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UPDATE Shropshire UK Agrees BT Fibre Broadband Extension Contract

Friday, May 29th, 2015 (2:12 pm) - Score 843

The £26m Connecting Shropshire project in England’s West Midlands, which is currently working with BT to make “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) connectivity available to 93% of local premises by the end of Spring 2016 (only 87% will get “superfast” 24Mbps+ speeds), has today signed a diminished second contract to extend the roll-out.

As feared the new Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) contract, which forms part of the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK scheme, will be significantly smaller in scope than originally hoped. Last year BDUK provisionally allocated £11,380,000 to the scheme, but today’s signing confirms that only £4,725,209 of that has actually been contracted for the Phase 2 extension.

The primary problem for Shropshire County Council (SCC) has been the strain placed upon them by recent budget cuts, which have made it difficult to match fund with the Government’s investment. Thankfully the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership (£5m) has helped to pick up some of the slack, which means today’s deal is worth around £10m in terms of public funding (BT’s contribution has yet to be confirmed).

Earlier this week Patrick Cosgrove, a well-known local broadband campaigner, sent us a copy of a comment he was given by Shropshire Council’s Leader, which echoes some of the challenges they face.

Keith Barrow, Shropshire Council’s Leader, said:

We will continue to explore opportunities for additional funding should the need arise. We are currently concluding our Phase 2 procurement and will then start a process using remaining secured funding to undertake further procurement processes as soon as possible.

It remains a clearly sensible strategy for the authority, at a time of financial constraint, to be clear what the current funding can procure for any remaining unserved areas before we commit additional funds.

All broadband procurements will require us to provide services that meet the national State Aid condition for superfast broadband. The Superfast Broadband criteria will require all deployments to provide a minimum of 24Mbps using whichever technology meets the criteria and provides the best value and coverage.”

So far the existing Phase 1 BDUK contract has already installed around 180 new Street Cabinets (‘up to’ 80Mbps FTTC) in 43 telephone exchange areas, while 34,365 additional homes and businesses have benefitted from the work (service uptake in related areas stands at a strong 16.9%). By completion around 63,000 premises should have benefitted from Phase 1.

Sadly we haven’t yet received the official press release for the BDUK Phase 2 contract, although it’s known from last year’s SCC report that the completion of Phase 1 in 2016 will still leave around 28,500 premises with no access to superfast broadband.

However the tender for Phase 2 will actually focus on just 15,500 of the above total, not least due to the funding restrictions and a hope that BT’s separate commercial deployment might be able to go further than predicted. The expectation is that Phase 2 will push “superfast” coverage to more than 90% by 2017/18 and the raw “fibre broadband” footprint should exceed 95% (includes both 24Mbps+ and slower speeds).

It can normally take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks, after we hear that a new contract has been signed, before the official press release surfaces with the final details. We’ll update again once that arrives.

UPDATE 3rd June 2015

It’s now been confirmed that BT has committed just £900,000 to support the contract (total funding of around £5.6m) and apparently just 4,000 premises will actually benefit. Some of the telephone exchange areas that will see the most work include Montford Bridge, Prees and Munslow.

The good news is that another contract will be developed for the end of 2015, which should hopefully enable the project to use the rest of the public funding that was originally earmarked for Phase 2.

Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. Avatar PATRICK@COSGR.PLUS.COM says:

    I have to say, I’m surprised that so little of the £11.38m set aside for BT was actually contracted. I wonder if it was more a case of the area not being esepcially attractive to BT becuase of the sparsity of the population and the better value now being sought in Phase contracts.

    There could be a positive spin here. If that now leaves £6m BDUK grant plus at least £5m matching, and a further £6m matching to be found if the Council borrows are seeks external investment, that is potentially very attractive to other mixed tecchnology network builders.

    There could also be a very negative spin, which is that Shropshire decides to scrape through by not seeking the remaining matching and giving the rest of us wireless broadband.

  2. Avatar PATRICK@COSGR.PLUS.COM says:

    I mean Phase 2 contracts, of course.

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      “There could also be a very negative spin, which is that Shropshire decides to scrape through by not seeking the remaining matching and giving the rest of us wireless broadband.”

      What’s wrong with long-distance wireless solutions in rural areas? They are often symmetric (same upload and download speeds), and more suitable for rural areas than VDSL.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Anyone with intelligence would realise no two rural locations are the same , in one location wireless could work fine in another it’s no good and another solution would be better

  3. Avatar Matthew Williams says:

    Sounds like budget cuts are not going to just take money in an immediate case now but could affect people in Shropshire for years to come. I hope they can find some way to match more of the money as it would be a shame if many miss out when the money is partially there,

  4. Avatar PATRICK@COSGR.PLUS.COM says:

    Dear GNewton. I’m not saying wireless is sub-standard in the way that satellite is. I’m saying although it works fine, it’s not as future-proofed as fibre. And wouldn’t you feel let down if all other parts of the country had matched their grant, but where you live they haven’t so fewer people get fibre.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      Not really. We have VDSL (“fibre”) and it’s less performant than 4G and about level with 3G. A wireless solution could have been an improvement on what we already had.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      But as I keep saying DTMark we don’t all live in your village , you don’t represent the majority , most are seeing a significant speed increase your repeated ( and I must have seen it 30+ time’s now ) comments about your 4g performance don’t change that

      You have a good 4g setup , great so why are you still griping? You go with what works for you

      You are telling us that for some 4g will outperform vdsl…. and?

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      @PATRICK@COSGR.PLUS.COM: I agree, the availability of VDSL can be very patchy in many places, and this not just in rural areas. Places like South Suffolk and North Essex will have only about 50% superfast broadband coverage via fixed landlines. And genuine fibre broadband is hardly available at all in the UK. Wireless solutions can often offer a better value for money, and a better service than VDSL, and I am not talking about G4 mobile networks here, rather, fixed long-distance wireless. It’s worth a try organising local groups and getting alternative telecoms providers to step into these market niches.

    4. Avatar DTMark says:

      Well, here we are, with access to VDSL but ignoring it, because it’s too slow.

      At the same time the other half of the same village (by geography, but not population) still has sub 2 Meg fixed line speeds as they’re connected to a different phone cabinet which “is under review for between 2016 and 2018” despite having been promised a minimum of 2 Meg by the end of this year. Some can get decent 4G, some not depending on topography.

      I can’t help but think that actually the lines will be rerouted to feed everyone from the same cabinet (the big VDSL cab is a clue) but then that’s not going to work well given some premises will then be 2km of wire from it. Ticks boxes though. They’ll have access to “fibre”.

      This scaling down of performance goals to technology goals suits BT very well, and ticks boxes, but what has been deployed is already effectively obsolete unless you live right next to the phone cabinet. It’s an expensive “NGA” solution to keep on trying to adapt a phone network. Everyone could have had superfast speeds now with wireless. The right tech for the area is key, and that was ignored when the “superfast project” became the “VDSL project”.

      I wait to see how having “fibre” to a cabinet 600m away (might as well be 600 miles away, there is no means of getting that connectivity here) is some sort of “stepping stone” or NGA technology with a future.

    5. Avatar X66yh says:

      Well I imagine the next stage will be where the FTTC cabinets have GPON line cards retro fitted into them as the fibre is gradually over decades pushed further and further out into the distribution side.

      As FibreFred has said we don’t live in your village.
      A large village near me has gone from bare 1 to 2 Mbps to maybe 50Mbps min capacity as all properties within 500 yards of the cabinets from drawing out concentric circles. That sounds to me like a resounding success story.

    6. Avatar GNewton says:

      @X66yh: “That sounds to me like a resounding success story.”

      While it’s good to see that your village now has 50mbps, it’s not really something to be especially proud of, let alone being a resounding success story, especially not when most of of it was taxpayer-funded, and you still pay the full monthly VDSL prices, and still don’t have present day standard fibre broadband services. The telecoms companies would have done it anyway, sooner or later, though the UK in general is quite backwards in this regards, partly due to wrong government policies and regulation frameworks.

    7. Avatar DTMark says:

      Sadly I don’t think that picking our house up and moving it maybe 300m nearer the cabinet is an option, nor the others with longer line lengths.

  5. Avatar MikeW says:

    I think a lot of rural counties have twigged to the need to swap to wireless, and it looks like the changeover for value-for-money vs Max performance is probably somewhere in the middle of the SEP money.

    It wouldn’t surprise me for such councils to spend some of their funds with BT, but deliberately withhold the rest for use after the phase 3 market tests … and to already have a reasonable idea of how much money needs to be held back.

    1. Avatar PATRICK@COSGR.PLUS.COM says:

      That’s a good theory.

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