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Welsh Village Left Waiting Months for Openreach to Finish FTTP

Monday, August 6th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 2,326
blaenffos wales uk map fttp

Residents in the rural village of Blaenffos (Pembrokeshire, Wales) have been left confused after a mix of admin delays, cost concerns and conflicting feedback from ISPs resulted in the local roll-out of a new ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband network entering a lengthy state of limbo.

Last year the area appeared to be a hive of activity as Openreach’s (BT) engineers, seemingly with support from the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru project, diligently set about deploying a new FTTP network into the area. By early 2018 this roll-out appeared, at least to the naked eye, to have been all but completed and in February the operator’s availability checker began to report the service as being available to order.

At this point a few lucky people promptly placed an order, but it quickly became apparent that not all the necessary infrastructure appeared to have been fitted (i.e. the aggregation node and splitters seemed to be present, but sadly some manifolds and tubing for the fibre was missing). Some engineering work continued in the area until mid-March and then.. silence.

Just to confuse matters, only around 4 properties in the affected area have a working FTTP service (they joined quickly after it initially became available, before vanishing again) and yet some of their immediate neighbours found that they were unable to order the service, where previously it had been marked as available.

Steve, Blaenffos Resident, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“The village of Blaenffos has patchy mobile coverage and, being a long way from the exchange, most properties have low ADSL speeds. Not surprisingly, some villagers were keen to get Superfast Broadband under the Superfast Cymru project. In early February, many were told FTTP was available to order. Shortly afterwards, most of those same people were told it was not available. This change coincided with the realisation that some of the infrastructure (mainly FTTP manifolds) was missing. The missing infrastructure was soon fitted.

Afterwards, only about 6 out of 120 affected properties could have the FTTP ordered. Neighbouring properties had different availability despite the phone lines being connected the same way. Some were allowed access and others were not allowed access to the same FTTP infrastructure. The few that could have FTTP were essentially those that ordered very soon after it first became available. It had nothing to do with location or connection.

The situation for villagers is frustrating and unclear. With the original Superfast Cymru project more properties were deliberately in scope than were provisioned. The base for the successor project does not appear to include any properties that were in the scope of the original contract, but not provisioned. Consequently, the successor contract for Wales is unlikely to help those properties. Most of the village appears to be in an uncertain situation with no resolution or improvement in sight, excepting the Universal Service Obligation.”

Upon investigating this issue ISPreview.co.uk managed to help Openreach identify an outstanding address matching issue with their database, which once corrected meant that a small number of additional properties are now able to order the “full fibre” service. Unfortunately many of the other affected postcodes remain in a state of limbo.

A spokesperson for Openreach has informed us that the rest of the addresses were due to be served off a different fibre structure, which was part of the state aid supported Broadband Delivery UK Phase 1 build (i.e. Superfast Cymru). “Unfortunately, due to a high build cost and extensive civils required, work did not progress,” said the operator.

blaenffos telegraph pole fttp openreach

The problem now is that the BDUK Phase 1 project has recently ended, although the Welsh Government are working on a new scheme that will aim to tackle the remaining 80,000+ premises in the final 5% (here). This aspires to make “fast reliable broadband” (defined as 30Mbps+) available to “every property” in Wales.

A Spokesperson for the Welsh Government said:

“Superfast Cymru has undoubtedly been a success by bringing superfast broadband access to almost 733,000 premises which would otherwise not have received it, largely in rural areas, meaning every local authority area in Wales now has access.

While the programme has successfully changed the digital landscape in Wales, we know there is more to do in reaching the remaining premises without access and we are now working on how to do this. A tender process is under way for the successor scheme to Superfast Cymru, which will be underpinned by £80 million of public funding, and further details will be provided in the Autumn.

Work on the procurement exercise is complex and we will award contracts as quickly as the process allows. It is absolutely essential and right that time is taken on this so the full benefits from the successor scheme can be achieved. Our Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher Schemes are also available for those currently without access to superfast broadband.”

Sadly Blaenffos is by no means the only village stuck with an unfinished build, which is a matter that has cropped up several times before (recent example). Julie James (AM) said: “We’re having a complicated conversation with BT around the connection of the stranded assets. There is a complex commercial negotiation – ‘negotiation’ is the only word I can think of – going on about who should pay for them.”

As it stands Openreach doesn’t seem to have a plan for finishing the local roll-out, which leaves residents with the choice of either waiting to see what happens with the Welsh Government’s next contract (details expected this autumn) or hoping for a reprieve via the forthcoming 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Alternatively locals could try hunting for a wireless supplier or mix the aforementioned voucher schemes with Openreach’s own co-funded Community Fibre Partnerships (CFP), which we suspect will be a lot cheaper than normal due to the fact that most of the necessary infrastructure has already been deployed. At the very least it might be worth exploring this option to see how much it would cost.

The reality with all of these options is that the community will probably still have a wait on their hands, although unfinished builds should be high on the list when it comes to a future contract (assuming Openreach is chosen to supply).

At this point BT are always quick to remind that they delivered a significantly larger volume of premises passed than either party anticipated at the outset of the first project. Not that this matters if you happen to be one of those that was missed off the original deployment.

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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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35 Responses
  1. dean

    Oh no, another right cluster ….

    Place your bets on who is going to be blamed for this apart from Openreach by certain obvious people in the upcoming comments.

    My crystal ball says these have potential…
    The Government/Local authority/BDUK/Superfast Cymru are to blame dunno why they just are.
    Work was more difficult/higher cost than Openreach thought.
    Farmer giles wont let us on his land.
    Everything is connected but just needs finishing.
    Wrong type of ground (too difficult to dig hole).
    Its all Thatchers fault from the 80s why fibre is not done today.
    Need more money to finish (AKA the dodgy bob the builder bodge it and scarper method)
    It will be done in Phase 2 forget the failures of phase 1

    as for…
    “Upon investigating this issue ISPreview.co.uk managed to help Openreach identify an outstanding address matching issue with their database, which once corrected meant that a small number of additional properties are now able to order the “full fibre” service.”

    Its a good job someone knows where they built things even if they do not thereself.

    • simon

      Farmer Giles is currently growing his prize mahoosive potatoes for the next veg show in 2021.The cables will poison his Gypsy made lucky charm fertiliser if he allows OR near the land.

      There, you didn’t see that comment coming 😛

    • dean

      🙂 Most seem to have gone with excuse number one LOL
      I did forget the obvious thing to blame though maybe the Coppersaurus ate all the fibre.

  2. A_Builder

    That is a pretty extraordinary tale.

    Tale being the operative word.

    BT’s civils cost control seems very poor.

    If they didn’t understand the cost of fitting the fibre/nodes/terminations to the penny that is pure incompetence either by the survey team or by the costing team. These things are standard book costs.

    Not costing ducts and poles properly is also pretty poor but there are bigger unknowns there. And sometimes you genuinely don’t know till you start digging and hit 10m of concrete backfill.

    However, that is why you have contingency as there is a known probability that these things happen.

  3. chris conder

    It is part of the superfarce and totally predictable as all they are interested in is ‘homes passed’ – that is the killer statistic. All the figures the governments throw out are homes passed. They can’t be connected easily, yet statistics count.

    • As I understand it the BDUK programme does not include unfinished builds into their premises passed count.

    • TheFacts

      If they can’t order they won’t be passed.

    • Neb

      On that point of premises passed, can someone refresh my memory on CityFibres’ homes passed measurement – they report around 5M premises passed in their network? But doesn’t that generally need quite a bit of hard civils or adjustment to accommodate/connect all of these premises?

      Anyone? Mark?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “ISPreview.co.uk managed to help Openreach identify an outstanding address matching issue with their database, which once corrected meant that a small number of additional properties are now able to order the “full fibre” service.”

      @MarkJ could you potentially find out if those premises were being counted in BDUK figures before you identified the issue. I suspect they were.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “On that point of premises passed, can someone refresh my memory on CityFibres’ homes passed measurement – they report around 5M premises passed in their network?”

      They report no such thing, they state they are “targeting upto 5 million homes and businesses by 2025” They have also previously stated that number could end up being higher or lower in various news items on here. Example and more detail…
      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2017/11/vodafone-cityfibre-target-gigabit-broadband-5-million-uk-premises.html

    • @Neb. Yes that 5 million figure from Cityfibre isn’t “premises passed”, it’s “addressable market”. The latter is a theoretical measure of potential future reach (i.e. the civils work hasn’t been done yet to put the fibre right to your doorstep), while premises passed essentially means that you’re already covered and can order it. Big difference.

  4. Richard

    It’s funny that they are delivering fttp somewhere so remote but I can’t even get fttc in a big city, let alone fttp.

  5. Tigger

    My FTTP has come available recently in my area. I was among the first to order the service and have now been informed that the service does not work. This is shear incompetence on the behalf on BT, as they have signed the job off as finished the all the relevant testing supposedly done. The job has taken over 2 years to complete and they have only had to run a cable 2km through existing ducting and overhead poles. The real frustration is that you cannot deal with Openreach direct to resolve these issues. As you can see from the story above, customer service is given low priory or importance.

  6. Mart

    In a way its a story of big business today. Boss sits at desk. Tells his underlings to get the job done with most profit. Manager has not enough workers because boss fired them. Manager hunts for subby to do work. Subby promised the world but knows he has not got enough workers. He subbs to another gang made up of workers sacked by original glossy company. Contract price to tax payer doubles. And simply job turns into savage argument about money. In the end nothing gets finished, everyone is either out of work or livid at ‘them’. Don’t you just love it?

  7. Meadmodj

    I think this is simply bad project management of BDUK. The Openreach planners know they don’t get paid if its not up and working so they wouldn’t have proceeded without the go ahead. Whoever was in control of the plan/budget should be monitoring clearly each exchange/cabinet area and ensuring all aspects are on target whether duct, cable, equipment or testing especially if the plan changes. Basic planning software includes task dependancies, what have they been using, a spreadsheet?

    • olicuk

      Currently investigating around my area; about 45 properties with good (most in the 70Mbps-80Mbps range) FTTC speeds have just been overbuilt with FTTP, seemingly under the BDUK contract! But at least the other 125 properties on the same cabinet weren’t enabled at the same time despite the fact it’d have been only a tiny bit more effort to do so!! Ridiculous on both BDUK and Openreach’s part.

    • Meadmodj

      Very strange. BDUK is predominantly FTTC so that would meet their target. Again bad planning if activity in the same stretch of street should be ringing alarm bells. Probably too much dependency on Postcodes which are totally unsuitable for planning networks (or ordering via ISPs). Planning should be at DP level rolled up to cabinet and exchange.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “I think this is simply bad project management of BDUK.”

      What did they manage wrong? The BDUK from what i understand just decides what needs doing and where and then awards the contract to someone to do it. Or in this case someone who said they would do it but didn’t.

      “…The Openreach planners know they don’t get paid if its not up and working so they wouldn’t have proceeded without the go ahead.”

      The Openreach planners and Openreach’s systems according to the story do not even seem to know the addresses to SOME of the premises it was supposed to cover.
      Total ineptness!

    • Meadmodj

      It may be OR who should be project managing I don’t. But if I was a client I would want to see a plan that clearly stated what was required from exchange to homes in each location and total price of each segment. If say the main duct has collapsed or silted then that should have been the first tasks (tree and branch). They shouldn’t get to a stage where cabinets and home distribution are completed but they can’t get to it. The client holds the budget piecemeal so in my book it is the client who should be overseeing the project even it is prepared by OR and held to it.

      The address issues are frustrating. Post Codes are for Post rounds not networks as they can straddle cabinets, D side cables and even DPs.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      I still fail to see how blame can be levelled at the BDUK or anyone else. They would not have been vague in what they wanted. The contract awarded would have been clear on the work to be done and the amount which will be paid for said work. If Openreach can not deliver that is down to them, they should not have taken the contract in the first place.

      I can not think of any situation where you would order something from someone that claims they can supply and then blame yourself when they can not supply it can you??

      As for postcodes or databases of postcodes/addresses being wrong, again i see it as nothing but excuses from Openreach. I assume the same homes which can not have their FTTP broadband can have a telephone and a telephone service, perhaps even ADSL broadband so why they even needed Ispreviews help with their database of addresses remains a mystery.

      Makes you even wonder how Openreach found their way to the location to do any work if they do not know the correct address or postcode or have it listed incorrectly… Hell maybe they wired up a whole other area if that is the case.

      They whole situation is laughably pathetic. The excuses are always the same, this is now at least twice in a matter of weeks Openreach have screwed up connecting people the other being….
      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/07/no-broadband-for-two-months-at-new-social-flats-in-hastings.html

  8. Ms p saunders

    I had two openreach surveys with totally different results!!! How can they do that ~ no answers from them of course. Anyone else had this problem.??

  9. olicuk

    So basically Openreach continue to be dominated by shareholder interest, rather than the good of the country and community…

    If they win the next phase, they’ll get paid to continue the rollout to the point contracted – and if BDUK get their data wrong, no doubt tough for the few that still end up with no service.

    If they don’t win the next phase, they’ll continue the rollout anyway, especially where they’ve part-built and done 90% of the work, because there will be competition, and therefore a reason to do it commercially. And because of the competition, there wouldn’t be any further state funding to allow Openreach to remove all copper eventually, so another reason they’d just have to get on with it.

    What OR don’t seem to have been made to appreciate is the attraction of being the only supplier, but having to self-fund. Surely better than having government-funded competition, whilst being less-favourable than having gifted infrastructure under the BDUK umbrella. Alas being handed more BDUK cash than they can consume isn’t helping them open their eyes…

    • CarlT

      ‘So basically Openreach continue to be dominated by shareholder interest, rather than the good of the country and community…’

      It’s almost like they’re part of a private sector for-profit company rather than a part of the public sector or a charity.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      Nothing wrong with operating a business with the goal to make profit. Trouble is, it is a bit difficult to do that though when you spend money installing infrastructure, do it wrong for whatever reason and then leave the infrastructure idle and not generating profit from all the people who would like to be connected.

  10. Optimist

    Is BDUK so incompetent that it settles Openreach’s invoices to install new infrastructure without checking that it actually works?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      Oh yes all the BDUK at fault. God forbid the BDUK actually expect a company as big as Openreach to be honest as to when they have completed work rather than bodge it and scarper.

  11. Gregory

    Where is the due diligence with bduk surely if payment is made for a service that is not available the money should be returned and all the money being given to one operator Openreach is rediculouse where is the competition?

    • John Doe

      BT doesn’t care about customers, they only care about next Champions League bidding.
      That’s why they left the project unfinished.
      Bidding is up up up. This is where the BDUK money gets spend at the auction.

  12. Gregory

    Has BDUK got no teath to force Openreach to complete a contract

    • CarlT

      Openreach completed the contract as the story says.

      Annoying as this is for the people affected it’s a value for money thing. If Openreach consume too much subsidy per premises they run into trouble either with BDUK or their shareholders.

      BDUK didn’t pay for the incomplete work.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      IF the BDUK did not pay for incomplete work who paid for the infrastructure that is basically idle to many in this situation?

      If it was or ends up being Openreach i can not imagine shareholders will be happy about an additional spend on infrastructure and not operating or generating profit from punters.

  13. Optimist

    Rather than pay telcos according to the equipment they install, payments should only be made when customers get connected and enjoy an acceptable level of service for, say, a year.

  14. Brin

    Our ultrafast broadband project has to connect a property and send a screenshot of the speedtest at the property BEFORE the Welsh Assemby will pay us the grant
    http://www.myfi.wales

  15. A_Builder

    @Brin

    A fantastic achievement that you should all be proud of.

    I salute anyone who gets off their backside to get things done for their community.

    Between outfits like yours and B4RN there must be a good template that can be supported by incentives.

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