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Fibre GarDen Calls a HALT to Rural Cumbria FTTP Broadband Project

Friday, October 16th, 2015 (1:25 pm) - Score 2,597
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Going nowhere fast. The Digital Dales (Fibre GarDen) project, which had been hoping to deploy a 100Mbps FTTP broadband network to 580 premises in the rural Cumbria (England) villages of Garsdale and Dentdale, has today ground to a halt over funding problems.

Last month ISPreview.co.uk ran an extensive article on some of the challenges that the Fibre GarDen project was facing, not least their struggle to pay contractors for the work that had already been done (here). At that point it became clear that the £650,000 project (details) was in trouble, although the ITS Technology Group remained confident of progress.

David Cullen, ITS Executive Director, told ISPreview.co.uk (Sept 2015):

In short, the set of circumstances has led to a ridiculously protracted process, which has in turn led to issues that in all honestly could have very probably been handled better by everyone (hindsight is a wonderful thing). However, they are all issues that anyone battling to provide next generation broadband to the deprived areas of the UK risk facing almost daily.

The important thing is what you do about them. MAP Group, Fibre GarDen and ITS are now extremely confident, that after 6 years, the project is now in a very strong position. Feet will be back on the ground by the middle of October and in sufficient force to see the network build complete by the end of Q1 next year.”

We didn’t entirely share the “very strong position” claim and today those fears appear to have reached fruition. In a brief statement the Chairman of Fibre GarDen, Andrew Fleck, confirmed that the “viability of the project is [now] uncertain” and that it was “impractical for Fibre GarDen to access the funding” that had already been set aside from public sources.

Andrew Fleck said:

As Members, local residents and close observers of the Fibre GarDen project will know there has been a disappointing lack of progress on the ground throughout the summer and autumn. We have received a number of enquiries about this which is entirely understandable.

The delays now mean that it is impractical for Fibre GarDen to access the funding which had been assigned to the project by DEFRA and we have met with DEFRA representatives to advise them of that fact. After five years of working towards this end, they too are disappointed.

There can be no doubt that the viability of the project is uncertain at this time and the Board are taking advice about several alternative options in order that we may act in the best interests of Members, stakeholders and the community. We do not wish to issue any statements about our next course of action at this time before we have had time to properly assess those options.”

A private meeting is due to be held on 17th November 2015, when the current problems and any possible solutions will be discussed. Immediately after that there will be another meeting, albeit a more public one (details about that will be published in the near future).

The situation does not mean that Fibre GarDen is dead, more that it has stalled until a decision can be made about the best way forward. Mind you some would perhaps argue that, given its general lack of progress, the project has effectively already been stalled for most of the year.

Meanwhile DEFRA has already agreed once to revise its final funding claim deadline from September to 13th November 2015 and they may now have to do that again, although equally there may come a point where their patience simply runs out. Today’s outcome could also be used as a political weapon by MPs that have opposed the scheme in favour of a BT delivered alternative.

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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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63 Responses
  1. Avatar Ignition

    This is really unfortunate. It’s also exactly why so many stuck with the ‘devil they know’ and went with BT.

    It’s all well and good saying how altnets should be involved as much as possible and FTTP is the only way to go, but fundamentally unless this is resolved that 580 premises are getting nothing for the foreseeable, somewhat worse than an ‘up to’ 80Mb FTTC solution or, more likely, a hybrid FTTC/P solution.

    This is very unfortunate, and will be held up as an example of why altnets should be skipped, which is unfortunate but is also prescient. Community projects can work. Commercial altnets the jury is still out.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Quite. It’s one of those important issues when dealing with any supplier where substantial sums are involved. In the case of Altnets, it’s one thing dealing with experienced outfits such as Gigaclear who will have experience and, most importantly, reasonable financial backing and projects just set up for one area. With larger suppliers the law can be used to enforce contracts, but in this sort of case, it’s the public purse that carries the risk. At least this is nothing like the Digital Region project, although its ambitions were always more limited.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      On the subject of Gigaclear, this is a summary of their financial position. It’s obvious from this that they are very much in the “grow like mad or die” phase at the moment. It looks like a venture capital type operation with investment running way ahead of turnover, but they have substantial cash in hand. But it still looks like a minnow. I would not be surprised to seem them taken over at some point – it’s often the way founders get their return locked in on the original investments.

      https://companycheck.co.uk/company/07476617/GIGACLEAR-PLC/financial-accounts

  2. Avatar MikeW

    Having read this article, as well as the previous one, and gone looking further, I can’t actually see what the source of the problem is.

    Can anyone give a one paragraph summary?

    It sounds like money is not being released by someone, but who? And are they right to not release it?

    • Avatar Justin

      I could be wrong MikeW but I think they had to hit certain milestones for DEFRA to release the funding and they haven’t hit those milestones. I’d like to know what’s happened to the money so far (DEFRA was only part of the funding) and what do the communities have to show for the expenditure so far?

    • There are some details that we’ve not shared in public as they’re a bit too legally contentious to publish. But as ITS said in the prior article, a lot of it may come down to bad decision making that could / should have been avoided. Moving ahead with things before all your chickens are in a row etc.

    • Avatar DTMark

      I wondered that. Having read both articles I’m still none the wiser as to where the blame lies for the failure of this task. We need to get all the parties into Sugar’s boardroom to hunt the witch.

    • Avatar TheManStan

      Main issue I can make out is starting before the descoping was complete.

      They couldn’t claim for any costs during that period and i suspect they exhausted their capital reserves on hardware and works. Given how long everything takes, their impatience was there downfall.

      SIB which was offering 100K is still showing as pending on the DigitalDales website, even though they are a social bank they are not going to release the loan until DEFRA says we’ll pay the invoices… meaning they would get the loan back… and this I’m guessing was their main operating capital during the build.

    • Avatar MikeW

      So have these decisions, or the early start, led to a temporary cashflow problem? Or a permanent one? Has anything increased costs compared to the budget? Or perhaps shifted it from a reclaimable column into an unclaimable column?

      If this is a temporary cashflow problem, you’d imagine a community-funded project (eg B4RN) would just pause, and raise more cash. I wonder if there is a way to call on the community here?

  3. Avatar TheFacts

    Reading this http://www.digitaldales.com/project-update-4/ and

    ‘MAP Group is undertaking a detailed route investigation that will provide mapping, engineering drawings, equipment specification and costs to underpin contractor re-commencement on site.’

    I wonder if a recosting has discovered anything.

    • Avatar henry

      60+ km of blowing fibre? Look at the terrain? I know nothing about the financials – or the practicalities.

    • Avatar ts trenching

      incompetant totaly skint should never have got past the tendering stage with there credit rating ,before we ever started i raised my concirns about its lack of money, to be assured if they let us down with payment the digital dales would not see me stuck, its main role was to cash flow the project as all works are paid in arreas, so the norm is for its to fund first invoice and claim monies back, because descoping was held up so was first invoice,works stopped after 4 weeks as its could not pay first bill,. we are still not paid .my thaughts are you can not carry out possibly one of the biggest fftp projects paid for like this when nobody on the board has a clue about what needs doing to build a network, the job is possible we have done alot worse, my thoughts are with the share holders who have proberbly lost out.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Why not wireless? Look at StreetView to see the isolated properties.

  4. Avatar FibreFred

    Where’s the usual people shouting from the rooftops about supporting the altnets, fibre.. moral and optic 🙂

    • Avatar TheFacts

      As in:

      September 15, 2014 at 12:56 pm
      Wonderful news for Fibre GarDen, they have worked very hard and deserve to succeed. Going the extra mile, where telcos fear to tread. Good luck to the community of grit.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Interesting that Dent is lined up for some FTTC:

      Address O/S THE OLD VICARAGE, STREET SIDE DSLAM CAB NMCQLO, FLINTERGILL, DENT, SEDBERGH, LA10 5QR on Exchange DENT is served by Cabinet 2

    • Avatar MikeW

      Hmmm. Doesn’t that suggest descoping didn’t happen?

      More than that, if the DSLAM is already in the BTW address database, it suggests that the boat sailed on descoping a long time ago.

      Whose choice? BT, or Cumbria CC?

      The document found by @TheFacts suggests that the parish councils were uneasy, and IIRC the county council may have leant the same way. As @chris intimates below, there is obviously more to come out of what has gone on here.

      What seems clear from the @TheFacts document is that, with an FTTC cabinet in Dent, the whole business case for Fibre Garden evaporates.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Descoping seems to have had a history. I’ve gone further back in the history, to a story back in February
      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/02/cumbria-council-put-fibre-garden-fttp-broadband-rollout-knife-edge.html

      There, the council reviewed the need to descope, on the basis that a cabinet was already positioned. Things looked bleak, until an update reported that CCC had agreed to descope.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Have a look at Dent on StreetView, narrow cobbled streets. Expensive to FTTP, more suited to FTTC?

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      I’d certainly agree that Dent would be expensive to cable up again unless there’s ducting to every house. There’s no hint of overhead cables and, presumably, all the services have been buried to preserve the look of the village. Repeating that with a new fibre network given the lack of verges, cobbles and so on would make it much easier to enable a cabinet, even if a new one had to be installed. The village itself is fairly compact so it would get decent services, but there are undoubtedly outlying properties that will be more difficult. Running fibre to those will simply be expensive as I suspect that will have to be buried too.

    • Avatar MikeW

      In a B4RN-like model, wouldn’t they take fibre into the rear of the property from the fields? That works until the village gets big enough to have more than a crossroads, but I reckon most of Dent could have been covered that way.

      I think Steve is right that the more remote premises would be harder to reach. It looks like GarDen could cope with that, provided they got a good chunk of income from the “easy” place – Dent village itself.

  5. Avatar Phil

    ITS technology group the dick turpins of 2015

    • Avatar Chris Conder

      think you got it in one there Phil. Fibre GarDen trusted the wrong people. BDUK made them do what they did, so in my book BDUK are the ones to blame. Fibregarden will grow again, and one day they’ll be able to expose what has really happened. Every cloud has a silver lining, and there is room for altnets, as long as government keep their noses out of how to build them. BDUK funding models are as obsolete as the copper they want to spend it on. If FibreGarDen had been allowed to control their own project it would have been built by now. But government funding has been the one bad move they made. Far better to use private money or loans than dance to the tune of the piper’s monkey. There are enough good people in those two dales to gather up the project and breathe life into it again. Those people deserve fibre. They already have moral fibre, they just believed that funding would help build their network. Easy mistake to make when the carrot is dangled. They didn’t realise the carrot was fish bait and had a rotten core. And now it’s there for the world to see, exactly, how corrupt the government policy really is. It is determined to keep the country on copper. It is determined to hoodwink us into believing we get fibre down phone lines. It really is a superfarce.

      Well done to such a tiny pair of dales for trying to beat the system. I hope you can now kick off the dust and go it alone. If Defra are too soft to back you now, they’ll be no use to you in the future either. And when you’ve finished, write a book, and show the next generation what a pack of fools we’ve elected in this country, to let civil servants run rings around them in this way, supporting a telco monopoly with the power to hold us back for another decade just so it can leach the assets of its obsolete victorian phone network.

      Sorry for the delayed response FibreFred, only just seen this news. Very sad to hear it. I thought that this was the one altnet of the hundreds who tried to get funding who could actually pull it off. Funding is bad. You spend your resources jumping through hoops instead of digging. Most gave up. They never even got started. At least Fibre Garden tried, that is all I can say to you to wipe the smug grin off your face. They tried. They know a few in the village can get some ‘superfarce’ in Dent, TheFacts, but they know most of their community can’t. They wanted to help everyone get a futureproof, fit for purpose connection now. Not just a few near the copper cab, all of them. Rather than go with the flow, as dead fish do, they swam upstream, and have been caught out. Descoping is just another of the crafty ways BT have of stopping all the funded projects getting going. That is why its safer to swim out on your own and take your chance. Holding the net is a trap cunningly set.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Hey it’s always someone’s else’s fault at the end of the day and nothing to do with people trying to build networks and then realising actually it’s a bit harder than expected.

      Some make it and scrape through by the will of the community when normally it would fail, others as we see don’t make it, but that shouldn’t put us off throwing money at those that will “give it a go” it doesn’t matter how much we waste just don’t give it to BT whatever you do better to fail and fail again

    • Avatar ts trenching

      due diligence must be done by idiots as ITS have a credit rating of 3 and creditors beware on there check, surely somebody other than me should have seen this defra bduk capital banks, but no body seemed to bother,my thoughts are the funding to build a network of this size would come in around 1.5 million but what do i know, what i do know is on that the terain and rocky ground it would be in the region of 10.00 pounds a metre average including c/w rock and around 600 dry stone walls to go under,, so the funding would have run out just getting ducting buried,with the board so dissconected fron the real world they have proberbly done us a favour going now, rather than further into the project.

  6. Avatar henry

    The document refered to by “Thefacts” is now a couple of years old.

    http://garsdaleparishcouncildotcom2.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/fibre-garden-state-aid-public-consultation.pdf

    is the original proposal – again, going back some years.

    There’s a few km of duct in the ground at present.

    • Avatar GNewton

      At least TheFacts is finally trying to learn how to do his own research, rather than merely asking the same lame questions on this forum. 🙂

  7. Avatar PeterM

    This really underlines the difficulty of providing fibre in rural areas. The main problem is that until a job is started the contractor simply doesn’t know what problems will be encountered and how long it will take.
    For example Amberley in West Sussex was supposed to go live in July 2014 but after a catalogue of problems that still haven’t been resolved there is still a lot of work to do. If this had been a private contract rather than a BDUK Openreach one there is no doubt that financial problems would have stopped work long ago. [Just take a look at the roadworks info for Amberley – the exchange is a Bury.]

    • Avatar Chris Conder

      the contractors don’t know the problems. the suits don’t know the problems. The farmers and landowners know the problems and can sort it out. Look at the forth bridge. Look at the railways. Look at the pyramids. Don’t be so bloody soft and stupid. Its a little tiny plastic duct ffs. If a bunch of farmers can do it then so can the incumbent. They just don’t want to when there is such easy picking in the cities. The people must be helped to help themselves, and then they can build the networks of the future. That is what the funding was for, it was for the hard to reach areas, not to enable a few little boxes near a little green cabinet go a bit faster.
      This country has been fooled by the marketing hype and snake oil salesmen. Remember the history books. Have you still got 64K or ram? It was more than fast enough in those days. FTTC is 64K of ram. It is so yesterday. it also leaves millions of us on substandard connections so many remain analogue, despite being classed as having access to superfast.
      Where are the men of grit?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      So what is stopping this magic workforce from building it themselves Chris? You seem to be blaming bduk for the fibre garden fiasco so… where are the men of grit then where is this community you speak of with spades at the ready outside of your own local area?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      And if it’s all so easy I look forward to b4rn finishing way ahead of schedule and not way way way behind

    • Avatar PeterM

      Your men of grit are alive and well in the form of the Openreach contractors who have been working in Amberley. They have built three new cabinets, replaced 5km of ducting down a flooded road, are clearing numerous ducts over another 3km of road, spanned a listed bridge and confronted angry residents when they cut of their phones for 18 days. All this for a community of about 150 people.
      The only thing is that most of the residents already have a good fixed wireless service that could be further enhanced because the whole village is overlooked by the South Downs.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Chris – farmers built the Forth Bridge?

      What’s the full build cost of B4RN, including equipment, wayleaves, contract labour etc a) as being implemented now and b) as a fully costed commercial contract with no community resource?

      Don’t claim that 1G is the speed we all require, that’s just because it’s the speed the kit you buy runs at.

  8. Avatar dragoneast

    Yes we do make things difficult for ourselves. That’s because we complain about everything everyone else.

  9. Avatar Chris Conder

    PeterM if the residents already have a good wireless service then that is why openreach have made an effort to connect the village of 150. they go where there is competition and try to wipe it out, in the same way they have put a cabinet in Dent. They ignore the bigger villages who still exist on sub Meg speeds unless competition rears its head.

    TheFacts the Victorian men of grit literally moved mountains. Our current incumbent struggles to lay a tiny fibre anywhere, and ends up keeping us all on obsolete phone lines, which may be fine at the moment for those near enabled cabinets (if enough cards are in) but are useless for those on long lines. There are men of grit working for altnets and in communities. We need more of them.

    The reason FibreGarDen is in a pickle is because the job was given to an incompetent company, because of the tendering process BDUK insists on. If that is blaming others, then fine. If the cap fits?

    I am not claiming anyone needs a gig right now, the idea of B4RN is to build the infrastructure now that is upgradable in the future. Unlike cabs and FTTC, which is the equivalent of putting 64K of ram in a computer. If it was enough for us in the 90s why do we all want 4gig now in even entry range PCs? It costs the same to light a fibre at 1000Mbps as it does to build it with 100Mbps lights. The idea is to get a fit for purpose connection. FTTC can never lay claim to that.

    As for FibreFred, who should possibly change his name to copperhead, B4RN grows at the rate the community build it. It is already way ahead of schedule in many more areas than were planned originally.

    TheFacts if you want the full costs, then become a shareholder and then you are entitled to see them. otherwise cough up the £12 to get them from companies house.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @Chris
      Yes, all my efforts are directed towards fixed wireless. I have given up on improved fibre coverage. Hopefully our village will move from around 80% superfast to very nearly 100% in the next few months with the aid of fixed wireless from transmitters on the South Downs.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      But it’s not hard for the incumbent to deliver fibre, they’ve been doing it for years all around the UK including rural areas for many many years in the form of leased lines.

      The issue is the cost, people don’t want to pay the true cost of delivering to rural areas and rather unsurprisingly Openreach engineers and contractors want to be paid, they aren’t interested in working for free or for shares in a network that might or might not make money for itself.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @FibreFred
      I could order a leased line tomorrow but unfortunately living in a rural area 2.5km from the nearest fibre node it would probably cost me in excess of £30,000 in excess construction – the ducts are more than likely blocked for at least 75% of the distance. There is a limit to what anyone will pay including BDUK who have also ruled out an upgrade on cost grounds. Hence we will use fixed wireless.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Sure Peter, totally understand, the point I was illustrating to Chris is that BT do this type of thing all of the time. Its not hard for them to do, but it is costly.

      I’ve said it so many times before but… why not again, it all comes down to cost.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “I’ve said it so many times before but… why not again, it all comes down to cost.”

      What a hypocritical statement from someone who has had not the slightest objection to the BDUK which has wasted Millions of taxpayer’s money on something which BT, or other telecoms, should have done anyway.

      Better and stricter regulation, along with proper anti-cherry picking laws for incumbent telecoms could have avoided the BDUK farce!

    • Avatar PeterM

      @GNewton
      But how long would we have had to wait?
      Governments waste money all the time. If BDUK was a waste of money at least they wasted it on something useful for a change.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      GNewton, deluded as usual.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “But how long would we have had to wait?”

      Not as long as some people think it would take.

      For a starter, a nationwide Fibre on Demand could have been introduced ages ago for early adopters and business users. And with the taxpayer-funded competition gone, in addition to bigger telecom companies, many smaller altnets would have a better chance to compete in smaller towns and rural areas.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @FibreFred: Resorting to your usual name callings here? Can’t stand it when posters have different opinions to yours? If this forum was moderated you’d be kicked out here long ago!

    • Avatar PeterM

      @GNewton
      I would agree that the altnets have been squeezed out by the BDUK process and that the final 5% have lost out badly because of this.
      On the central point however, I think that if BT and other providers had been left to provide superfast for the rest of the rural areas a lot more customers would still have been waiting. Also of course BT would have had to recover their investment by charging more at the wholesale and retail level – we still would have ended up paying.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      I’ve no problem with people having different opinions, it helps though if they are based on something sound which yours never are. Just soundbites that actually mean nothing.

      You don’t seem to live in the real world and your comments reflect that

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Spot on PeterM,

      I’m sure that over time BT would have rolled out FTTC beyond their initial commercial deployment.

      I think a few years later after some ROI they would have expanded further on some urban areas that didn’t quite make the ROI grade first time around, but this would take a lot of time and most people wouldn’t get a service for years, many never.

      GNewton, fails to understand the basics… he doesn’t understand basic business principles, whether its building networks, baking bread or growing grapes.

      If your venture is not economically viable you don’t pursue it.

      His arguments are not founded on anything that makes any sense, just an inbuilt hatred of BT, just like another fella called called JNeuhoff used to have

      ahem

    • Avatar Porty News

      “@FibreFred: Resorting to your usual name callings here? Can’t stand it when posters have different opinions to yours? If this forum was moderated you’d be kicked out here long ago!”

      Indeed and then the child troll goes running and reporting things when he does not get his own way.

  10. Avatar henry

    Chris Conder…

    Your evidence for:

    1) the Victorian men of grit literally moved mountains
    2) the job was given to an incompetent company
    3) It costs the same to light a fibre at 1000Mbps as it does to build it with 100Mbps lights

    just asking…

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Chris – is ‘the suits don’t know the problems’ the Fibre GarDen management team? Please provide the 2 build numbers requested and explain how you believe UK broadband expansion should be funded.

      Henry – cost difference between 100M and 1G interfaces is negligible and 1G is current standard.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “explain how you believe UK broadband expansion should be funded.”

      Why do you keep asking the same questions here? You already have posted your suggestrion on how to finance it more than a year ago, in which you demonstrated how you had no concern for using Billions of taxpayer’s money for a nationwide fibre rollout.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Do you not understand plain English GNewton??

      He has asked you a question and you have responded with another, he asked Chris to explain her plan , he wasn’t asking himself.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      I’m simply asking Chris and GNewton for their proposals on how a 100% FTTP rollout should be funded.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: “I’m simply asking Chris and GNewton for their proposals on how a 100% FTTP rollout should be funded.”

      Fair enough. However, I have answered your questions so many times over, yet you keep asking the same questions here on this forum which makes you look somewhat strange here. Do you even still agree with your own proposal on how to finance a nationwide FTTP, which you posted here last year?

      Why do you care about the UK broadband? Is your broadband line still on the slow lane and you are looking for a way to improve it? Or do you have any financial interests in any of the telecoms or ISPs?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      “Fair enough, however” – and then the usual avoidance have we seen a plan from you that is credible and realistic?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Anyway the question was for Chris so I’m unsure why you felt compelled to answer for her. Maybe because it will go unanswered as usual

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @GN – your only reply has been ‘use Google’. How about you provide some details.

      Chris will not reply to her ramblings.

    • Avatar Mark

      Surely you mean she will not reply to your ramblings, only a mad person responds to itself. Reading the comments here that is something you seem to have experience of.

  11. Avatar henry

    You all probably know this already…but a search for “next-gen ofcom pdf” leads to a “REPORT ON UK NGA PROVISION BY NON – MAJOR PROVIDERS” which provides some interesting reading. In particular the sections on individual altnet’s plans.

  12. Avatar Jon March

    I was project manager on Connecting Cumbria July 2014 to June 2015.

    There are more facts to come out re Fibre Garden. “Follow the money”. In this case its about the state aid. If you knew who did what, when they did it, and the impact on the FibreGarden project then you’d know where to point your finger of blame.

    Whilst the facts remain undisclosed, the situation is so opaque for external observers that drawing a wider conclusion without a proper knowledge of those facts seems a little precipitous.

    Be clear on this though: the current situation in Gardale and Dentdale is scandalous. It continues to be tragedy for that rural community where they have been trying very hard for many years to get everyone a decent broadband service.

    -JM

  13. Avatar TheFacts

    Time for an update.

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