014

The map, which is clearly a welcome improvement, covers Cllr Bridgett Steven’s division, an area roughly 640sq km (164,000 Acres) and one of the most rural in Northumberland (it has parts of the Northumberland National Park within it and the Otterburn Military training area).

Regular readers will also note that some of the FTTP bits around Rothbury and Thropton form part of the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) project with BT (here), which is apparently due to start accepting orders at the end of this month.

But Cllr Steven notes that some of the other ‘yellow shaded’ areas “under consideration” for FTTP “have never been displayed on any of our maps before” and, much like other tentative and BDUK fuelled FTTP deployments that we’ve seen over the past few months, are also in some “surprisingly rural” areas (e.g. Elsdon). Cllr Steven notes that some of the nearby farms don’t even have mains electricity (generators), so for them to be considered for FTTP apparently came as somewhat of a surprise.

Admittedly being “under consideration” is not the same as confirmed for deployment, although it does act as further proof that BT now appear to be developing a more viable model for bringing ultrafast FTTP broadband to remote rural areas. Similar examples of this have now been seen across several BDUK schemes, with most of the related development expected to take place during the latter stages of the programme. At the same time it probably doesn’t hurt that Rothbury’s RCBF project has already done some of the necessary leg work.

Overall Northumberland aims to ensure that BT’s “fibre broadbandFTTC/P network can reach 95% of local premises by early 2016 (note: only 91% will get “superfast” speeds of 25Mbps+), which could rise further once BDUK’s Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) has been implemented.

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23 Responses
  1. Avatar Matthew Williams says:

    Very nice progress nice to see there are some Councillors who care about the people who vote for them. Plus very nice to see that BT is looking at doing FTTP to supply broadband to these extremely remote areas of our country. Hopefully we hear soon more about the last 5% of the UK saying that we going supply them with Satellite is certainly not what should be done.

  2. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    Now that BT is coming under some pressure from competitors around the country, might this mean that they are fighting back by stringing fibre between poles to provide FTTP in areas beyond the reach of FTTC? If so, it’s a clever trump card they’ve been holding back until necessary.

  3. Avatar NGA for all says:

    And this is before the inflated milestone payments are tackled, and before USC funding and clawback are re-invested.

    If the councillor keeps pushing for transparency she will serve her constituents well.

  4. Avatar Steven Bridgett says:

    Re: NGA for all,

    Thanks for your response,

    We have just begun discussions regarding the Superfast Extension Program as Northumberland has secured an additional £4 million. and the clawback for the Rothbury project will run into several hundred thousand pounds, we intend to target the more rural villages further up the valley from Rothbury with these funds.

    P.S. I am a he not a ‘she’ by the way. 🙂

    1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

      Dear Steven, are BT stringing fibre between poles for this?

      Kind regards

      Patrick Cosgrove
      Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband in Rural Areas.

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Glad to hear about Rothbury clawback, the premise past budget looked nuts. Have you switeched from Milestone payments to actuals yet?

  5. Avatar Steven Bridgett says:

    Patrick,

    I understand some have been done underground and some between new poles that have been erected, that’s on the Rothbury and Thropton side of the project which is RCBF.

    Elsdon, which is under investigation at the moment will be interesting as part of it is in the National Park and I’m sure they have a policy that restricts new utilities being built overhead and encourages them to be put underground, they have just had all of their electricity cables put underground in the last two years.

  6. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    Thanks Steven, what a shame that it’s too late for the recent electricity and new broadband work to coincide, although I understand that there are now moves for far more dual/multiple use of infrastructure. To return to your answer though, does that mean that the National Parks authority would require fibre to go underground even where there are existing poles carrying ADSL? Much of Shropshire is in an AONB which probably has similar restrictions. I’d like to see no poles, but if cost prevented rural areas from getting FTTP, I’d far rather retain poles where they are currently in place (although they might have to be replaced).

    Patrick

  7. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    I suspect this pattern will repeat itself. I hope people can see the financial logic of using a (relatively) cheap technology in the form of FTTC where this provides the most cost-effective solution on a per-premises basis thereby releasing more funds for FTTP for the more remote areas. If all the money had been invested in FTTP, there would have been far fewer premises covered. All the better if “claw-back” from FTTC successful FTTC deployments releases more funds for re-investment.

    Of course nothing will satisfy those who think universal FTTP is the only satisfactory option, but until there’s a much larger pot of money (private and/or public) and a self-funding commercial funding, this patchwork is what will emerge. As the Australian NBN fiasco has demonstrated, grand schemes can fall apart once the reality of implementation comes along.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      That’s pretty much the same rollout philosophy I subscribe to: Use FTTC where it works well (and at the same time, get dark fibre or empty BFT out to all those cabinets too), and start targetting FTTP where FTTC doesn’t work well.

      The possibility/probability of getting extra funds through clawback has only been a theoretical part of the thinking so far, so it is good to see that a single place like Rothbury can return so much into the general pot. It bodes well for further rollout.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      I always suspected that those in OR who planned the commercial roll-out probably used a simplistic take-up model which didn’t take full account of local conditions. It was always quite likely that take-up in areas where ADSL service levels are poor would see a higher proportion adopt FTTC solutions than where the former is “good enough”. However, it may be that we just hear where take-up is high and not where it’s poor.

      It would be nice to know what the picture is across the country, but given the way BDUK is split into so many different local projects, there does seem to be no summary. For instance, it would be nice to know the run-level of the budget and what the financial position is with regards to where it was expected to be.

      I was always told with projects and bid that the secret was to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the other way around. Which is laudable, but only if those around have patience.

    3. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @Steve – concur My only complaint is that the milestone payments at in excess of £170+ per premise passed equated to a public subsidy £46k each for the fibre path/cab/power which is not cheap and contrasts with subsidies of c£15k in NI for a similar solution.

      More transparency will lead to a deeper richer rollout.

  8. Avatar Steven Bridgett says:

    Patrick,

    I knew you would probably suggest that, it wasn’t too late, we suggested it to the electricity company and the company carrying out the underground work but they flatly refused.

    The National Parks can ask/request (I’m not 100% sure if they can enforce) but we have no objection to doing battle with the Park as we have done in the past. AONB’s are different, they will be managed by the local authority, the national park however is an authority in itself and has it’s own planning committee.

    The FTTP in the Rothbury and Thropton side of the project which is RCBF has been done with some underground but mainly new and existing poles – it is the only cost effective way to ensure superfast to as many of the properties to far away from the exchange unfortunately. The way it has actually worked out in our area is that the properties around the more heavily populated areas of Rothbury and Thropton have recieved FTTC but many of the more remote and isolated households and farms have ended up with FTTP.

    1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

      Stephen, the emerging picture in your area, driven by Steve Jones’ logic above, could actually provide a very good outcome for many rural areas. An interesting development.

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      Steven/Patrick,

      Doesn’t the recent-ish 5-year relaxation of planning rules (ie allowing use of poles) apply to national parks or AONB?

    3. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

      Mike – i don’t know. I can find last year’s consultation, but not the outcome

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/205746/Fixed_Broadband_Consultation_Summary_of_Responses_final.pdf

      Regards

      Patrick

    4. Avatar MikeW says:

      According to this SI, the changes were made on 5th June 2013, and came into force later that month. The relaxation is valid until April 2018.

      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/1403/pdfs/uksi_20131403_en.pdf

      This seems to be the code of practice, but it seems to be the same version as within the consultation document.

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/205744/Final_Cabinet_and_Pole_Siting_COP_Issue_1_2_.pdf

  9. Avatar MikeW says:

    I’m not sure why it proved hard to get maps (like the example) released. North Yorkshire’s have been this detailed for a long time – except they don’t indicate the proposed technology.

    Northumberland’s set a new gold standard

  10. Avatar NGA for all says:

    @ Steven B – sorry about the she. I have sent you a detailed cost model for Northumbria – assumng 350 cabinets + c12 handover deployment. You have plenty to go at and I hope others follow you lead.

  11. Avatar AK says:

    It is really good to see this level of detail for Rothbury, but where are these maps for the rest of Northumberland? This was SIX weeks ago, nothing has changed on the iNorthumberland web site – no information of any use whatsoever. We are in the dark.

    As someone orginally from Rothbury I’m impressed by Councillor Bridget’s proactivity, part of my family are still resident in the area and are likely to benefit from this.

    I now live slighly further south in Northumberland (near Slaley) in a similar rural location. I work in technology and run my own small but growing business – largely from home. Like many others I depend on connectivity which at the moment I find wholly wanting in my area. Speed is the least of my worries, right now I don’t even have a RELIABLE service, with intermittent drop outs and the issues that this then causes for my basic 3mb broadband service. This causes me considerable difficulties. I’ve probably spent most of a working day on calls (or on hold) with BT’s call centres in the last two-three weeks alone.

    Without hope that there is a better future coming I feel I’ve got to face difficult choices. I enjoy the flexibility and advantages that being able to work from home offers (when the technology I depend upon is working). I have two young children, and I can fit around their needs in this way. I often work very early in the morning before they are up, and again in the evening after they are off to bed. Without a reliable service I simply can’t do this. Renting an office and being forced to commute seems like such a backwards step, and a poor solution to my needs. So am I forced to move home, and go live somewhere where I’m not going to be struggling with third world standards of connectivity? I can’t rely on mobile networks as a backup, I have to drive two miles in the car to get a 3G signal – and I live in a relatively populous part of the county.

    Fibre would be a very fine thing, but frankly I feel a million miles from that right now.

    Frustrated.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Sadly we haven’t heard from the councillor since shortly after this story, I suspect he might have gotten into trouble for releasing the information to us. But he too was under the impression that everybody would soon see the same level of detail, yet clearly that hasn’t happened.

  12. Avatar Ed Brown says:

    In the rural areas of Northumberland we are still waiting to see any sign of even moderate speeds being implemented.

    As has been highlighted there is a lot of talk about developments but no actual delivery. I’d like to see maps that show how the 95% of rural properties (i.e. those more than a mile or two from the exchanges) are going to get the improvement. Speeds and dates would be a good start. Where there are currently announcements they all appear to be for built-up areas close to the exchanges – places I would have thought were commercially viable in their own right rather than requiring funding.

  13. Avatar Steven Bridgett says:

    Here is the link for the more detailed map. I have asked for a larger resolution one so we can zoom in further but we are getting there slowly but surely!

    http://www.inorthumberland.org.uk/my-area/

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