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Surrey UK Set to Push Beyond 96% Superfast Broadband Coverage

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 (3:34 pm) - Score 746
bt old street cabinet vs fttc cabinet

Surrey is special because it’s one of the few counties in England to have already delivered over 96% coverage of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) and as a result they were able to skip the Government’s second Broadband Delivery UK phase. But the council has this week agreed to go even further.

The Superfast Surrey project officially completed its original BDUK Phase 1 roll-out with Openreach (BT) all the way back in March 2015 (here). As a result Surrey is now one of the best connected regions in the whole of the United Kingdom and they’re delivering around 99% coverage of “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P), albeit only if you include slower sub-24Mbps areas.

Overall the original BDUK programme managed to benefit an additional 82,000 premises (local homes and businesses), many of which might not have been reached without the help of state aid or at least it would have taken a lot longer. However a recent Open Market Review (OMR) confirmed that over 15,300 premises were still stuck in the slow lane (here).

The good news is that clawback / gainshare from the BDUK Phase 1 contract has resulted in BT being able to return £3.8 million to the local authority due to high take-up of “fibre broadband” in related areas, which can now be reinvested to further boost coverage.

Surrey Council Statement

This funding does not require any new capital investment by the county council. The County Council has now received State Aid approval to use this Gainshare funding through the existing contract with BT within a revised Intervention Area. It offers the benefit of proceeding with additional broadband infrastructure deployment as soon as possible, without further procurement.

The County Council requested BT to model solutions to maximise the number of premises that might benefit from further County Council investment. These premises will be connected to the fibre network using a combination of different technologies; Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC), either new cabinets or by connecting to an existing nearby fibre enabled cabinet, Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) or Fibre to the Remote Node (FTTRN).

Upon completion of the additional deployment, the programme team will be disbanded and the programme hibernated until 2022. From late 2018, existing Surrey County Council resources will be utilised to manage any ongoing contractual requirements, complaints and enquiries and then close the contract in 2022.

We haven’t heard FTTRN being mentioned for a long time and indeed the solution did hit a few speed bumps, not least due to cost and power supply requirements (here), so our suspicion is that it won’t have a significant role to play in the next phase for Surrey. Likewise £3.8m isn’t nearly enough to do all of the 15,300 remaining premises, but it might help a few thousand.

On top of that we should point out that Gainshare for the expansion of the fibre network is subject to the funding being considered lawful State Aid under the European Commission’s new Guidelines and representing a Value For Money (VFM) investment in broadband infrastructure.

The plan appears to have won approval, but not everybody is pleased with the idea of spending more public money on broadband, particularly as the local authority is busy grappling with some harsh funding cuts (here). The Deputy Leader of the council, Peter Martin, has similarly warned that putting more money into improving broadband for remote rural areas would not offer “value for money“.

The local authority and BT will now work to establish precisely how much further they can take the coverage. BT has indicated that the new programme could commence in Q1 2017/18
(April 2017) and would then be completed in Q3 2018/19 (December 2018).

We should point out that final approval for the investment of contract funds has been delegated to the Strategic Director for Environment and Infrastructure, in consultation with the Deputy Leader.

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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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6 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Jones

    Whilst the level of public funding might only be £3.8, the framework agreement will mean that there will be some BT investment too. That could push the total available to about £5bn based on the Staffordshire announcement of a similar deal. If the profile is similar to Staffs, then that would be around 6,000 properties, although Surrey might be a bit easier. That should add perhaps 1.5%, maybe a bit more, to that 96% figure.

    Now cue VFM to say that BT owes untold millions of capex under BDUK to fix the rest…

  2. Avatar MikeW

    This raises an interesting question about “state aid approval”.

    The quote from SCC says “The County Council has now received State Aid approval to use this Gainshare funding through the existing contract with BT within a revised Intervention Area.”

    The terms of the original contracts were usually worded so as to allow gainshare and underspend money to be fed back into the project under the existing contract, so long as both parties agreed. That seems to be what is happening here, and is the reason why no new procurement is necessary.

    Given that the original contract already met with state aid approval, it is a little strange to see that the council has now received new approval.

    Is it more of a matter that they received confirmation that they can continue working under the old state aid approval rules? Because the old project surely isn’t close to meeting the new procurement rules? They aren’t listed in the new “post-June-2016” tab on the BDUK spreadsheet.
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Hs00bNsyRV1WoOt-fow3rsNXzpcKg26AsOWvk1bvJRk/edit

    Perhaps the fact they originally used their own OJEU notification means they needed to seek clarification.

    • Avatar paul

      You are right, Surrey is not a BDUK framework contract and as such the state aid obligations are not the same.

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