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99.6% of Berkshire Premises to See Superfast Broadband via Gigaclear and BT

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017 (8:19 am) - Score 999
gigaclear fibre optic trench digging

Rural fibre optic ISP Gigaclear and national operator Openreach (BT) have won the Phase 3 roll-out contracts for Berkshire in England, which will see a mix of 1Gbps FTTP and up to 80Mbps FTTC broadband being used to reach an additional 13,500 homes and businesses by the end of 2019.

The new Superfast Berkshire deal means that Gigaclear will roll-out their 1Gbps FTTP network to cover an additional 6,100 premises in East Berkshire, while Openreach will deploy a mix of FTTP and FTTC to reach a further 7,400 urban premises. The latter is a bit odd since state aid rules tend to get fussy about using public investment in urban areas, where the private sector should be able to deliver.

At this point we note a distinct confusion between statements made on the project’s website and in the council press release. For example, the project site (news) claims that Phase 3 will push the overall level of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) coverage in the county to 96.6% by the end of 2019 but it also uses the 99% figure on its front page, while the press release says it “will see superfast coverage extended to more than 99.5% over the next 2 years” 😕 .

Suffice to say that we’re just going to go with the 99.5% figure for now because the local coverage of fixed line “superfast broadband” is already very high (e.g. West Berkshire is at 98% and should hit 99% by December 2017) and it’s also stated by the Government’s Digital Minister.

Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital, said:

“The rollout of superfast broadband in Berkshire is a fantastic success story, but there’s more to do if everyone is to benefit. It’s great to hear that the next Phase will take coverage to more than 99.5 per cent of local homes and businesses, making Berkshire one of the best connected counties in the UK.”

The details concerning private investment funding for Phase 3 are similarly sketchy, although last year it was announced that a mix of £3.2m in public underspend and clawback (phase 1 take-up is at 47%) from earlier phases, plus £1m of unallocated public investment, would be used to support it.

On completion a total of more than £40m will have been invested in the Superfast Berkshire programme by both the private and public sector to deliver superfast broadband. This includes around £29.3m from partners BT, Gigaclear and Call Flow Solutions, £5.5m from Berkshire local authorities & Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership and £5.2m from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.

Joe Frost, Business Development Director at Gigaclear, said:

“We are delighted to, once again, be future proofing connectivity for local homes and businesses in Berkshire. This contract win further cements our commitment to the area and to improving the quality of lives for those who live here, whether that be work, entertainment or play. We look forward to working with the Superfast Berkshire team to help bring the county up to speed, quite literally!”

Dr Phillip Lee, MP for Bracknell, said:

“The future belongs to fast data. Generations to come will look back on how we choose to move people around the world – as opposed to moving data – in the same way that we look back at how people once had to physically go to their television to switch channels. That is why the work of Superfast Berkshire is so important, and why I have supported their aims over the years. My congratulations on them reaching this milestone and am delighted that they now intend to press on to achieve 100%.”

The news that the local authority will now “strive to hit the magic 100% target of total coverage for Berkshire” is a positive aspiration, although it’s currently only being spoken about in the context of “working with BT, Gigaclear and other suppliers under their commercial plans” (no mention of additional public investment).

On the other hand the recent procurement process for Phase 3 identified a remaining figure of 15,000 Berkshire properties that currently have speeds below 24Mbps and today’s contract would appear to tackle the vast majority of those, which suggests that Berkshire could become one of the few UK counties where 100% universal coverage via fixed line superfast services is possible.

Now we’re off to go and query the exact funding commitments and coverage goals with the usual suspects.

UPDATE 11:12am

The West Berkshire Council has kindly provided us with some answers to our questions. Firstly, in terms of funding for the Phase 3 contracts, the split works out as follows:

BT Contact: Public Investment = £1,395,195 / BT Investment = £5,464,793

Gigaclear Contract: Public Investment = £2,563,000 / Gigaclear Investment = £5,748,384

Secondly, the 96.6% figure is apparently a “typo” and the exact target for superfast broadband coverage in the county is in fact 99.6%.

Thirdly, since writing this article we also noted that the project site pegged the Phase 3 roll-out as 11,147 properties for BT and 11,447 for Gigaclear, which is obviously more than stated above. The reason for this is because the 7,400 and 6,100 figures are intervention area premises (state aid subsidised), while the larger figures include the additional premises that will be upgraded without subsidy during the delivery (overbuild).

Finally, we had that question about BT’s deployment being for “urban premises,” which can sometimes be a point of conflict for EU state aid rules. The local authority said they sought “extensive legal advice … to ensure we kept with state aid rules“. Under the deal BT won the Berkshire Towns lot and Gigaclear the Berkshire Countryside lot. The PR team decided to describe the premises in the Towns lot as urban, although it’s said to be more of a “mix of premises” that complied with the state aid rules.

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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.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar mapmap

    Love the level of detail on their map, even if it is a little sluggish:


  2. Avatar Ultraspeedy

    “Openreach will deploy a mix of FTTP and FTTC to reach a further 7,400 urban premises…”

    Any news on how many of the 7,400 will be FTTC and how many FTTP?

  3. Avatar Ash

    As a Maidenhead resident, currently enduring ~2MB broadband, I am excited that our property has been flagged as ‘planned’ on the latest map (updated on 7 July, according to the web site). BUT, here is what worries me:

    “The information contained on this map is based on data provided by broadband providers to our Open Market Review (June 2016) and Superfast Berkshire delivery under phases 1, 2 & 3. We aim to keep this map up to date on a quarterly basis but are reliant on network operators providing accurate information on plans and progress of any commercial deployment. A more up to date status on planned delivery is likely to be found on the operator’s website.”

    So, BT has been awarded this tender and yet the superfast berkshire team won’t be getting updates from them every week/month! Never seen such project management in the commercial world.

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