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Aylesbury Vale Broadband and Gigaclear in Buckinghamshire FTTP Overbuild

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 (10:59 am) - Score 1,838

The £700K publicly funded (loan) Aylesbury Vale Broadband project in rural Buckinghamshire has pulled out of their ultrafast FTTP/H roll-out in Great Brickhil after Gigaclear confirmed that they were about to start work. Meanwhile the two are set to go head-to-head in the village of Soulbury.

Most of the issues with overbuilding that crop-up on these pages tend to reflect disputes between the dominant telecoms giant, BT (Openreach), and smaller alternative networks (altnets), although every once in awhile a similar situation emerges between smaller altnets. Even then it’s very rare to see two pure fibre optic providers battling it out over the same turf, not least because the economic risks of doing so are much more significant.

However, this appears to be precisely what’s about to happen in parts of Buckinghamshire, where both of the aforementioned providers are deploying their ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP/H) technology. We should point out that Gigaclear’s deployment in the county appears to be based on a commercial model, although both Gigaclear and AVB will usually seek to secure a good level of local demand before rolling out to a specific area.

For example, AVB tends to set a target for 30% of all households in a village paying a deposit before they will begin deployment and it’s a roughly similar approach for Gigaclear’s more commercial model. In keeping with that AVB announced in September 2016 that they were going to deliver to Soulbury and in October 2016 they also confirmed that Great Brickhill had reached its goal.

We should point out that Soulbury, which is home to around 740 people, is over 4 kilometres from Great Brickhill and requires AVB’s Gigaclear’s network to cross the Grand Union Canal and a major train line to reach. Great Brickhill is ever so slightly larger with a population of around 820. Never the less the plan for both had been proceeding well until the start of this year.

Andrew Mills, Managing Director of AVB, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“In early December we applied for our street works licences for Soulbury with work beginning 17th January 2017 and finishing mid-April. This work in Soulbury has been planned over several months, the parish councils in both villages were aware of our plans and it was public knowledge.

In late January we learned Gigaclear was about to start work in Great Brickhill and, despite having already invested a considerable amount of money as well as resource time planning to deliver to Great Brickhill, our board made the painful decision to remove Great Brickhill from our plans. We made this decision because, given the costs of deploying fibre, it doesn’t make sense for any fibre provider to overbuild another in a rural area.

I personally met with Gigaclear on the 6th February and advised that we are keen to avoid overbuild (hence our decision not to proceed with Great Brickhill) and going forward there was a need for us to be aware of each others programmes to avoid possible overbuild. The conversation ended with Gigaclear’s representative saying he agreed it was important to avoid overbuild, that he will be in contact within the next few days and they might be interested in a joint venture in Soulbury. I have not been contacted since.”

Meanwhile residents of Great Brickhill, specifically those who paid deposits to AVB, have been told to expect refunds. Since then AVB claims that Gigaclear has also started leafleting Soulbury, holding village hall meetings (one is taking place this afternoon), door knocking and, according to AVB, they have scheduled civils work to commence 1st June 2017 (note: one local told us that Gigaclear would start connecting customers in May 2017).

However AVB’s position in Soulbury is much more complicated because over 40% of local households have now paid a deposit and they’ve already started to install the new fibre optic cable. By comparison Gigaclear has yet to begin its deployment and locals inform us that AVB may be ready to connect their first customers in April.

Naturally there are some potential issues with the use of public investment in an area where a commercial operator has now committed to deliver (i.e. couldn’t the money be better spent by going elsewhere?). On the other hand Gigaclear appears to be proceeding despite knowing of AVB’s active and arguably more advanced (time-wise) deployment.

A Gigaclear Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Gigaclear builds Ultrafast FTTP networks connecting every property passed in a community. Gigaclear published its commercial rollout plans for Buckinghamshire to the Connected Counties program team in November 2016 by way of a templated OMR (open market review) document to try to ensure that any future state aid subsidised superfast network builds are not funded where our existing commercially funded ultrafast network exists as this would be an improper use of state aid.

We are not aware what communication AVB has with the Connected Counties team as their funding does not appear to come from them or BDUK and so we are uncertain as to why AVB continues to build with the support from Aylesbury Vale District Council in areas already committed to by ourselves. We are unable to comment why AVB apparently pulled out of Great Brickhill but continued in Soulbury, both areas were included in the data provided detailing our commercial build plans.”

The other perspective in all this is that local homes and businesses will soon be lucky enough to have a choice of two ultrafast FTTP/H providers, with AVB charging £38 per month for an unlimited 100Mbps (symmetric) service and Gigaclear charging £46.85 for the same speed. Both also offer a variety of faster and slower packages at different prices, while the installation is expected to cost around £150 to £250 (depending on situation).

No doubt quite a few people would kill to have that kind of choice and competition in a rural area, although admittedly locals probably won’t relish the sights and sounds of two noisy civil engineering projects trundling through their normally quiet lanes. At least the end result should be worth it.

AVB maintains that it “definitely does not want to overbuild any NGA provider” and this appears to be supported by their decision in Great Brickhill. However, AVB has also faced pressure from a local wireless ISP (Village Networks) and a related competition probe by the European Commission (here). Village Networks separately claims that both AVB and Gigaclear may end up overbuilding “parts” of their “superfast” wireless network in the aforementioned areas.

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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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12 Responses
  1. New_Londoner says:

    Quote “I personally met with Gigaclear on the 6th February and advised that we are keen to avoid overbuild (hence our decision not to proceed with Great Brickhill) and going forward there was a need for us to be aware of each others programmes to avoid possible overbuild.”

    Isn’t collusion to agree where to sell and avoid competition illegal? Genuine question, definitely not my area of expertise. I thought that was why local authorities conducted the Open Market Reviews.

    1. JustAnotherFileServer says:

      I think what’s worse is that Aylesbury Vale Council is using the infrastructure that was paid for by private funding and Milton Keynes Borough Council. This is why most of the places that AVC have been doing most of their work has been around Milton Keynes.

    2. 125uS says:

      That’s my understanding too. Non-compete agreements get you into all sorts of trouble with the Competition Act.

  2. Bill says:

    If there is competition in Buckinghamshire you are certainly welcome to visit us here in sunny Hertfordshire where not much is happening on the fttp front.

  3. George says:

    Bill – same here in Gloucestershire, Gigaclear named as provider in December – still waiting for Fastershire to announce when the roll out will start especially for Longhope exchange (SSLOP)

    1. Tim says:

      Fastershire have told me that they expect to be able to say which properties will be covered (only two-thirds will be) by the end of May. I find it a bit strange as I understand the the bid was premises level, so why it then takes another 4 months isn’t clear to me.

    2. George says:

      Hi Tim,

      Does that mean Fastershire wide or a specific area 2/3 coverage?

      If it is 2/3 total coverage I wonder if the rest will be picked up in the final phase or will those areas just be left…

    3. Tim says:

      Fastershire’s phase 2 is split into a number of areas, for my area (3C which is Gloucestershire west of the Severn apart from the central Forest of Dean area) the contract was given to Gigaclear on the basis that their bid was for a larger %ge of the remaining premises than the other bids. That was 63%, if I remember correctly the other areas were similar.
      Of course, even if included, it could take a year or more to be upgraded.

  4. Village Networks says:

    Cllr Neil Blake is Leader of AVDC and a founder director – along with his wife – of Aylesbury Vale Broadband. At a Council meeting on December 7th 2016, he was asked about AVB’s rollout plans.
    He said: ‘I think it’s prudent not to give any further information, the problem being, once you announce where you’re heading, there are forces out there that seem to grab the limelight and rob some of the work that you’re doing, and I wouldn’t like to – as far as AVDC is concerned – jeopardise any future work that AVB is carrying out, by giving anyone the opportunity to use sensitive commercial information to further their own needs and feather their own nests.’
    On the other hand, Neil, if you don’t declare where you’re going, you mustn’t be surprised if someone else happens to get there first. Figuring out where there’s demand for broadband isn’t a gift exclusive to Aylesbury Vale Broadband. Welcome to the commercial sector, guys.

  5. broadbandbob says:

    Just AnotherFileServer is wrong about the infrastructure being paid for by private funding and MK Borough Council. The money came from the Councils New Homes bonus fund, and some of it had been meant for the BDUK BT rollout. They grabbed the money back and gave it to their own company, and by doing that, they stuffed the BDUK programme in Aylesbury Vale. Mrs Blake is a County Councillor as well and the only villages that AVB are working in are in her constituency.
    Does AVBroadband really expect us to believe that Gigaclear would be interested in a joint venture with them? Was that a pig just went overhead?

  6. Sheridan Williams says:

    This leaves Stockgrove Park with approximately 30 properties (all of whom want fibre broadband) in limbo. Stockgrove is part of Soulbury but nearer Great Brickhill.
    Will we simply be abandoned to BT’s derisory 1Mb/s speed?

  7. Sheridan Williams says:

    So why are over 20 Stockgrove residences who are part of Soulbury and nearer Great Brickhill being left out? These 20 residences have <2Mb/s and are unable even to stream music. We pay the same tax but have been completely ignored. Despite constantly reminding Gigaclear they don't want to know.

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