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UPDATE Shock as Gigaclear Shelve Full Fibre Broadband Plan in Rural Worcestershire

Thursday, July 20th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 5,006

A number of rural communities in Worcestershire (England) have been left to continue suffering from slow broadband speeds after Gigaclear abandoned their remaining commercial 1Gbps FTTP deployment plans due to problems with economic viability and permits.

According to the local authority, Gigaclear’s demand-led commercial model had originally proposed to roll-out their ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network into the southern parts of the Malvern Hills District, as well as east and west of the Bromsgrove district (around Alvechurch, Rowney Green and Dodford) and around Rushock and Upton Warren (North of Wychavon and South of the Wyre Forest districts).

Unfortunately, after a year of promises and postponements, residents in some of the associated rural communities have been informed by the Worcestershire County Council (WCC) that Gigaclear has chosen not to go ahead with their planned roll-out.

Andrew Beard, Resident of Purshall Green, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Gigaclear after a year of postponements have just pulled out of all Worcestershire projects, as it is supposedly no longer commercially viable. This has meant our community has been left out of all Worcester county council development plans since 2013.

It will be several years until we are included again and our community of 1500 houses will be left with 1Mbps broadband for the rest of this decade. Communication is terrible, they have not even apologized or contacted anyone in our area to explain why. Once the sales staff canvass the area and signed us up, we did not receive any contact, their development officers refuse to be contacted to discuss the project.”

Some aspects of Gigaclear’s deployment in the county had already begun (around Rowney Green), although ISPreview.co.uk understands that the work was stopped after the Worcestershire Highways authority raised concerns about the unforeseen closure of certain roads during the planning stages (including related safety issues).

Apparently a failure to resolve the above problem and issues with commercial viability appear to have now torpedoed the entire plan.

Steve Ashton, Boss of WCC’s Broadband Project, said:

“Worcestershire County Council has been informed by Gigaclear that their proposed plans to commercially deploy fibre broadband in the areas in and surrounding ‘Dodford’ and ‘Hanley Castle’ have been reviewed and will be removed from their programme, as Gigaclear deem it is no longer commercially viable for their investment in Worcestershire to continue.

Deployment already underway by Gigaclear in and around the ‘Rowney Green Cabinet 1’ area will continue as planned, however they will not deploy in the ‘Weatheroak Hill’ and ‘Portway’ areas. Worcestershire County Council has worked with Gigaclear over recent months to fully explore potential solutions.

Worcestershire County Council is disappointed by Gigaclear’s decision and had previously asked Gigaclear to commit to a detailed planning session, to which we understood they had agreed. Since Gigaclear’s announcement to withdraw, WCC has written to Gigaclear requesting they reconsider their decision.

Should Gigaclear remain committed to their decision to fully withdraw from Worcestershire then WCC would need to review the impact of this on the current broadband programme ‘intervention areas’ (areas eligible for future public funding) moving forward.”

A Spokesperson for Gigaclear told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We have been negotiating with Worcestershire Highways on a build method that allows the deployment to remain commercially viable, as we do in all other counties. At this stage we have not been able to reach agreement and have therefore stopped the build works.”

The news comes only days after Gigaclear won the UK ISPA’s ‘Best Rural Broadband‘ award for their “pioneering approach” to rolling out ultrafast “full fibre” broadband into some of England’s most remote rural areas (here).

Meanwhile the Superfast Worcestershire project, which cannot currently promise that any of the affected communities will be able to benefit from their scheme, is continuing to focus on their effort with Openreach (BT) to roll-out “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) to “more than” 95% of the county by the end of 2017 and they have plans to go further (here).

It will be interesting to see whether or not Gigaclear bids on any of the future state aid supported contracts in Worcestershire or if too many bridges have now been burnt.

UPDATE 27th July 2017

The above situation may also support some of the findings in a recent report from Analysys Mason, which was published by the Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) and warned that variations between how different local authorities handle noticing and permit schemes needed to be resolved (here).

Ian Adkins, Principal at Analysys Mason, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“This is the first significant example of how the costs associated with government bureaucracy have undone a viable economic case for deployment. Our study highlighted inconsistencies with how local authorities interpret guidance and make decisions related to street works and permissions.

Unless these issues are resolved the impact on national ambitions for fibre deployment to the scale of 10 million premises will be dramatic. They will have little chance of being achieved.

We are aware from our advisory work on broadband network investment with other local authorities, such as Essex County Council, that Gigaclear have successfully installed sizeable FTTP networks in rural areas. It seems those local authorities that can resolve street works and planning issues will be the first to benefit from new telecoms infrastructure deployment.”

Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. Avatar Fred the Red says:

    Disgraceful behaviour from Gigaclear- they take public money and deliver next to nothing to the community. My elderly father and my brother have been promised and promised this service and now nothing.
    what next for the community ?

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      They didn’t take public money for this as far as I know. The story describes it as a commercial deployment, not a taxpayer subsidised one.

    2. Avatar AndyC says:

      The way i read it they where blocked from rolling it out because the highways agency didnt like the way they worked and that they would have to close certain roads. Basicly they wanted giga to spend more money in their area then they have anywhere else.

      At least gigaclear looked at it and tryied. I blame the local council for not doing more to try and help them get the work done.

    3. Avatar craig hall says:

      Maybe we could look at this. We deploy high speed internet to rural communities wirelessly. Superfast and subsidised by the better broadband scheme. I will try to contact the council today. We are Big Blue Rocket and we can help. http://www.bigbluerocket.co.uk

    4. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      This is a commercial deployment, not one based on public subsidy. What it does highlight is the issues of deploying to rural areas using a commercial only model. The Gigaclear investors have dug quite deep into their own pockets so far, including where they have won public contracts. Gigaclear do deserve credit although I wonder how stretched their finances will be with what has already been announced.

  2. Avatar Nik Bridge says:

    @craig hall . Our parish is looking at providers at the moment for a rural scheme . Would you be interested to look at this ? We are south Derbyshire/ north Leicester and if so what experience do you have ?

    1. Avatar Craig Hall says:

      Nik, we currently have two networks running. one that covers business estates in Derby City, that we have had deployed now for nearly two years. we also have community broadband that has over 200 subscribers in the villages of Weston on Trent, Aston on Trent, Thulston and Elvaston, with further expansion taking us to more outlying areas. We supply up to 40mbps download and 20mbps upload and offer a superb value proposition. would be happy to talk further. our number is on the website.

    2. Avatar Ethel Prunehat says:

      Get a room!

  3. Avatar Fastman says:

    nik you need to check what options are available for you

  4. Gigaclear was extremely disappointed to withdraw from Worcestershire. The decision was not taken lightly but was due to the way the Highways Authority wanted the project delivered which resulted in significant cost over-runs and delays. The way rules were being applied to the company was significantly different to those of neighbouring counties where the company has a very good working relationship.
    Local differences in the interpretation of rules is well documented and has been recently highlighted by the Broadband Stakeholder Group as a key barrier to investment (http://www.broadbanduk.org/2017/05/23/tackling-barriers-to-telecoms-infrastructure-deployment-issues-and-recommendations/). However, Gigaclear recognises that builing full fibre FTTP networks can be disruptive and tries to work very closely with local Highways teams to find a way that works well for both parties. Sadly in Worcestershire this was not possible.

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      This is the second county where Gigaclear has cancelled its plans – you’ll remember it pulled the plug on its Cotswold Broadband project in West Oxfordshire too. And it has also been told to stop building whilst it fixes highways problems in other counties too – for example, I know this happened in Northamptonshire.

      So it’s a bit harsh to blame the council for this.

  5. Avatar Stephen Ashton says:

    We, Worcestershire County Council as the Highways Authority, have worked with and met with Gigaclear on a number of occasions to resolve operational difficulties. Although WCC is very committed to extending fibre networks across Worcestershire as well as supporting and facilitating the commercial deployment throughout Worcestershire, it was not able to agree to some of Gigaclear’s operational practices. We welcome further discussion with the provider to continue to work through plans.

    1. Avatar Andrew Beard says:

      Steve could you clarify how much Gigaclear were to be charged for the road permits. My understanding is that the permits cost up to £500 each and even for a small section around Dodford there were over 30 required. The permitting system for Worcestershire highways to an outsider seems like a council money grab. If this is the case it makes sense that the project is no longer commercially viable to Gigaclear.

  6. Avatar Chris conder says:

    what we need is a Big Society, where everyone works together for the greater good. Oh, wait… we forget the working lunches with broadband bill from the snake oil dept of openretch… crikey, that means we have to stand up to the Goliath. Let’s just keep being awkward until David goes elsewhere and let our county settle for a superfarce, cos that way our backs are covered. Think that is how it works. Gigaclear are great, going where telcos fear to tread, and Worcestershire has missed the boat cos altnets have masses of work where people actually want to work together to get it done.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      The spokesperson for B4RN seems to be trying to imply that there may be some link with Gigaclear withdrawing from this area and meetings with Openreach.

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      I can only guess who “broadband Bill” is, but if it is who I believe than then he is not an employee of Openreach at all – I don’t see the need for personal name calling about an employee of another company to be brought into a discussion on why, in some instances there are problems with civils deployment that cannot be resolved.

  7. Avatar St Christopher says:

    This may be down to the aggressive nature of some Highway Authorities, with particular regard to fines as a revenue earner from utilities. some HA’s are very aggressive, some not so. When utilities are being fined for staining of the highway under the guise of not returning the highway to it’s original state, and therefore overrunning of works. What do you expect? I wouldn’t spend millions in that particular area.

  8. Avatar G. Lee says:

    It does seem to me that these next generation broadband projects do seem to fail due to the same thing nearly everytime….

    # Complaints from Councils/Highways
    # Complaints from Residents/Green Belt Guardians
    # Delicate Budgets

    All seem to come to a projects costs being re-evaluated and costing more than originally planned and the providers becoming weary of going under trying to deliver a project.

    Having seen this happen already in the past its a very valid reason to step back from a project rather than jeoprodising the project at hand and also the support of already completed projects.

    Sad thing about this is the lack of any funding the council probably could have provided and then the kick in the teeth from the council during the stages of rollout.

    Now the residents have got to rely on their council to either work things out with Gigaclear or another commocations supplier or beg BT to rollout something to those in the red zone.

    One thing I did notice from the above story was some of the areas (local to me) where in Gigaclears plans, however other suppliers such as Virgin Media and BT (ofcourse) already have functional “superfast” networks in place in those area’s, so the council could immediatly get on to them and seek reasons for why they couldn’t expand that extra mile.

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