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UPDATE BT Fibre Broadband Upgrades for 40000 Premises in Wales Delayed

Saturday, January 28th, 2017 (7:58 am) - Score 2,121

Problems with gaining access to private land are reportedly delaying the Welsh Government’s joint Superfast Cymru project with Openreach (BT) to roll-out faster “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services to around 40,000 extra homes and businesses in Wales.

At present roughly 95% of premises in Wales have already been put within reach of a “fibre broadband” service, although this figure drops to about 90% for those able to access the contracted “superfast broadband” speeds of greater than 30Mbps. The existing contracts are expected to run until the end of 2017 and during that time a further 90,000 or so premises should be added to the FTTC/P network coverage.

However the project in Wales has also suffered a few delays, some of which can be administrative and others may relate to more complicated engineering challenges like blocked cable ducts, traffic (road) management and disruption from bad weather (particularly during winter in rural areas). Now the BBC has reported that around 40,000 premises in the planned upgrade are being delayed by wayleave disputes with land owners.

Alwen Williams, Director of BT Wales, said:

“Way-leaves have been – and continue to be – one of our most significant challenges – getting permissions to access the land that we need to access in order to lay the fibre cables. At the moment we have around 40,000 homes and businesses that are held up because we have a complex discussion or negotiation going on with various parties about how to gain access to land or permissions to dig, road closures.”

Alwen admits that the problem is “absolutely immense.” The fact that Superfast Cymru is now reaching more rural centric areas may also be exasperating the issue because this is where the need to secure constructive wayleave agreements with land owners (i.e. rural businesses, farmers, private estates etc.) can become much trickier.

Much as we reported yesterday (here), wayleave agreements represent a legal written consent, which allows infrastructure providers access to carry out work on privately owned land. The industry has already done a lot of work to develop a more standardised approach, but landowners may sometimes demand high rental prices for new infrastructure and can be worried about the impact of new infrastructure on their property.

The Government has been pushing to tackle this issue by revising the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), although that threatens to reduce the income that landowners may receive from related agreements and thus opposition continues to be stiff.

Interestingly the Welsh Government didn’t really respond to the problem itself. Instead the Welsh Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, said she was “frustrated” with the information that BT has been giving out and this is apparently one of the reasons why they “took over the [Superfast Cymru] website last summer.”

Apparently the new website has been “improved … dramatically” since then, although the new one doesn’t seem to mention the project’s coverage targets or timescales and its availability checker merely appears to be a vague implementation of Openreach’s own availability test. No regular progress updates are provided about the roll-out itself, although they’re by no means the only Broadband Delivery UK supported scheme to have that problem.

On a more positive note the Welsh Government are in the process of examining how ‘up to’ £80m of BT clawback and additional public money could be put towards bringing faster broadband to areas that are likely to miss out at the end of the current contract (here). The vague aim is to bring 30Mbps+ broadband coverage “to the hardest to reach premises across Wales” by 2020 (deployment starting in January 2018) and a deal could be signed in the latter half of 2017. But wayleaves could easily become a problem for the new deal too.

UPDATE 30th Jan 2017

We’ve been chatting to Andrew from Thinkbroadband, who recently gave evidence to the Welsh Assembly on the above matter, and he is fairly confident that most of the delayed c.40,000 premises reflect the outstanding Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) commitment in the Welsh Government’s contract with BT (this matches up with TBB’s mapping of the current deployment progress).

One partial solution to this could be to install less FTTP and more FTTC / VDSL2 cabinets like we saw occur in England during BDUK Phase 1, although this won’t solve all of the problems. Andrew also noted that the Welsh Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, appears to be pushing for a non-BT solution to help tackle the remaining gap after the current contracts have completed and this may involve more Fixed Wireless Access (FWA).

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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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13 Responses
  1. DTMark says:

    Why are wayleaves an issue for BT given that they must surely already have them for their existing ducting?

    1. AndyH says:

      What makes you think they have ducting everywhere already?

    2. FibreFred says:

      Obviously they don’t have the ducting in these areas, does that really need explaining?

    3. Steve Jones says:

      Quick. Somebody tell the Openreach network planners they’ve forgotten to use their own ducts and telephone poles.

    4. GNewton says:

      Can someone please answer DTMark’s question? He has a valid point because there already is a telecom network in Wales even in remote areas, with existing wayleaves, though BT probably uses poles rather than ducts in rural areas.

    5. Steve Jones says:

      @GNewton

      What the hell is there to explain? Clearly whatever passive infrastructure in place is not sufficient. Maybe ducting is full, maybe its in too bad condition to be repaired, maybe it’s direct buried cable, maybe telegraph poles are loaded to capacity, maybe local regulations in sensitive areas require new fibre to be buried, maybe there need to be power-lines run to FTTC cabinets over private land. Maybe there’s a dozen other reasons that I don’t know about it, as I’ve never designed network infrastructure (computer centres, but not this sort of stuff – but I know well enough how complications mount, especially on retrofits).

      But one thing you can guarantee is that if it was feasible and cost-effective to use existing passive infrastructure, then that’s what the planners would have done.

    6. AndyH says:

      I think GNewton lives in a dream world where BT has perfect ductwork running in every road, street and field in the country…

    7. TheFacts says:

      Remember the house in Norfolk where the owner claimed the cabinet was in his garden.

  2. DTMark says:

    None of these answers explain why BT needs new wayleaves.

    Two issues that I can think of are power supplies to powered cabinets and a desire to change the path of some awkwardly routed lines to make them shorter.

    In such cases the lack of a new wayleave to do those things would delay the deployment of VDSL but then that’s BT’s choice to use a technology that degrades incredibly quickly over even short distances and requires a powered cabinet.

    So the wayleaves might hold up VDSL, but this need not be a big obstacle when there is another option.

    1. AndyH says:

      Read what the BT Director said: “getting permissions to access the land that we need to access in order to lay the fibre cables.”

      You do realise that some wayleaves go back decades and sometimes utility companies require a new wayleave agreement to install new equipment? Or that the existing wayleave may not be legally acceptable and require to be updated?

      You do also realise that network topology for fibre is often completely different to that of copper? One example: most of the time, smaller exchanges have a parent exchange where the handover to ISPs takes place. There will often no existing link between A & B.

    2. MikeW says:

      Remember too that the list includes “permission to dig” and “road closures”.

      Perhaps they need to dig the road, path or verge on a narrow lane … which requires total closure. Perhaps the council won’t let them, for the reduced access into a village. Or it would cause a dangerous queue during school hours, or…

      Perhaps that is for digging in new ducts, digging out blocked ducts, putting up new poles, replacing poles, or stringing fibre.

  3. FibreFred says:

    Trolling comments unworthy of further answers

    1. AndyH says:

      Yep. Same people, same BT criticism.

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