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Buckinghamshire UK Make it Costly to Deploy Full Fibre Broadband

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 (7:53 am) - Score 5,559
ecom_fibre_optic_trench

Smaller alternative network ISPs like Ecom are facing a new barrier to expanding the rural reach of ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP/H) based broadband networks in Buckinghamshire (England), which follows the council’s expansion of rules that make it harder to get a Streetworks license.

Last year we reported that Ecom had been quietly building their Gigabit capable “full fibre” broadband network to several rural villages in the Aylesbury Vale district of Buckinghamshire, such as Dunton, through Creslow and on to Whitchurch (here). Previously the ISP had only focused on business connectivity and in 2014 they helped to build a pure fibre optic network to serve a business park in Newport Pagnell.

However the Managing Director of Ecom, Chris Wilkie, has claimed that his ISP now faces a new challenge, which appears to have been introduced after last year’s failure of the Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) supported Aylesbury Vale Broadband project (here). AVB was eventually sold (assets / network) to Gigaclear for an undisclosed sum and a related inquiry is due to report soon.

Local reports claim that Buckinghamshire council now requires a bond to be established before work can begin on a highway. The money is held in security for “no less than 2 years” to cover against any potential problems that might occur with the civil engineering, which is on top of the expensive £3 per metre the county already charges to complete their paperwork.

Councillor Mark Shaw said (here):

“The requirement for a bond for work on the highway is a long standing practice that has been extended to cover the increasing amount of work undertaken across the county by private providers.

The application of the bond is relatively new and reflects the number of relatively small companies now seeking to install ducts and the like to provide broadband services to those settlements that BT Openreach have determined unsustainable.

The bond was not introduced as a direct consequence of working with AVB.”

Unfortunately the bond is already having a negative impact, not least in respect to Ecom’s earlier pledge to provide a free connection to the Whitchurch Combined School, where slow connectivity has been a big problem. At present the operator’s fibre is on the other side of the road and Chris warns that the new rule “essentially doubles the cost of installing the fibre.”

Chris says that the rule is “hamstringing small businesses,” which also occurs at a time when the government is trying to encourage more FTTP/H networks across the UK and is in the process of considering how best to further boost this. Clearly adding yet more red tape and charges at local level may not help that ambition.

Nevertheless the council notes that Ecom’s deployment is still part of the company’s overall commercial business and the requirements would be the same for any business in a similar situation. On the other hand if local authorities make it too expensive to conduct such work commercially then they may end up needing to pay more later when further state aid is required to do the same job.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Meadmodj

    Aylesbury Vale Broadband. My view is that where public money is involved it should be transparent.

    As for the bond I do see the justification as footways and roads deteriate quickly if incorrect methods are used or reinstatements are not made correctly. The councils carry the liability. However I cannot see how 2 years helps. Issues can occur years after the event when bad practice may be discovered. Many industries have some form of gaurantee system and if such a scheme existed for ISPs then perhaps local authorities could wave their bond.

    • Steve Jones

      An industry guarantee system would be a good idea in principle, but issues might arise if the cost burden was carried by responsible operators and not the irresponsible ones who might just disappear. A proper professional body might mitigate that, but the entry barrier to small companies would be high and would have much the same effect as this bond issue.

      I suspect it’s 2 years as the local authority probably thinks most major issues will appear in that time. I think a lot of this will be down to highway and foot-way restoration not being done to an acceptable standard in the first place and the wrangling that follows afterwards. If there’s a bond there, then the operator has an incentive to fix it properly rather than try and wear the council down.

      In any event, this is all extra costs but, arguably, one of those that the bigger operators already have to carry as they are around to sue should problems arise later. As is often the case people (and not a few of the posters to this site) under-estimate the costs and issues around works on highways. That £3 a metre charge is a case in point, although it’s unclear if that applies to work immediately under the highway (in which case, it doesn’t seem disproportionate for crossing a road) or whether it applies to works under the paths or even soft verges (in which case, it could be serious money).

  2. Shaukat

    Well rather than paying the bond in the instance of the school a compromise is reached ..

    The ISP digs up the road, Lays the fibre connectivity

    Rather than the ISP contractors filling and resurfacing they pay the council to resurface.

    That way the school has high speed internet connectivity and the council are happy the job is done to their standards.

    • This could create more complexity, delay and thus added costs. The council by default may not be employing civil engineering firms or in-house staff that can work with fibre optic infrastructure. Likewise for smaller altnet ISPs, one of the ways they can keep costs down is by doing the civil engineering in-house, via smaller local contractors or with volunteers.

    • TheFacts

      @Mark – just standard 96mm duct.

  3. Mark Anthony

    As usual in this Country ( and particularly County) there is far to much consulting and talking, but very little doing ! No wonder we lag far far behind many European Country’s when it comes to infrastructure of any kind.I habe worked all over the world on civil engineering projects, and speak from experience when i say UK councils are seen as some of the most regressive and backward thinking committee’s in Europe ….fact !

    • dragoneast

      Sometimes we have to look behind the curtain. Local authorities is this country are subject to numerous restrictions when it comes to budgets and direct labour, which often don’t apply abroad. Giving the government the benefit of the doubt- they are entitled to it as much as anyone else – it’s kept our taxes down which for most of us is probably the number one priority (even higher than fibre). So we perhaps need to make sure we are comparing like with like before launching into “the worst” – “fact”, judgements. If Councils are overly risk adverse and bureaucratic and we want to know why, then we should try looking in the mirror to see the answer.

  4. Meadmodj

    Interesting that Whitchurch Combined School (currently ADSL) is around 0.1km from the BT exchange which appears to have some FTTC presence. Is this another example of EO Line (no PCP) syndrome. I don’t want to detract from Ecom’s abitions but it seems rediculous that homes and businesses within the centre of our communities are so limited regarding FTTC or FTTP availability as all the civils are invariably already there.

    • Chris@Ecom

      The school is on an EO line and only has ADSL1 available. There are two PCPs in the village neither have FTTC enabled. The exchange shows FTTC available because it has PCPs in a couple of neighbouring villages that do have FTTC.

  5. Darren Palmer

    Just a suggestion, why not start a fundraising page for the project to pay for the bond. When the bond money is returned from the local authorities you could return it to the gifters.

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