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Somerset UK Council Predict 11K Premises to Miss Superfast Broadband

Wednesday, Jun 20th, 2018 (5:14 pm) - Score 1,400

The Somerset County Council in England has published an update on their joint £171 million Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) project, which reveals that around 11,300 premises in the county will remain unserved by “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) ISP networks when the project completes in 2020.

The project is currently working with Openreach (BT), Gigaclear and wireless ISP Airband in order to extend the reach of superfast broadband across the two rural counties and overall CDS expects to cover 96% of premises by 2020 (currently 86%). A mix of FTTC, FTTPfull fibre” and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) based broadband technologies are being used (see here and here).

Yesterday we got an update on CDS from Somerset council’s Scrutiny for Polices and Place Committee. We’re a little bit short on time this afternoon and so we’ll skip the usual analysis and just post some of the highlights, although you can click the link in order to get more details.

Highlights from the Somerset Scrutiny Report

* Gigaclear’s phase 2 rollout has been slowed by the fallout from Carillion’s (contractor) collapse but they still expect to complete on time. Telent has taken over from the Carilliion telent partnership and Gigaclear has also introduced additional resource (e.g. McNicholas part of the Kier group) as well as other contractors.

* Lot 4’s (which broadly covers Northern Devon between Exmoor and Dartmoor) phase 2 rollout was awarded to Airband, which will provide a wireless solution in that area. A share of the ERDF funding is being introduced into the Lot 4 contract and that has apparently “also taken longer and been more complex than was anticipated.”

* To meet the government target of ensuring that all businesses and residents have access to at least 2Mbps, CDS created a broadband Voucher Scheme. This was open to anyone with a current broadband speed of less than 2Mbps who would not be included in the main CDS or commercial programmes. Over 6,200 vouchers were issued and over 1,900 installations have taken place. The application process is currently paused whilst the scheme is reviewed but this is expected to be re-opened during summer 2018.

* CDS is also planning to launch schemes to support community broadband solutions in the summer.

* In addition to the ERDF funding which has been secured, CDS has also submitted an application for funding for £5M from the Rural Development Agency to extend coverage in rural areas. The outcome of this bid is still pending.

* It is currently anticipated that there will be circa 11,300 premises remaining in Somerset which will not yet have a broadband service of 30Mbps. Of these approximately 1,500 premises will be business / dual use (business and residential). Of these approx. 1,000 premises will have speeds of less than 15Mbps.

* The continuing challenge is to seek ways to extend coverage to all. Although CDS continues to apply for further grants, “for the most remote and difficult to reach areas it may be some time before viable superfast solutions can be found for all.”

* Gigaclear is said to have several retail ISPs connecting to its existing fibre network selling services to customers. Gigaclear has informed CDS that larger retail ISPs are not yet selling over the Gigaclear network because Gigaclear does not yet serve enough properties for the larger providers to justify the internal resources for connection to the Gigaclear network. Gigaclear has been advised that “major ISPs require a minimum of 200,000 premises before they will consider connecting” to the Gigaclear network. Gigaclear plans to reach this figure at some point in the next 2 years.

Interesting, that’s the first time we’ve heard about the 200,000 premises figure for major retail ISPs before they would even consider connecting to an altnet ISPs network. Good news for Hyperoptic too, if they went open access, since they’ve already gone well beyond 400,000.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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10 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Pinderfields says:

    Hope they put a cabinet with the EU’s logo on it noting the ERDF contribution directly opposite Jacob Rees-Mogg’s constituency office.

    1. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      Any grant from the EU regional development fund is just our money anyway, as the amount the UK pays to the EU exceeds the money we get back by way of rebate, grants etc. by about £10 to £12 billion a year.

      It’s like using an ATM to take £100 in cash but the bank then debits your account by £200.

    2. Avatar photo Joe says:

      Doubtless he would say that as we contribute and always have far more than we ever get back that this is only our money returning after an expensive handling charge.

  2. Avatar photo occasionally factual says:

    So the highlights show that all the delays are in the parts of the project served by Gigaclear and Airband?
    So the much maligned Openreach has done their job and the crowd favourites have fallen behind?

    ** Grabs tub of popcorn and waits for explosion from fanboys **

    P.S. I wont be answering this post at all. So no need to get upset when I don’t reply.

    1. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      I live in the area and yes, OR did deliver Phase 1 pretty much on time, fair play to them.

      Phase 2 is a different story, 2 year delay while the project was re-tendered due to CDS fiasco, the contracts that were eventually have end dates of Dec 2019, so aren’t delayed.

      The delays are all down to Somerset County Council, AKA CDS.

  3. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

    I do wonder how the USO will cope with areas like West Devon, even assuming the Phase 2 project completes (I have my doubts), around 10% of premises will still qualify for USO, its going to place a massive demand on however the USO is funded?

    1. Avatar photo NGA for all says:

      The doc refers to Gainshare of £4.5m,(of £129m) which is yet to be applied. There also the proportions of the remaining £400m clawback, a big number for CDS.
      The scrutiny committee have not seen fit to report on workings of the gap funding mechanism and its status.
      I hope the BT investment levels will be reconciled in a review of the WLA pricing, up or down.

  4. Avatar photo Still waiting for superfast says:

    I live in CDS Lot1 area (North Somerset) where not only did BT/OR fail to provide a decent service to rural communities for years, they also mounted a legal challenge (i.e delay) to awarding the contract to Gigaclear. BT/OR are the real internet villains here.

  5. Avatar photo Graham Long says:

    In the CDS report to the Somerset CC Scrutiny Committee, Ms Katriona Lovelock (a CDS and Somerset CC employee) only mentions the Carillion liquidation as a reason for the early part of the CDS Phase 2 build commencing more slowly than had been planned, an issue quickly solved by the German company telent taking over the contract. She fails to state that although contracts for the first four Lots were signed with with Gigaclear in December 2016, CDS did not approve Gigaclear’s Phase 2 roll out plans until December 2017, one year later. (Lot 1, Upper CDS, was also awarded to Gigaclear in mid 2017). In reality, Gigaclear have only been allowed to lay fibre as part of the Phase 2 build for the last six months. Obviously, CDS will hold Gigaclear to the contractual terms of the contract meaning they must provide full fibre connections to 47,800 premises across Devon & Somerset by 2020. In addition to these connections providing a 1,000Mbps symmetric broadband service, well above the contractual spec of 30Mbps, you will find on the Gigaclear website that in addition, and without CDS funding, Gigaclear will also connect fibre to another 43,300 properties, making the Devon & Somerset Gigaclear network the largest in the country with 91,100 properties connected when complete.
    The real delay in this programme has been caused by CDS themselves since the Phase 2 contracts awarded to Gigaclear were CDS’s third attempt to find a supplier. On Nov 13, 2014, CDS launched their first tendering round for Phase 2, but very quickly withdrew the invitations to tender after learning that BT Openreach (who were the Phase 1 suppliers) were refusing to bid on an open tender and demanded the contract on an exclusive basis. This would have been allowed under BDUK rules as they were at that time an existing CDS supplier, but negotiations with BT fell apart during 2015 with BT claiming CDS were not offering them enough money and CDS claiming that BT were not prepared to make sufficient investment to connect enough properties. By the time negotiations between BT and CDS broke down, the BDUK umbrella State Aid agreement with the EU for Phase 2 had expired and so BDUK had to go back to Brussels and renegotiate a new State Aid approval agreement with the EU for CDS and a few other recalcitrant counties. Appalled that the UK could not put Phase 2 contracts in place in the 5 years that the BDUK umbrella agreement was in place, Margarethe Vestega herself, the EU Competition Commissioner, got involved and required the two counties of Devon & Somerset to be broken up into 6 contract lots for Phase 2 in order to encourage smaller companies to bid for the contracts, and she also raised the minimum speed the contracts have to deliver from the 24Mbps UK definition of “superfast” (which no other EU country had ever used anyway) to the EU superfast speed of 30Mbps. Eventually another tendering round for Phase 2 was launched by CDS on July 19, 2016, almost two years after their first attempt. CDS were responsible for this delay owing to their inability to complete the previous open tendering round in 2014 and their failure to negotiate an exclusive contract with BT during 2015.
    The two year delay does however have a silver lining for many rural residents of Devon & Somerset, in that properties in 5 of the 6 CDS Phase 2 Lots will now be connected with full fibre by Gigaclear’s new network using technology far superior to anything on offer from BT.

    1. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      An excellent summary of the CDS fiasco Graham, very well written. Sadly the silver lining has a nasty sting in the tail for those of us in Lot 4 who aren’t getting Gigaclear.

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