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More Openreach Overbuild Fun for B4RN’s 1Gbps FTTH Broadband in Cumbria

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 3,314
old hutton and middleshaw fttc cabinet

Openreach has been criticised for a “criminal waste of taxpayers’ money” after their state aid supported roll-out of ‘up to’ 80Mbps capable FTTC broadband technology threatened to overbuild yet another one of B4RN’s community built 1Gbps FTTH/P networks, this time in Cumbria.

The B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) team, which encourages community volunteers to help build their own local fibre optic broadband networks (usually in exchange for shares), are no strangers to seeing public money being spent to help Openreach’s slower FTTC and FTTP networks overbuild their deployments (examples here, here and here).

Unfortunately B4RN has always struggled to get county councils’ to recognise their deployment plans through the usual Open Market Review (OMR) process. In recent years the perceived intransigence by local authorities towards their otherwise successful community-built network has instead encouraged the ISP to shun such processes and simply continue their roll-out as required, irrespective of what the councils choose to do.

The approach being taken by B4RN is only possible because the direct community engagement fostered by their model always results in strong uptake. Not to mention that £30 per month for a symmetric 1Gbps home broadband connection is pretty darn cheap (plus a £150 one-off connection fee) and their business options are similarly affordable.

Barry Ford, CEO of B4RN, told ISPreview.co.uk (July 2017):

“Where BT do an overbuild we never lose a customer, where we overbuild them we achieve at least a 50% takeup.”

So far most of the overbuilding cases have occurred in Lancashire, although the latest example stems from Cumbria where B4RN is currently in the process of extending their FTTH network into the Preston Patrick, Old Hutton, Homescales and New Hutton area via the B4SW (Broadband for South Westmorland) project.

However some local residents have spotted Openreach engineers digging up the road to install fibre optic cable from Beehive Bridge to a new street cabinet, which sits just short of Middleshaw and is within the B4SW area.

Jean Robinson, Local Resident, said:

“This is a criminal waste of taxpayers’ money … do they not know that nearly 95 per cent of Old Hutton has signed up for B4RN’s 1Gbps broadband, which we will get before the end of autumn? And that means the whole of the village, not just the houses along the main road. BT will not reach the outlying hamlets and farms.

This is public money given to BT to provide decent broadband. But they’re too late. And why is their cabinet 280 yards short of the first house?”

A quick check of the Connecting Cumbria project site appears to confirm that the Broadband Delivery UK supported deployment of FTTC connectivity is indeed in the process of deploying into part of B4RN’s patch, with a mix of 24Mbps+ “superfast” and sub-24Mbps “fibre broadband” (FTTC) performance being anticipated.

Naturally this is good news for locals because it means that many residents and businesses should benefit from a choice of faster broadband networks. On the other hand more than a few people often complain that it makes little sense to be spending public money in an area where the community have very publicly begun to build their own 1Gbps broadband network.

We asked Openreach to comment on or clarify the situation a few days ago but sadly they’ve not provided a response, so instead here’s what they said last year in reply to an almost identical situation.

An Openreach Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk (Feb 2016):

“We operate in an open and competitive market, and all providers have the opportunity to outline their plans to the council before any decisions on state aid are made.

We will only cover homes as outlined in the ‘intervention’ area provided to us by the council, and we welcome any investment that brings homes and businesses a greater choice of providers.”

In fairness the problem above isn’t so much Openreach’s fault as it is a result of inflexible local authorities, which so often fail to engage fairly with alternative network operators like B4RN. Nobody can deny the excellent work that B4RN has done over the past few years and nearly all of it has been achieved through private / community investment.

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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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31 Responses
  1. Avatar Optimist

    A perfect illustration of the stupidity of the government picking winners. BDUK project should be scrapped, and the money saved be returned to customers in the form of reduced VAT on broadband bills.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Contracts will have been signed, and if they are broken then it would very likely result in compensation costs to the taxpayer anyway.

    • Avatar dragoneast

      Oh dear. Government either directly subsidises or buys in lots of private sector goods and services. Sometimes it “wastes” money; with the amounts involved that’s not surprising. Even show me an individual who in their personal finances never wastes money and I’ll show you a fibber. If the government didn’t spend money in that way then most of us wouldn’t have jobs (or pensions).

    • Avatar Optimist

      @dragoneast

      When someone wastes their own money that is of no concern of anyone else’s. When the government wastes our money then of course it us of concern to taxpayers. In this case it is also putting a viable business in jeopardy.

      It’s rather like those foreign aid programmes which give goodies away thus destroying local businesses and making the recipients even more dependent on aid.

  2. Avatar Simon

    And yet I ask B4rn to come to my part of the world, which already has FTTC and they laughed at me. Even though we have 40 people who will help and all the funding needed.

    We live close to a city – and for that we are punished.

    So next time they are taking a pop at BT. think on!

    • B4RN are a rural provider Simon (it’s in their name), that’s their focus just as Hyperoptic focus on certain types of urban areas. So their model works best when it’s easy to run fibre through fields and directly into the back of homes, but in more built-up areas this model of community build can become very complicated. What’s your area though? Be interesting to know the caveats for it.

    • Avatar spurple

      @Mark, not sure why they will refuse to deploy to an area that has the community willing and able to bankroll it just because it’s not rural ? maybe this is why councils dont take them seriously. They do what they like not what makes business sense?

      Anyway, why are they complaining about “competition” from Openreach? They have a superior network, they should let it speak for itself.

    • Avatar PaulM

      “my part of the world, which already has FTTC and they laughed at me…. We live close to a city – and for that we are punished.”

      Must be terrible expecting a rural provider to deliver fibre to your city dwelling and not understanding why they did not. Perhaps you could ask the oh so superior BT why they only gave you FTTC and demand FTTH.

      “They do what they like not what makes business sense?”

      Their business model seems to be doing just fine, been around for 5 years now and no sign of slow down or financial loss, nah not business minded at all they need your expert help obviously lol

      “Anyway, why are they complaining about “competition” from Openreach? They have a superior network, they should let it speak for itself.”

      It already has if they have never lost a customer to Openreaches overbuilding jokes. Like B4RN i guess BT do what they like and not what makes business sense eh ?

    • Avatar Bob

      Simon, for all of B4RNs chest puffing about their network and roll out, I’ve not once seen them show any interest in bidding for any BDUK/SEP roll out. Wonder why.

    • Avatar Fastman

      Simon so where actually are you

  3. Avatar Bonehead

    How to get faster internet?
    One of 17 houses smile away from Virgin cable.
    Tired of round-robin between 4g connections and the low bandwidth caps involved.

  4. Avatar Jim

    It’s a competitive market and Openreach have a mandate to rollout to the entire country; this was the basis of the funding.

    If B4RN want to compete, fine, that’s just more choice for consumers.

    Pointless article.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Jim: BT is a commercial company, and as far I know it does not have a mandate to roll out fibre or VDSL to the whole country. As this article says it is a result of inflexible local authorities who often tend to waste taxpayer’s money on projects like BDUK, giving a lot of money to BT which had never a need for it.

    • Avatar Fastman

      the area would have been in the OMR and if no one who confirmed in the OMR response that they were not covering or going to cover those definded postcodes then those postcodes nfirmed are white and therefore in the intervention area — best to ask B4RN if they responded to the OMR and if not why not

      hhm Gnewton think you in a area covered by BDUK SEP project from memory ?

    • Avatar PaulM

      If the government and BT cared about what areas already had products they would be checking for thereself before they go waste money building.

    • Avatar MikeW

      They do. The OMR process (open market research) is a mandatory phase prior to signing the contract. It eventually creates the “NGA white” lists that tell the contract winner where they can and cannot go.

      That OMR process is the point that locks in (and locks out) areas. The outcome of the OMR then gets incorporated into the contract – because it makes eminent sense that the tenders are made knowing what the LA wants to be covered.

    • Avatar PaulM

      Wait a minute, so the government know they are spending money on areas that already have “superfast” services and BT know they are overbuilding? Despite that our money still feeds BT pockets? OMG its worse than i thought!

    • Avatar MikeW

      Not at the time of the OMR, which is key. Then why should anyone track after that? The OMR is the put up/shut up moment.

      I’ll also point out that the OMRs allow for overbuild too, within limitations. It isn’t always a black-or-white bad thing.

    • Avatar PaulM

      “I’ll also point out that the OMRs allow for overbuild too, within limitations. It isn’t always a black-or-white bad thing.”

      So its basically a sit around (or ‘enquiry’ as our government like to call things like this), spend more tax payer cash in the process, have a chat about things and make it up as we go along rather than follow any set in stone guidelines, making the whole discussion pointless in the first place. Laughable!

  5. Avatar Mike

    Well at this rate B4RN could take over the whole country, allah akb4rn!

    /jk

  6. Avatar Matthew Hanson

    Same in rangemore staffs with kijoma broadband by recently bosted ob superfast stafs that rangemore now has superfast broadband but they have had it for 2 years+ with kijoma and the speeds that bt offer are up to where kijoma are guaranteed.

  7. Avatar Bob

    “More Openreach Overbuild Fun for B4RN’s 1Gbps FTTH Broadband in Cumbria”

    Should be:

    “B4RN refused to engage with public consultation causing a waste of taxpayer’s money.”

    Headline fixed for you.

  8. Avatar Steve

    Openreach overbuilt in Swindon in 2016. They installed FTTP in the 2/3rds of a housing estate that already had Virgin. But ignored the newer built 1/3 that did not have Virgin. They would not listen to reason so it was clearly a competitive move rather than delivering faster speeds to any people as possible

  9. Actually B4RN did respond to the Cumbria OMR. However they chose to argue that our plans were not credible so they could ignore us. As it happens it wouldnt have mattered anyway because at that time the area was not in our plans. The problem is that community projects tend to spring into life unplanned! We cannot predict if or when a local group will form and decide to do a build. So almost the minute the OMR ends we find that groups pop up who would not have been there when the OMR response went in. The problem lies with council contracts which dont have enough flexibility in them. They should have a clause that allows areas to be removed from the contracts if an alternative build happens. The money released could then be added back to the pot to bring better broadband to another area not covered so well. Instead we get these silly dual builds. I suppose its nice for the people in those areas to have two alternative suppliers fighting over them, but sad for those who dont have anyone offering them anything useful.

  10. On the question of where do we go, its a problem. We get requests every week from new areas wanting us to get involved. If the area is contiguous with our current fibre build out then thats fine. We respond positively as we can hook them into our network. However if the request is out of area then the challenge is how to get them linked into our core. Our standard backhaul for a node of ~200 properties is 20Gbs (2x10Gbs). Unless we can access dark fibre this is totally unaffordable. But in the rural areas, and in many urban ones too, there are no suppliers willing to lease dark fibre to us. We did have high hopes for the DFA product which would have allowed us to use BT dark fibre for hops of up to 45Km from our core routes, but now thats died we really dont have a way of reaching further out areas. I spend a lot of time trying to find solutions but mostly fail, sigh!

    • Avatar Packet Switched

      Thank you indeed barry. I had thought getting backhaul was the elephant in the room: both for running out local broadband or
      for those who want to connect mobile masts. Glad you managed to get you foot in the door to make a start and good luck with your thoughts for finding more – I fancy some of them must have succeeded.

  11. Avatar Cecil Ward

    The problem is that the excellent B4RN doesn’t wholesale. So you can’t have your choice of ISP using them as a delivery technology. BT Wholesale is open to all ISPs so users get freedom of choice. This ought to be fixed. The government ought to support B4RN on the condition that they offer a wholesaling level-playing field deal to ISPs and that that offering is actually successful with real ISP take-up.

    • Avatar Andrew

      As far a I am aware B4RN have had no support from BT, Openreach, or BDUK so have had to build the network without. It is built by communities who choose to go with B4RN even though they do not have a choice of ISP. If anyone in the B4RN rural area wants a choice then they can use other networks i.e BT, mobile or satellite. There has been discussion about B4RN having free wayleave for their network but I think you will find BT(Openreach) already have wayleave agreements to nearly all rural properties in the country so would just be a case of changing the copper wire to fibre. The technology is available to anyone.

    • Avatar PaulM

      “The problem is that the excellent B4RN doesn’t wholesale.”

      More like a blessing in many cases.

      “BT Wholesale is open to all ISPs so users get freedom of choice.”

      NO its not and the only choice you have is in name only as the tech the product is delivered on via Openreach infrastructure will be exactly the same.

      “This ought to be fixed. The government ought to support B4RN on the condition that they offer a wholesaling level-playing field deal to ISPs”

      They don’t want government help and if they did they would not have to wholesale as that rule is only for those with Significant market power which whether you like it or not is BT only, Virgin media cover around 50% of the country and they do not have to wholesale so the belief B4RN should be forced to is bonkers.

    • Hi Cecil,
      What exactly do you think other ISPs would offer that is better than B4RN? We take the view that our customers want a very reliable, fast, predictable link to the internet. We give them that. If they want anything else then there is a vast pool of companies out there who can offer them it and do it better than us! The only thing I can think of is pricing competition. But we have set our prices based on repaying our investors in a reasonable time frame and we dont make a profit but focus on quality of service. We have no problem with wholesaling our connectivity but we would still have to charge them enough to repay our investors and cover basic running costs. Our £30/month breaks down as £5 VAT, and of the remaining £25 about half covers operating costs and half investor payback. Of the operating cost about half covers the basic network operations side, the rest things like IP transit and peering. So if we were to set a wholesale price it would have to be about £18-£19/month. How can a third party ISP offer a reduced monthly charge if they paid us £18-£19/month and still had to cover all the other costs they would need to pile on top of our basic service charge? BT’s GEA charges reflect the low investment costs of using existing copper, our FTTH charges have to cover the much higher costs of laying new fibre. So its difficult to see where other ISPs could make any money and if they cannot why would they want to wholesale us? Its not that we are not open to third party use, its just we cannot see a financially workable solution, nor can they or they would be approaching us with offers.

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