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Cumbria Councillors Raise Concern over Rural Village FTTP Broadband Rollout

Thursday, December 11th, 2014 (8:04 am) - Score 673

The community owned Digital Dales (Fibre GarDen) project, which recently secured funding to build a new up to 100Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network across the rural villages of Garsdale and Dentdale in Cumbria (England), has been questioned by a group of opposition Conservative councillors who are concerned about the projects deliverability.

The project, which by completion is expected to have cost around £650,000 to deploy, successfully secured the necessary funding over the summer (here). Since then work has started on the engineering survey in order to map a roll-out plan for some 64km of fibre optic cable, which is to be built by the ITS Technology Group.

As part of this project the Cumbria County Council’s Labour and Liberal Democrat cabinet is understood to have removed Dent from the county’s main Broadband Delivery UK and BT supported superfast broadband deployment scheme (Connecting Cumbria), which is necessary to avoid a conflict with EU State Aid rules.

Assuming all goes to plan, and the Winter weather doesn’t cause too much chaos, then Fibre GarDen expects to complete its work by the end of 2015. But apparently not everybody is happy with the plan and the Westmorland Gazette reports that opposition Conservative councillors are particularly concerned about the projects deliverability.

Libby Bateman, Councillor for Kirkby Stephen, said:

I’ve been a supporter of the Fibre GarDen project from its inception as it is the ultimate ‘build and benefit’ community broadband project. However, I have concerns about the deliverability of the project and that issue doesn’t appear to have been considered during the decision to remove the area from the main Connecting Cumbria project.”

Funnily enough we do recall the issue of deliverability being somewhat of a hot topic during the start of this year, which at one point left many to ponder whether Fibre GarDen would ever be able to proceed (here). Never the less those concerns appear to have been resolved and the funding was eventually released. We’re also unclear how you can both claim to support a project and attempt to torpedo it in public, but that’s politics.

On the other hand the criticism is arguably coming after the horse has already bolted and the onus will now be upon Fibre GarDen and ITS to show they can deliver. However the physical deployment work was already due to have started, but an update posted at the end of last week noted how they’ve had “a number of difficulties with last minute wayleaves and network redesign both for the first section build in each Dale“.

Fibre GarDen Update – 7th Dec 2014

The main reason for the delay was notification from our confirmed backhaul supplier that there would be a possible delay of 3-6 months in securing this due to various administrative process that were holding up approval. This has required us to seek alternative sources of backhaul and I am pleased to report that we have three options to choose from. We received these proposals today [Sunday] following site surveys around the Dales this week and are now being digested by all concerned.

We have a meeting on Wednesday with DEFRA, BDUK and the Connecting Cumbria Project to work through the backhaul proposals and with the view to agreeing on one that will meet the needs of the project and be cost effective. Following this we will be back on track. Not sure what we can do on the ground now before the Seasonal Break but we will know better by the end of next week.”

The original plan optimistically suggested that the first customers could be live by Christmas, although given the complexity of such deployments this was always likely to be a bit overly optimistic. Similar rural fibre optic roll-outs elsewhere around the United Kingdom have also faced delays in their first year, just ask B4RN, but that doesn’t mean to say the project itself won’t be successful, again.. just ask B4RN.

On the other hand there’s a general election coming and even the smallest sniff of a problem can become part of a full blown political slanging match. Meanwhile councillors tend to be much more risk averse and as such the financial security of BT’s effort with BDUK is often seen as the safer bet, even if it might not have reached everybody in the relevant rural communities with a “superfast” service.

NOTE: It’s worth pointing out that Libby Bateman was also a big supporter of BT’s part-community supported deployment of fibre broadband services in the rural Fell End project (here).

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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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3 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark says:

    Difficulties with way-leaves might indicate that the community itself is the problem. Or, a small number of people in that community. Or, just one person. Having dealt with this a bit, you will get residents who consider themselves to be good neighbours but who actually act in such a way as to cause difficulties for said neighbours.

    I recall B4RN adjusting plans to simply bypass the difficult residents leaving them off-network to come back in five years asking to pay more later to have someone come out for a day to connect their single property when the time comes to sell it, and nobody wants to buy it.

    Several months to ‘do some paperwork’ (implication) for the backhaul seems a little odd.

    Were there any other technical options for connecting the community? Did they get a quote from BT for a similar roll out to compare?

  2. Avatar NGA for all says:

    Both Fell End (BT) and Fibre Garden are FTTP in the final 1%.

    The lessons learned from both so others can copy and improve upom would be good.

  3. Avatar Curious says:

    Regarding the Fell End project mentioned at the end of the above article, it is interesting to note that Councillor Libby Bateman was one of the first beneficiaries at her own home.

    Ironic that she now seems intent of pulling up the ladder for her neighbours over the hill in Garsdale and Dentdale now that she has taken advantage of public subsidy.

    Perhaps it is significant that Fell End FTTP is owned by BT whereas Fibre GarDen is community owned and might create an uncomfortable example for BT should other communities want to go the same way.

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