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Openreach Takes Flak for Unfinished Wales Fibre Broadband Rollout

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 (10:08 am) - Score 2,078

The Assembly Member for Ceredigion in Wales, Elin Jones, has accused Openreach (BT) of walking away from rural communities in her county after the operator left a roll-out of “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) technology unfinished in the village of Oakford and possibly other locations.

Ms Jones told the BBC / S4C show Newyddion 9 (skip to 21:00) that the operator had “brought the fibre infrastructure into the middle of the village and yet it hasn’t made the final links into properties. BT has left the job unfinished. Now that the funding from the public purse has come to an end BT has walked away. BT should not be doing that. They have promised in writing that people… would be linked into the superfast infrastructure.”

Pictures from the area and comments from local residents reveal that the operator has, in some cases, simply left their fibre optic cable(s) hanging from local telegraph poles in an unfinished state.

A Spokesman for Openreach said:

“Since the start of the Superfast Cymru we have always been clear that the programme would not reach every premises, and some areas that were in the original plan have unfortunately dropped out because of the time and the complexity involved in reaching them.

We understand the frustration of Derwen Gam [Oakford] residents who currently cannot access fibre broadband but the Welsh Government is already planning the next stage of extending the reach of fast, reliable broadband even further across Wales.”

Unfortunately we have seen quite a few communities drop out of state aid supported “fibre broadband” rollouts across the UK, which can occur for various reasons. For example, engineer surveys may reveal that the work is likely to be significantly more complicated or time consuming (costly) than previously estimated, such as due to blocked or difficult to access cable ducts and problems with access to power or permissions (traffic / planning). On the flip side we have also seen some areas being added back into the programme after previously being excluded, so it’s sometimes a two-way street.

Furthermore it’s worth remembering that the Welsh Government‘s (WG) current Superfast Cymru contract with Openreach doesn’t aim to deliver universal coverage of “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) across Wales. Instead it aimed to make “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services available to around 95% of the country (690,000 premises) by the end of December 2017.

At present 30Mbps+ capable networks are only available to an estimated 93-94% of premises in Wales (here) and invariably this will still leave some communities out in the cold, forced to either wait even longer or to find their own solutions. Openreach is also understood to have faced some difficult challenges in deploying FTTP out to rural parts of the country (here), many of which relate to wayleave disputes with land owners.

The good news is that the WG are developing a new project to reach “every property” with 30Mbps+ broadband by 2020 (here), which is currently in the process of trying to find supplier(s) who can deliver it. This could be rather difficult since tackling the final few % of rural premises is disproportionately expensive and £80m might not be enough to achieve their ambition (even after match funding), at least not solely via fixed lines.

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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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27 Responses
  1. NGA for all says:

    I do not think money is the problem, the clawback, underspends and capital accruals will be quite large on this project. BT charged a standard cost per premise and this needs reconciling against actuals, as will BT’s capital contribution. A good deal of rural FTTP which needs to be applauded and bodes well for more work hopefully.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      I believe the Welsh Government are factoring clawback into their £80m figure already (this may increase further as take-up improves). As I recall from the 2016 announcement..

      The £80m Commitment (Expected Funding Breakdown)

      * £20m committed in the recent Welsh Government budget over the next four years

      * £20m from European structural funds, subject to WEFO approval.

      * £37m from gain-share as a result of take-up of superfast broadband

      * £2m outstanding commitment from UK government towards new superfast broadband project

    2. NGA for all says:

      Mark, the current gainshare must be a proportion of the £130m early release, not of the full capital deferral of £477m.. I think. The position on BT’s capital contribution is not clear. And there is no information on the balance of any funds. Wales represents c15% of the intervention so should represent 15% of the £477m, so there is more to come.

      These are all upsides.

    3. Gadget says:

      @NGA – 15% based on what – the country has a markedly different geography, demographic and could even have a different take-up – you’ll need to be very careful in pro-rata apportionment.

    4. NGA for all says:

      Gadget, the margin of error is huge. BT commercial investment was less than 50% for Wales. Where it may tighten is the amount of FTTP. Rather than actual costs, BT imposed a unit cost of £300 per premise passed (Audit Wales), where FTTC needed less than half this, so there is much to reconcile.

    5. Gadget says:

      @NGA – all valid points of view, but nothing to do with your stated assumption above of 15% which I am wary of.

    6. TheFacts says:

      @NGA – We note the ‘I think’.

    7. NGA for all says:

      Gadget – a bit petty but at 15%(700,000premises) it assumes an intervention area of 4,500,000 national, at 5,500,000 it drops to 13% take your pick.

      On the BT capital(not operational costs) we are seeking evidence of 700,000 x £75-£85 – £59.

    8. NGA for all says:

      Gadget, The Facts, BT Capital contribution of £59m – from the £200m ‘investment’ for Wales in BT’s press release. It is difficult to see how BT has had an opportunity to pay it, given the it has been billing £300 per premises passed against a public funding pot of £205m

      Facts, ..so yes I think..but I happy to be wrong, but in my opinion it was this unit cost – an invented cost… where BT Group got ahead of itself and begun the damage which led to the OR separation.

    9. Gadget says:

      Once again, going back to your assumption that Wales is representative of the UK as a whole when it clearly has many important differences I don’t believe you can simply pro-rata based on national line count.

    10. NGA for all says:

      Gadget, some adjustment is needed for the amount of FTTP, but your correct in that the amount of money owed by BT back to Wales will be uniquely high, given the imposition of unit costs as opposed billing of actual costs.

    11. AndyH says:

      @ NGA – This article is not about BT’s capital contribution and I don’t believe there is any reference to an audit.

    12. NGA for all says:

      AndyH – BT Group’s gaming of costs and capital had a profound impact on the resourcing and roll-out decisions and thus on those yet to receive an upgrade. Going forward, reconciling BT’s capital contribution is central to meeting the strategic objectives of the Welsh Government.

      You cannot discuss the future rollout in Wales without having sight of BT’s capital contribution.

  2. Reflection says:

    It is hardly surprising that some people in Wales are frustrated with Openreach. Until a few weeks before the December 2017 drop-dead date of the contract they were indicating many might be getting superfast, when the reality was clearly quite different. It is unclear what basis Openreach have been working but one particularly interesting thing I found in my researches was in some Denbighshire Council minutes of a Meeting of Performance Scrutiny Committee, Thursday, 28 April 2016 10.00 am (Item 5). The subject was ‘A discussion with representatives from BT on the progress to date with rollout of the Superfast Cymru in the county, future rollout plans, service limitations or problems identified during the rollout, and other initiatives available to improve connectivity for businesses and households unable to benefit from the Superfast Cymru programme.’ ~ https://moderngov.denbighshire.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=9285

    In 2016 Openreach appeared to know that they could not complete the work until at least March 2018, which is after the June 2017 end date and December 2017 drop-dead date of the contract. One wonders what was going on.

    It is unclear if Openreach have yet completed enough to fulfil their contractual obligation. Recently, they appeared to be working on some FTTP provisioning in areas in Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. There are certainly area started (and quite advanced) that are not yet complete. Whether they will be is another matter.

    When it comes to the Welsh Government next phase of provisioning superfast there is a potential issue. It appears to have been planned on the basis without provision for properties in the just ended contract being dropped. It all seems unclear.

    There is due to be a statement in the Welsh Assembly on Superfast Cymru on 30 January 2018 http://www.assembly.wales/en/bus-home/pages/plenaryitem.aspx?category=business%20statement&itemid=581&assembly=5&c=Business%20Statement

    It will be interesting to see if things become any clearer.

    1. Eccles says:

      Yes, my parents live just outside Tegryn, Pembrokeshire and had the road outside their property dug up and fibre laid from the village to their driveway for FTTP at the beginning of last year. Since then the date has slipped until ‘December 2017’ expected completion date was given. Then in December it changed to ‘We’re working with government and industry to explore ways to bring Superfast fibre to as many people as possible but don’t have a plan for your area yet.’, which to me seems to translate to ‘We’ve installed some infrastructure but made a mistake connecting it back up to a node or got our calculations all wrong, bad luck, but we got paid anyway.’

    2. BT does not get paid if you cannot order, i.e. partly completed work will not be paid for

    3. NGA for all says:

      Reflection, thanks for the references. Let’s hope Audit Wales have a crack at auditing the BT capital contributions so funding can kept in place. It is not clear, given the budgets available to BT, whether more could have been done on the resourcing to build more network.

      It will probably be the only infrastructure project where more money was available to a supplier to upgrade its own revenue generating infrastructure but where the supplier failed to plan for the potential.

    4. brian says:

      Not entirely correct. Bt would get paid WIP if the change that stopped a pon was at the local authority’s discretion.

  3. Reflection says:

    The Welsh Assembly First Minister had some questions raised about this on the afternoon of this article. The transcript is currently available at:
    http://record.assembly.wales/Plenary/4896#C50536 (time 14:20:50)
    or there is a recording:
    http://www.senedd.tv/Meeting/Archive/2db7aae6-9f80-469f-b992-bb0bc7636491?autostart=True (about 0:50:45 into the recording)

    1. NGA for all says:

      Reflection, Thanks, the first Audit Wales report on the programme did a huge amount busting the cost myths. They stated a possibility that they would review the BT Capital in a further study. This is needed to inform the next procurement.

      I would less inclined to criticise Superfast Cymru or indeed the current Openreach and build on the work that has been done. Most if not all of those involved on the BT side on the original contract have now left the project, so it should be easier for auditors to report on the monies owed.

  4. brian says:

    Open reach don’t own the roll out. Superfast Cymru own the roll out. If there are partially completed areas the Welsh Government need to be asked why that is.

  5. John Newell says:

    Good plan – like a cowboy builder – start the job, then before it is completed get a more profitable job elsewhere and then come back saying that it was more difficult and expensive than he thought so wants more money to finish it.

    NP15 1HG was in the intervention area and in Field Survey until Dec 2017, with ready to place order then. Holes and trenches dug in early 2017. Ducts exist and require no wayleave ( I have a pole in my garden ). what excuse can there be?

  6. Alfie Martin taylor says:

    I am a 12 year old boy who has been waiting since April 2017 it still hasn’t come I live in trelogan when will it be coming

  7. Rob stacey says:

    The contractors put fibre optic cable from the cabinet across a river, through a field with 4 telephone poles to the last pole before my property just for me! and they said BT Openreach would be in touch about connecting it up. Since then I have heard nothing…and I don’t know where to go. I run a business from home and frequently need to be involved in webinars…impossible with download speeds of less then 1mb

  8. Byrom says:

    Any idea as to when there will be Fibre available along the A494 between Corwen and Ruthin? Currently our line can only cope with speeds of 4.7mbs which is pitiful.

  9. Neil Lynchehaun says:

    I live in Trelogan. Openreach engineers were working through 2017 putting in fibre in our area. All the exchanges around us including the one we are connected to, Mostyn cabinet 3, are fibre ready.
    The fibre cables have been run to each telegraph pole and terminated.
    Through 2017 the Openreach status checker reported everything on track for taking FTTP (Fibre to the Property) orders in December 2017. Earlier this year that changed to “Exploring – not currently in rollout plans”.
    My queries to Openreach about this have been responded to with prepared messages saying not all properties were in plan, the work was completed in 2017 and we should consider community funding.
    Maybe I’m being cynical, but it would seem Openreach have done 95% of the work required for our village, leaving it so close we can smell it, but maybe looking to claw money back by having residents charged for pulling a fibre from the telegraph pole to the house (what about 30 feet)!!
    It stinks.

  10. Mr P Lewis says:

    Re: Elin Jones comment. We too, Trisant, Ceredigion, have had new poles and the fibre cable in place for over 2 years, with the coils for each house dangling unconnected. We too have been told one thing after another. Eventually in Nov 2017 we were told that we could look forward to connection by Dec 2017. Instead we got a complete turnaround and are now back to ‘looking for solutions’. Open Reach now say they are looking at diverting the line to another green cabinet. Why in that case have they asked permission of a local landowner to dig a trench across his field which is even further away from the exchange, and for what purpose? Where has this other green cabinet appeared from. It can only be one belonging to the other nearest exchange, which is Ponterwyd and is also some distance from us?

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