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Devon and Somerset UK Consult on Superfast Broadband Plan

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 (9:29 am) - Score 907

The troubled Connecting Devon and Somerset project has opened a public consultation on their recent Open Market Review (OMR), which examined the current and future level of “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) coverage in the two counties and set out a proposed intervention area, ahead of seeking suppliers for a new contract.

The CDS scheme has had more than a few big stumbles over the years. The problems began in 2015 after a possible Phase 2 deployment contract with Openreach (BT) – mostly using FTTC technology – was abandoned due to disagreement on the targets and funding (arguably CDS wanted more than BT seemed able to deliver within the tight timescale).

The fallout from 2015 caused a long delay, although Gigaclear and Airband eventually scooped up a number of new Phase 2 contracts between 2016 and 2017. Sadly it became clear in October 2018 that Gigaclear’s rollout – mostly using “full fibreFTTP technology – had fallen significantly behind schedule (in some areas by 2 years) and CDS ended the contract in September 2019 due to being unable to agree a “credible” recovery plan (here).

The move to end Gigaclear’s deal has also left a number of areas across the two counties with unfinished builds and exposed fibre cabling, such as in Uplyme, where the locals have complained about it being an “eyesore“. In those areas CDS has asked Gigaclear to “remove their equipment if they don’t need it for their commercial roll-out” (ideally it would be better to find a way of finishing part-built areas, so the work isn’t wasted).

As things stand CDS is now working toward constructing yet another procurement process to contract a supplier who can complete and hopefully go beyond the work that Gigaclear still had left to do under Phase 2. As part of that effort the team have already conducted an OMR (i.e. used to identify which areas will need help) and are now consulting upon their proposed intervention area for the future contract (here).

The New Consultation

The CDS consultation notes how their OMR helped to identify around 115,000 premises that cannot currently access superfast or close to superfast speeds, which they say are “at risk of not being served” by any commercial operators – at least within the next 3 years – unless action is taken.

NOTE: The Devon and Somerset region is home to a total of around 1,100,494 premises and Phase 1 of the CDS scheme with BT helped to upgrade c.300,000 of those.

The future procurement for a new supplier is said to be supported by a pot of public funding worth of up to £56m and, given the UK government’s current focus, is likely to demand more Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology or other “gigabit-capable” technologies. Public funding sources include BDUK, Local Authorities, LEP and the CDS proportion of clawback (gainshare) sums from the Phase 1 contract with BT.

CDS_intervention_area_broadband_2019

CDS currently aims to launch a procurement in December 2019 via Devon County Council’s Pro-Contract Procurement Portal and if all goes well (i.e. take with a pinch of salt given the history of CDS) then the intention is award contracts by the end of 2020 (November has been mentioned before), which means that the rollout itself may not begin until sometime in 2021.

The project team may also choose to run more than one procurement to facilitate the introduction of some of the identified public funding including clawback sums from BT. Hopefully CDS will be more cautious this time and ensure that the operators they select are able to scale to their requirements. Alternatively they might offer more LOTS and choose a wider selection of providers than before in order to spread the risk.

Previously it’s been suggested that around 16 suppliers may have expressed a tentative interest in the future procurement process and we imagine that includes the likes of Airband, BT, Jurassic Fibre, Truespeed and a few smaller players. Meanwhile the wait goes on for those who originally expected to be covered by Gigaclear’s Phase 2 contract.

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Mark Jackson
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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12 Responses
  1. Avatar xr2i

    Thank you for the update.

    I am one of the many victims now waiting for the commercial roll-out plan from Gigaclear.
    Gigaclear’s fibre is layed in front of my house since 2018 and although my neighbours who live 20 meters away from me can be connected now by Gigaclear, I can’t.
    I insisted and sent pictures to Gigaclear’s “Network Build Care team”, but ironically they don’t “care”. They say I need to wait for their commercial plans to be connected..

    Mark, would you know of any timescales of that commercial plan? I don’t think we know when Gigaclear will communicate on this for the CDS zone.

  2. Avatar New_Londoner

    @MarkJ
    Is there any indication that Gigaclear will be ineligible to bid given its abject performance in meeting its contractual commitments? Also, any sign that the inept programme management team in CDS are to be replaced with competent people?

    • Strictly speaking I guess Gigaclear could bid on future CDS contracts (we’ll have to wait and see the tender), although realistically – given all that’s happened – CDS would seem to be well within their rights to go with different suppliers.

      Politically it might also be embarrassing for them to re-sign Gigaclear for any significant deployments, except maybe for the completion of part-built work. Mind you it might be similarly embarrassing if they signed BT after having previously rejected such a deal in 2015.

      As for the CDS team, I think for an answer to that you may need to consider the looming General Election. That will surely come before anything else.

  3. Avatar NGA for all

    Good to see. This is an important number of customers in terms of what is left to do in rural England. It would be good to see the composition of the £56m.

  4. Avatar fred

    Ha, complete farce. I really don’t see the point in a public consultation unless it provides the public an opportunity to throw eggs, rotten vegetables and milkshakes at the CDS team. They know what needs to be done, they just need to get on and do it or better still, get out of the way and appoint new management who can deliver. Fortunately I can get acceptable (for my limited needs) 4G broadband where I live.

  5. Avatar Shareboy

    In the interim and if you get on with your neighbour, consider connecting to your neighbours LAN with a fibre link between a media converter CAT5 to fibre each end. Costs approx £150 including preterminated fibre. For complete security place a Vlan capable router at source. Assumes you have no road crossing. No bandwidth issues on Gigaclear 🙂

    • Avatar A_Builder

      I was about to post something similar.

      Or just shove a directional WiFi antenna in the right general direction.

    • Avatar Xr2i

      Thanks for the idea guys.
      Unfortunately the biggest frustration is that my neighbours are 75+ yo and are not interested at all, they don’t even know what it is.. I wonder how many eligible premises actually take on fiber from Gigaclear..
      Where I would actually become a customer straight away but that doesn’t seem to be of any interest to Gigaclear.. to gain a new customer..

  6. Avatar Graham Long

    Mark, the “stumble” as you call it in 2015 was not CDS’s first failed attempt at securing Phase 2 suppliers because they first went to open market tender on Nov 13, 2014 when they held a “bidder day” in Exeter (I was there!). CDS pulled the plug on the open market ITT when BT said they would not bid on an open market ITT and would only bid if the contract for all Phase 2 was offered to them on an exclusive basis. CDS agreed to do that but during 2015 CDS and BT could not agree how much money each invests and they fell out in mid 2015 with CDS saying BT were not prepared to put enough into the pot and BT saying CDS were not offering them enough money. By the time BT and CDS fell out with each other the EU state aid deadline for having Phase 2 contracts in place had passed and BDUK had to take CDS to Brussels to plead for more time to find supplier(s). CDS got more time but the EU Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager forced CDS to split the Phase 2 contract into 6 seperate contracts and increased the minimum deliverable speed from 24Mbps to 30Mbps (The definition of Superfast that all other countries except the UK had used from the begining.) One thing that the EU refused to change however is the completion date for delivering the contracts, 2020, and that has been a major reason why Gigaclear failed to deliver the number of connections as of 2018 – i.e. CDS took 5 years to find suppliers and could only give suppliers 3 years to deliver on the contracts with no capacity for extension. Even today the government has still not approved the £18.7M that CDS need to spend beyond 2020 if any supplier is to be awarded any contracts in November 2020 and CDS are gambling on having that problem solved in time to sign contracts next year. The bottom line is that CDS have now failed to complete three procurements for Phase 2, including the abandoned open market ITT in 2014 and they are now embarking on their fourth attempt to find suppliers. To make a mistake once is a learning experience. To make the same mistake a second time is an error. To make the same mistake a third time is incompetence. If a school fails, DfE move the Governors and the Head out and bring in their own experts. That is what BDUK now need to do with CDS.

    • Avatar The Facts

      You are telling us that Gigaclear bid for and signed the contracts knowing they could not meet the contracted timescales.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      No, it is however likely that that they had to accept that the roll out timescale had to be based on everything going to plan with no ability to extend the roll out period if they encountered problems – and we know they did: Country lanes turned out not to have proper foundations and much wider trenches than planned for had to be dug; landagents got landowners to demand higher wayleave payments and cable routes had to be re-designed. Yes, Gigaclear did not do a good job an managing subcontractors but I bet that when CDS signed their contracts in 2017, they were gambling that they would get DCMS approval to extend contracts beyond 2020, just as they are now gambling they will have that money when they sign new contracts in Nov 2020. (They still don’t have it today!) Was it coincidence that Sajid Javid failed to included the £18.7M they needed to run the contracts beyond 2020 in the Spending Review and 8 days later CDS cancelled Gigaclear’s 5 contracts?

    • Avatar The Facts

      @GL – nice try. what do GC pay you to support them? They failed to do due diligence on the roads which is a basic error. You told us how many building contracts do not go to plan yet GC did not take account of this. Also CDS should have quickly noticed the contract was going wrong and responded.

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