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A Curious Case of State Aid Fuelled Superfast Broadband Overbuild

Friday, October 19th, 2018 (2:43 pm) - Score 3,500
openreach fttc street cabinet engineer with beard working

An unusual case of overbuild has cropped up in Essex (England) after Openreach deployed a new superfast Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) network into an area that had already gained “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) speeds with the help of public investment and ultrafast FTTP. Both roll-outs are supported by the Superfast Essex project.

The Superfast Essex scheme is currently supported by Essex County Council (ECC), Openreach (BT), Gigaclear and the Government’s £1.6bn+ Broadband Delivery UK programme, which are all working to extend “superfast broadband” coverage to around 97% of the county by December 2019 (currently 93%+). After that the project also hopes to get as close to 100% coverage as possible by 2021.

As a general rule public money (state aid) should only be used to support a deployment where it’s actually needed. In other words, urban areas and those that can already get superfast speeds are usually excluded (i.e. they may have been upgraded via commercial investment or another project). This also assumes the local authority is aware of existing coverage via their most recent Open Market Review (OMR) process.

Admittedly there are already various examples where the state aid rules have been tested (just ask B4RN) and some degree of natural overbuild may even be expected at the very edges of a network, but today’s story is different to those and quite unusual.

In this case we have an area that was already upgraded to ultrafast FTTP broadband via Superfast Essex, but then Openreach returned to add superfast speeds via FTTC and seemingly with support from the same scheme. Thinkbroadband has spotted several such areas in Essex (e.g. Doe’s Corner, on the B1019 between Hatfield Peverel and Maldon), which are worth examining in case anybody has a similar query in the future.

The FTTP deployment in these areas is arguably a bit too extensive and specific to be natural overbuild at the edges of a network. Likewise some readers may rightly point out that the goal of expanding ‘superfast’ coverage via public investment may not be best served if they’re using it to support both technologies at superfast speeds in the same area.

Naturally we wanted to try and get the official view before writing about this and the Superfast Essex team have kindly obliged.

An Essex County Council Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Superfast Essex is legally bound by State Aid rules which prohibit any intentional overbuild where superfast broadband services already exist or are planned and this rule is strictly applied to all planned deployment. At Doe’s Corner, Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) was the only expected solution to be deployed to a number of premises here.

The cabinet, installed later to serve other addresses, was originally planned to be built elsewhere and would have been too far away to be able to achieve superfast speeds for Doe’s Corner. However, engineering reasons discovered after work started meant the cabinet had to be relocated, moving it closer to Doe’s Corner and subsequently intercepting additional cables including those already upgraded by the FTTP scheme.

Openreach has stopped a number of planned FTTP schemes in Essex where this type of potential overlap is identified early enough.”

Inevitably there will be situations like this and it’s important to stress that they do seem to be quite rare. On the upside we suspect that local residents will be happy to know that they now have a choice between both the older hybrid fibre FTTC network and FTTP, although they’re both on the same Openreach network. No doubt the latter will be the one that residents appreciate the most.

We should point out, just in case it wasn’t already obvious, that Openreach doesn’t really benefit from putting FTTC into an area where they’ve already deployed FTTP. In other words, it’s in their interests to avoid such cases.

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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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9 Responses
  1. Meadmodj

    Surely the only loss is a bit of cabling and jointing at the cabinet. Public subsidy will only be paid once and if FTTP has been provided it will be used. The FTTC cabinets were required anyway for other addresses and will only be equipped for the capacity required. The presence of FTTP will provide opportunities for others in these cabinets areas.
    I would assume that going forward this may become quite common as areas are revisited for FTTP and more fibres run past FTTC served locations.

  2. Mart

    this doesn’t surprise me a bit. OpenReach copper bods have no idea what fttp is and certainly dont care. they are waiting for retirement without having to ‘retrain’ in some obscure distant training centre.

    • FibreFred

      ?

      Openreach delpoy fibre all of the time. Have done for years.

    • Fastman

      really you clearly not reading what actually happening in the real (not the talked about world) unbelievable !!!!!

    • A_Builder

      There are probably very good reasons why this happened.

      FTTP was initially delivered not by the existing PI (physical infrastructure) whereas FTTC was delivered by existing PI.

      So inevitably they do not have the same foot printing.

      OK there has now been, or is, a rethink of how to deliver FTTP using existing PI as, surprise, surprise, it is cheaper.

      That is one of the many reasons in favour of using the PCP location for the PON. But then we get bogged down in OR doctrine and it is a sunny Sunday afternoon.

  3. Neb

    Can anyone tell me UK examples of BTOR overbuilding FTTP enabled areas?

    • Meadmodj

      OR can build where they like with what ever technology they like whether planned or in error. Its only an issue if public funding or revenue share is involved. Recently OR announced locations already proposed by Cityfibre but its not clear whether than will result in actual overbuild at street level or they will avoid each other. OR will be rolling out by area and yes if there is VM (new), Cityfibre, Gigaclear, OFNL, Hyperoptics, B4RN etc then over build may occur. Early days.

  4. GNewton

    @Meadmodj: “Its only an issue if public funding or revenue share is involved.”

    Are there any public support schemes with revenue shares for fibre broadband deployments?

    • Meadmodj

      Generic term. BDUK have previously considered gap funding investments, revenue shares, public ownership of assets and no doubt these may be considered going forward by Local Government for the FTTP phases or included as options in provider tenders. The BT Capital Deferral was for FTTC and although reinvesting outstanding monies will be part of BDUK FTTP I doubt if more will be prescribed. What is in the contracts with with Gigaclear and others I wouldn’t know.
      The point is if public money is involved it needs to be transparent and not buried in contract detail. Including LG costs.

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