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RED Warning Given to Cityfibre’s FTTH Build in Milton Keynes

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 (8:34 am) - Score 6,560

The Milton Keynes Council has issued a “red warning” against Cityfibre’s £40m roll-out of a new 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband network – supported by ISP partner Vodafone UK, which is due to the level of complaints being made against the provider and inspectors identifying “poor practise” in their work.

According to the council’s Scrutiny Management Committee, a Red Warning means that: “All four key criteria cannot be delivered without further significant intervention (Consider whether the project should continue). Risks are being managed and do not require escalation.”

At present the operator is said to have 23 civil engineering teams working on their roll-out in the large Buckinghamshire town (they tend to aim for 85-90% coverage or more) – many of them belonging to the Granemore Group – and they aim to complete the deployment by the end of 2020. This will turn Milton Keynes into one of their first fully completed FTTH deployments in the UK.

All of this work forms part their wider £2.5bn investment plan, which aims to cover around 1 million homes across 12 UK cities and towns with Gigabit capable “full fibre” broadband by the end of 2021 (Phase One) and then 5 million premises by the end of 2025 (here). Unfortunately some of their deployments have attracted quite a few complaints and MK seems to be one of those.

Scrutiny Management Committee Statement

Inspections have shown that cables are not being laid deep enough in the footpath by CityFibre; voids appearing in the works recently completed. Increased public complaints and reputational damage for the Council. CityFibre have 23 teams on site, the works require significant MKC resource to respond to complaints, inspect complaints and provide adhoc supervision to ensure the scope, work quality and safety standards are being met.

Meetings have been held with CityFibre to manage issues, however inspections continue to highlight poor practise and increased complaints. The operational programme has recently been transferred from Growth and Economy to Environment and Property Service, an operational governance structure is being put in place to deal with installation issues.

Red – As well as a reputational risk there is a financial risk to MKC to fix poor quality workmanship issues in the future.

Deploying new infrastructure is a naturally very expensive business and will inevitably create periods of disruption for local residents, which is often true no matter who is doing the noisy civil engineering side of thing s (over the years we’ve seen similar gripes being levelled against Openreach, Virgin Media and others).

Sadly such work will attract complaints, some of which are unavoidable, although in this case it appears as if Cityfibre’s contractors may be making a few too many mistakes. In response the operator doesn’t appear to have apologised (MK Citizen) but they have reiterated their position.

A Spokesperson for Cityfibre said:

“The quality of the work we are carrying out is of paramount importance to us and for incidences where issues have arisen, processes are in place to help ensure they are resolved as quickly as possible. [We are] constantly monitoring the performance of our build partners helping to meet our stated target of completing the construction of the network in MK by the end of 2020.”

In the long run the ability to access affordable 1Gbps broadband speeds should make all of this disruption worthwhile and may even boost the value of local housing, as well as the economy. Nevertheless operators do still have a clear responsibility to finish the work properly and, for the most part, they do take action when problems are identified.

Cityfibre, which earlier this year opened a new office in city, has previously said that they intend to bring their “Engineering Centre of Excellence” to the city. Clearly it’s needed. We should point out that the operator has just awarded the Granemore Group a £39m contract to help deploy their full fibre network into a second urban location, Northampton (here). Hopefully it’s a case of lessons learned.

Leave a Comment
22 Responses
  1. Avatar Dan

    Not surprised, One of my friends just had his electricity knocked out by the idiots. They really should be handling this rollout better

    • Avatar CarlT

      The electricity cable was far too shallow or they were far too deep if they hit it. Low voltage cables are supposed to be 450 mm from footpath surface to top of duct, their stuff 250 mm.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Well it may have been buried 450mm below surface to start with.

      The surface is then regraded for a dropped curb by 150-200mm et voila the situation arises.

      A lot of old power cables from the 1920s to 1940s are not at any specific depth – depth depended on the LA’s who then controlled the power companies. And before you ask, yes power cables that old are in use all over the country.

    • Avatar SimonR

      To be fair though, this is MK. Isn’t most of it going to be circa late 60s?

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @SimonR

      A fair point on the vintage of the works.

      But the point of regrading of the surface above does still stand.

    • Avatar Evil Harry

      @SimonR

      The majority of MK is as you say from the 60’s onwards but the three towns that sit on the boundary where they are also working/going to be working date from much earlier. Bletchley goes back years as does Newport Pagnell.

  2. Avatar Occasionally Factual

    Cityfibre have already had to do remedial work on installed fibre after just 3 weeks. So the quality of work isn’t the highest. I was surprised by how shallow the fibre is laid into the pavement as well. No ducting that I saw just a roll of fibre pre-made and laid into a shallow trench.

  3. Avatar Sam

    City Fibre just installed in our street in Bradwell MK, great team of lads left a tidy job under the circumstances being November, lets all be honest we want the service but not the disruption one comes with the other.

  4. Avatar Mk11

    First, CityFibre are only laying conduits, so OF is not very factual. The actual fibre goes in ‘as needed’.

    The workmanship seems to depend on which team you get. Round our way, they did a good job and the complaints desk responded very quickly to a snag I had.

    • Avatar MK11

      The last few metres of conduit to the home (edge of the footpath, to be more precise) is only about 7mm diameter so maybe that is what caused the misunderstanding.

    • Avatar Occasionally Factual

      @mk11
      My mistake as it looked like a bundle of cables wrapped in a sheath to me and was very flexible and bendy. It was laid for 30/40 meters beside the trench that was dug in the paving but I didn’t inspect it at close quarters. But the gang had to return after 3 weeks and dig up a section again to repair whatever they did put in the ground. SO whatever it was, needed more care in its placement.

    • Avatar CarlT

      A few repairs have had to be done and can be nothing to do with the work but the ground.

      They’re taking to digging trial holes to assess ground composition and utility placement more here now to mitigate it.

      VM had much the same issues. Microducting seems more prone to it than the ordinary stuff, however those are what everyone, including BT, now use where required and possible.

  5. Avatar CarlT

    Looking at the amount of remedial work needed in Peterborough they might well be finding themselves in a similar situation there soon.

    • Avatar SimonR

      When the original Virgin lines were laid here (Peterborough, Cable & Wireless?) it was a right mess. If there was something to cut through, they’d manage it.

  6. Avatar AndyH

    This was last week in Broughton in MK when they went through a major gas main – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NWu9-dSg1kFyh4bXBzQd2ahdc05OMe8K

    • Avatar Resident Newport Rd

      In fact it was a 25mm gas service pipe laid directly on top of the electric service cable at 150mm of cover, if people are unsure of the facts keep your comments to yourself.

    • Avatar AndyH

      It doesn’t change the fact that Cityfibre’s contractors went through a gas main and the Council put out a notice of an “immediate danger to the public”.

      Seems like we have contractors on ISPR now!

    • Avatar CarlT

      Yikes. If that was only 150 mm underneath the surface that is abysmal work by those who put it there.

      I’m not sure how anyone could know it’s that shallow without using ground penetrating radar everywhere and that isn’t feasible.

      Gas is supposed to be way deeper than anything a contractor building a fibre network will be putting into the ground.

      Shouldn’t be on top of the electricity cable, either.

      The CF guys have clearly been awful but that one isn’t on them.

    • Avatar FibreBubble

      Yes. Who’d have thought that stuff doesn’t get buried as deep as Google says it should be. :S

    • Avatar CarlT

      Well, as deep as Google, the Health and Safety Executive and the National Joint Utilities Group say it should be.

      These aren’t optional numbers for utilities to ignore as they see fit. They alongside the NRSWA form the basis of inspections.

      Love the implication it’s some random number from Google though.

      For those who don’t know FibreBubble is extremely negative about anything FTTP and, as part of it, hates microtrenching despite apparently knowing nothing about it or how standards are enforced when those using it fail to adhere to them.

      In his world it’s all the same as Google’s disastrous nanotrenching in the United States where they did tiny cuts to about 50 mm depth.

      That is not permitted in the UK and cannot be.

    • Avatar CarlT

      For the context of the audience https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/12/isp-airband-angers-village-by-erecting-poles-for-fttp-broadband.html#comment-214166

      Despite that it’s neither direct cable into ground, the stuff is in bundles of microducts, or more shallow than previous non-Openreach telecoms apparatus, the minimum depth of cover being 250 mm.

      Not going that deep can mean the core drill the local Highways department use to check the composition of the reinstatement going straight through the ducting so best avoided.

      The ducts are narrower, not shallower, and FibreBubble has no idea what they are talking about.

      Defective work is defective work whoever does it, and shallow microtrenching is defective work. It fails inspections and has to be redone much as those power and gas apparatus would have failed had they not likely been done decades ago.

  7. Avatar MagicFibre

    On a more positive note the work carried out earlier in the year in my street in Downs Barn was completed by a very effective team who lifted the heavy paving slabs without breaking any of them. In the street they excavated the trenches and installed the purple trunking in a matter of a couple of days and left the paving looking better than before they came. Access points per house were installed and those that were misaligned were replaced following a QC inspection.

    In my opinion given the size and timescale involved in the Milton Keynes project, a burst gas main which was poorly laid by another utility company shouldn’t be seen as the sole fault of Cityfibre.

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