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People’s Fibre Quits Deeside FTTP Rollout – Blames Openreach UPDATE

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 (2:29 pm) - Score 7,538
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New UK ISP People’s Fibre, which earlier this year revealed that they intended to deploy a 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network (starting in North Wales), have abruptly pulled out of a planned roll-out in Deeside due to Openreach’s rival full fibre plans “directly blocking both our progress and investment.”

The provider first popped up on our radar in January (here) and the extended group claims to have “been deploying full fibre in Sweden for the last 10 years,” while their plan in the UK seemed to revolve around serving “homes and small businesses in areas where FTTP is non-existent or poor.” Back then we knew very little about the ISP, but a number of people in North Wales helped us to identify that their initial focus was on Deeside.

At the time most of the broadband coverage in Deeside had come from Openreach’s (BT) hybrid fibre FTTC (VDSL2) and G.fast networks, but they also had a few small patches of FTTP present in the area. Deeside is quite a predominantly industrial conurbation of towns and villages near south Chester, which is where Openreach has been building a fair bit of FTTP (they also announced a plan for Flintshire towns and villages in late January).

Overall Deeside looks like an area that might just about support commercial competition between a couple of full fibre rivals, particularly since Virgin Media has skipped it (there’s normally a couple of major gigabit-capable networks targeting most urban and suburban areas) and the prices for People’s Fibre are attractive (e.g. from £30 for 900Mbps). On the other hand Deeside isn’t super dense and so the risk for a new entrant is higher.

Despite this the new ISP has this week announced that they’ve opted to stop their “full fibre” deployment in Deeside due to a seemingly recent and allegedly unexpected announcement from Openreach, which they say has started to deploy their own FTTP in the area (as above, they were already present, but it’s certainly possible that they may have ramped-up in response to People’s Fibre).

People’s Fibre Statement on Deeside

“Over the past few months we’ve been working hard to establish a Full Fibre network in Deeside. But recently, with no announcement, Openreach started to roll out their own network in the area, directly blocking both our progress and investment.

With this new Full Fibre network being deployed in Deeside, our service is no longer needed there, and so unfortunately we are moving to our next area.”

We have seen Openreach use questionable overbuild tactics in the past, although those cases usually involved public investment (a much more controversial issue) and there were sometimes also complications with Open Market Reviews (OMR) by local authorities.

However the issue tends to be less contentious where commercial projects are concerned. Overbuild is a fact of life for any aggressively competitive commercial market, particularly in denser urban areas, and so far the UK Government have been happy to let rivals fight it out. Nevertheless some rivals have previously complained that Openreach’s approach can make it hard to establish themselves in the market.

Leo Chong, Founder & CEO of People’s Fibre, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“As I’m sure you’ve sensed before we’ve been quite secretive with our planned areas due to fears of being overbuilt.

However we’ve been transparent with both Ofcom and Openreach about our plans for the area since October of last year and as you’ve previous article disclosed we even started going door to door around that time taking “pre-orders”. We set ourselves up to be a local fibre company by hiring staff local to the area, relocating our London based staff to the area, getting warehouse space for kit and materials and just before Covid-19 we even put in an offer for retail space on the local high street.

However as we already mentioned in our Code Powers application, our purpose is to serve communities with either no access to full fibre or poorly served areas, which is also an investor promise. It is of our opinion that there was no prior announcement from Openreach about building an FTTP network in this area and when we had established ourselves within the local exchange and had contractors out surveying the area, the entire area all the sudden got swarmed by Openreach and their subcontractors, deploying an unannounced FTTP Network.”

An Openreach Spokesperson said:

“Openreach was created to help promote retail competition across Britain’s telecoms market and takes any allegations of non-competitive behaviour very seriously. We’re currently investigating the claims made by People’s Fibre.

We share the UK Government’s and Ofcom’s view that delivering a future-proofed broadband network across the UK is best achieved through full and free competition between different network providers and the highly regulated Physical Infrastructure Access programme supports this.

We’re determined to deliver a next-generation broadband infrastructure across the UK by providing third parties with access to our existing physical infrastructure, and by accelerating our own FTTP build programme.”

The provider has also put out a related information video (see below), which adds that their deployment was due to “rely on the use of Openreach ducts and poles to install our own fibre” (i.e. the Physical Infrastructure Access project that enables rival ISPs to run their fibre through OR’s ducts etc.). This is a fairly normal thing now for alternative networks to harness, even in some areas where OR’s FTTP is already present.

People’s Fibre have now moved on to target a different location and, perhaps understandably, they aren’t going to say where that is (we’ll most likely spot it at some point). However hopefully they have a plan for dealing with this in the future since the Government does seem to expect that the commercial market will cater for the first 80% or so of premises; overbuild is an inherent risk factor in that.

Meanwhile for Openreach it’s often a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

UPDATE 4:44pm

Added a comment from Openreach above.

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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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52 Responses
  1. Ryan says:

    Come to our town peoples fibre.

    No G Fast, No Virgin, No Altnet – We are here for the taking and our 12-14K houses are ready for you!

    As an aside this is exactly what is wrong with the FTTP deployment – overbuilding and targeting areas that already have coverage and when competition starts they all swam like flies.

    If we really want to increase the national picture then target areas with no 100mbps service – I see people moaning on here about Virgins upload when I don’t even get that down, and we now have to schedule “video call time” with homeschooling and working from home with only 3+ upload

    1. Philip Cheeseman says:

      Or come to my area – remarkably similar size and state (Unless you live near the new forest Ryan?)

    2. Samuel says:

      This is what annoys me with OR and Virgin, etc – they only go for the main cities or areas which already have existing services better than most so they can overbuild.

    3. Ryan says:

      Afraid not Philip not that far off though near Brighton here.

      We have no sign of faster speeds in sight – No G Fast, No FTTP, No altnet, No Virgin.

      It does surprise me that providers seem to think the money is in areas which already have coverage to a superfast service over 100 when some areas are literally here and ready for the taking.

      We have some Virgin boxes at the entrance to town for 2 years now with no movement. The only chance is 5G at this point if the muppets stop burning the masts.

      I hope the situation changes for you soon and if any altnets are reading this we are ready for you here(Hi Peoples Fiber!)

  2. Dean says:

    Geebus!!

    More power to AltNets for targeting piss poor coverage areas, but this just sounds like throwing their toys out of the pram. Surely they went through a Risk Analysis when strategising? And is their business model such a house of cards that OR can blow wind to their plans any given day?

    I smell something fishy. Could it be that they want OR stuck in Deeside while they target a more profitable area?

    Surely they can announce 20-25 Towns and keep OR guessing?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Could it be that they want OR stuck in Deeside while they target a more profitable area? Surely they can announce 20-25 Towns and keep OR guessing?

      Neither sounds like a credible roll-out plan :). You don’t announce places just to keep a rival guessing as you’d then look silly for failing or delaying to deliver (Gigaclear’s case shows how quickly credibility can be lost if you fall short). All commercial altnets have to factor in the risk of overbuild and then you make a judgement about that in your economic model. It’s not easy doing any of this.

    2. Anonymous Coward says:

      And once you tell OR which bits of PIA you’re planning to use (there is a process for this) – OR aren’t guessing any more.

      There is circumstantial evidence that they are using this information anti-competitively, and this announcement adds to that evidence base 🙂

    3. 125us says:

      Dean – I don’t get the anti-competitive bit? If OR build FTTP in a town the people living there then have a choice of lots of ISPs who can use their network. If an independent does it they almost certainly won’t wholesale and so residents have a choice of one provider.

      It’s not anti-competitive to let residents choose from lots of providers instead of just one.

  3. Aled Morris says:

    Should Ofcom take a more proactive role in managing the roll-out of FTTP in the UK?

    Perhaps each BT exchange area could be licensed for FTTP build to a single FTTP provider (OpenReach or an independent) with a requirement that they provide 99% coverage for subscribers in that exchange area within a set timeframe (longer for rural, shorter for urban) or face some kind of penalty.

    Include a requirement for wholesale access to individual connections.

    In return for this monopoly, they would lose the right to set prices. Licencees would have to follow a set pricing model for FTTP connections (modelled on the current OpenReach one perhaps, but subject to review.)

    The current free-for-all is a mess, it’s seems no good allowing providers to cherry pick profitable areas (down to individual blocks of flats) while leaving everyone else unserved.

    And the constant threat of overbuilding by BT (as highlighted in this article) makes investment a huge gamble.

    The current system doesn’t serve consumers or new entrants to the FTTP market – both of whom Ofcom are supposed to be protecting.

    1. James Band says:

      Well said.

    2. CarlT says:

      Requirement to pass 99% of properties. No ability to set own pricing. Mandatory wholesaling. I can see companies literally falling over themselves to provide to many areas on this basis.

      This would obviously reduce overbuild. It would also dramatically reduce build of any kind and leave many unserved.

      Remind me how this went when we had cable franchises again, and even they had far less onerous terms than these.

    3. Jonny says:

      If you want the state to have that much control over what networks get built then the state needs to be the one building the networks.

    4. NE555 says:

      [sarcasm]
      Let’s have OFCOM auction off the rights to build FTTP in the most profitable areas. That will ensure “efficient deployment of capital”.
      [/sarcasm]

    5. AnotherTim says:

      Either the government takes control of the building of networks to ensure full coverage, or it gives up and accepts that large number of properties will never (ever) have fast broadband.
      The BDUK schemes have been good at encouraging companies to build less commercially viable areas, but most are now struggling to finish the job. There isn’t enough current money to complete the rollout, and the future money is too far away, and is likely to be used in ways which don’t achieve full coverage.
      We already have a divided country, with some areas with a choice of ultrafast providers, and other areas with sub-USO as the only option.
      There’s a choice to be made.

    6. Mark Jackson says:

      @AnotherTim. The original £1.7bn BDUK project was only ever intended to achieve “superfast broadband” coverage for 95% the UK (national average), which it did nearly two years ago. All the on-going build beyond that is a bonus and not a negative. Admittedly some areas fell behind, such as Devon and Somerset, but that was down as much to poor local management as anything else.

    7. AnotherTim says:

      @Mark, I wasn’t suggesting it was a negative, just that it can’t complete the job. 14% of the Forest of Dean still doesn’t have any superfast broadband available, and there’s very little 4G coverage.
      When (almost) 1000 properties are passed it is worthy of a press release (one of about 2 a year). Meanwhile in other areas BT are passing four times that A DAY.

    8. CarlT says:

      With you right up until you mentioned a specific area, Tim.

      BDUK was plagued by local issues. Can’t really hold up any one project as a reason to judge the whole lot.

      It did what it was supposed to on time and within budget.

    9. AnotherTim says:

      @CarlT, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying BDUK hasn’t done well – it has largely achieved its objectives – and in many places exceeded them.
      But the current approach is not reducing disparities between areas, it is increasing them.
      Either we accept that (and I think most people would), or we change the model. What I don’t think we should do is pretend that the current approach will give everyone even USO level broadband.

    10. CarlT says:

      Even when about the only FTTP being built in the UK was in rural areas subsidised via BDUK the digital divide was apparently being exacerbated.

      There will always be a divide. It will flex between being more and less acute. That’s just how it is.

      That divide is not an urban and rural one exclusively, some urban areas are still in a bad way.

    11. NGA for all says:

      Mark ..95% is not correct, it was to use the money to go as far as possible – recorded by Gov and BT at 2013 PAC hearings. The budgets included a significant amount of in-fill. There is still close to £1bn within various pots including the capital deferral to complete the job.

    12. NGA for all says:

      Mark, ..the 95% is not correct. All requirements were to take build as far as the money would allow. It is expressed clearly in the 2013 PAC hearings. There is at least £1bn within the existing programme including BT’s capital deferral to complete works.

      It has taken much longer as BT’s commercial rollout was much reduced (only 49k first time cabinets according to Ofcom WLA modelling in 2017) as the subsidies were diverted to completing urban. Hence the importance of monitoring the capital payments and turning around the clawback.

      BDUK work has survived the gaming of costs and capital, and now have a huge upside. >500k FTTP in rural so far (including Cornwall), a good lasting legacy, but room to do another 600k-700k by 2026 ..a new project end date it appears. Regional procurements needed to complete works outstanding.
      A white paper is needed from BT on how far the Capital Deferral could stretch coverage.

    13. Mark Jackson says:

      @NGA. Yes but the official political target, which is what I was clearly referencing since there were no other solid ones, was set at 95% and they announced having achieved that in 2018. No official targets were set for beyond that, it was.. as you say.. to push as far as they can go. I said this already above.

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/01/government-hails-95-uk-coverage-24mbps-superfast-broadband.html

    14. NGA for all says:

      Mark, .. 2018 became the new 2015. The upside possible is huge, already OR have included 40 rural exchanges in their full fibre programme. The criteria for inclusion would be interesting as no new public funding will be needed for completing a full fibre build in places like Crostwhaite, Catforth etc. It suggests the BDUK work will have contributed to many rural areas crossing the threshold for full fibre transition activity.

      The delays have been a function of the gaming of costs and capital at the expense of employing more people to do a more complete job.

    15. The Facts says:

      @NGA – where is your court case to sort all this out?

    16. 125us says:

      The independent networks pretty much only make a return by being vertically integrated and making a return off the whole piece. If they have to wholesale to other ISPs their business cases will fall apart and they won’t do it. Their investors want a return, they’re not running a charity.

    17. NE555 says:

      @125us:

      > The independent networks pretty much only make a return by being vertically integrated and making a return off the whole piece. If they have to wholesale to other ISPs their business cases will fall apart and they won’t do it.

      Not true: CityFibre is a wholesale-only network. Vodafone is the initial retail partner, but their exclusivity is time limited.

  4. Sunil Sood says:

    Don’t Openreach provide advance notice of their build out plans via https://www.openreach.com/transparency

    The only change im aware of is the increase in the long term OR FTTP coverage target

    1. Neb says:

      Openreach can build rural unannounced… and announcements (as far as I’m aware) only apply to urban settings. Think Deeside was classed as rural?

    2. Mike says:

      @Neb Deeside is hardly Rural, its got a massive industrial estate close by.
      also thanks for the mention about bring this all to your attention @ispreview!
      hopefully BT will actually start to accept orders for FTTP shortly. i live REALLY close to teh actual exchange building and i know mine and the adjacent street have had pole / duct work over the last couple of weeks. just a case of how expensive its going to be compared to PF ( i`m expecting double the price for half the speed ( if we`re lucky)

    3. Jonathan says:

      Openreach have been revisiting housing estates built recently that didn’t get FTTP when originally built. The ducting is likely to be relatively free of blockages so it’s low hanging fruit and there are no announcement about it.

  5. Thomas Bibb says:

    What we have seen (Exascale), using PIA a lot of the BT ducts are at capacity, damaged or collapsed. They’re going to have to do a lot of civils work to meet their targets.

    1. A_Builder says:

      The problem is the, often unused, historical cables that are in them that OR won’t pull out for fear of damaging other things.

  6. FibreBubble says:

    In order to be ‘overbuilt’ you have to have ‘built’ something.

  7. Tom says:

    I agree , nothing has been put in the ground by them yet, after months of waiting yet openreach are blanketing the area, not bothered who puts it in ground here just as long as a future proof service is on it’s way

  8. Oggy says:

    Oh well.

    They obviously didn’t believe in the product and service they were planning to supply.

    I wonder if they’ve ran out of money and went someone else to blame?

  9. CarlT says:

    I must admit some cynicism when it comes to a provider building on commercial terms and offering a gigabit for £30 a month.

    Only reason B4RN can get near that is the free labour and mutual, cooperative, non-profit nature of their operation.

    I gladly accept correction as I’m not an expert but I expect those plugging the gaps where larger providers aren’t building to charge more.

    See Gigaclear and Zzoomm.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      £30 then £60 after 12 months.

  10. Mirek says:

    VirginMedia 3 years ago, in my town has done something even worse. They laid pipes under the streets, sidewalks, to the houses themselves, all distribution boards and moved elsewhere. They didn’t lay a single cable. Why? So no one else wants to invest. There is no high-speed Internet, because nobody wants to, knowing that at the first press release, VirginMedia will start pulling the cables. It’s not fair competition, where can I report it? This is deliberately blocking investment for other Internet providers.

    1. Chris Sayers says:

      Simple solution to this, a change in ofcom rules, lay cable within 1 year, if not loose ownership, that inferstucture reverts to ofcom, can then be auctioned off, and funds reallocated.

    2. 125us says:

      I’m not sure that’s a simple solution Chris, it would come with all kinds of unexpected consequences, the primary one being that it becomes much less risky to use Openreach’s PIA than build your own network.

      Objections from residents, delays in road closures, subcontractor failures, unexpected terrain difficulties would all see someone else pick up the assets you built for a penny in the pound. You’d be creating a massive disincentive for anyone to build network. If a developer plans to build a housing estate and the project time is greater than a year, no network provider would touch it with a bargepole.

    3. CarlT says:

      I seriously, seriously doubt they are leaving it empty for fun.

      They just spent £600 per premises on civil engineering work. They aren’t leaving it there on the off-chance someone else makes an announcement at which point they sweep in and blow the cables.

      There is a problem there somewhere if they haven’t made that live. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands if not millions and are getting absolutely no return on that investment.

      I can absolutely assure you they aren’t simply leaving the stuff empty because they want to. There is something very wrong preventing them connecting that stuff to the rest of the network.

      The most likely course of events for me is that they can’t get it connected to the rest of the network and, without that, there’s no point in blowing the fibre in.

      Whichever they most definitely aren’t leaving it empty waiting for someone else to consider building there. They could have the same effect while making money back.

    4. FibreBubble says:

      Simple solution, apply PIA duct sharing to Virgin’s assets.

    5. Roger_Gooner says:

      Simple like how ISPs found access to OR’s PIA?

    6. Mirek says:

      ### OMG ###
      The Virgin company came back and started laying cables!
      I think it’s between the main switchboards for now.
      Who knows when the Internet may be available to the public.

    7. Mirek says:

      In fact, even in VirginMedia they don’t know when and if there will be any internet in my town. Maybe it’s just marking the area for later.

  11. Nope says:

    Looks like they just discovered the challenges of building a network, absolute logistical nightmare, costs a fortune and is really hard to carry out efficiently, blaming it on openreach is a poor show

  12. Mr Ultrafast says:

    If you need to rely on a monopoly in order to have a successful business then there is something wrong. Some towns and cities have three or more operators.

    Should be room in most towns and cities for Openreach plus one other operator.
    Peoples fibre obviously don’t have much faith in their own service if they cut and run so easily.

    I suspect this is more a case of lack of funding hiding behind the usual tactic of blaming Openreach.

    Openreach simply do not have the money or capacity to build everywhere. So should still be plenty of opportunities to build in the UK for altnets.

  13. Peter Robinson says:

    Peoples Fibre did all the surveys on the existing ducts to check condition and capacity in our area of Deeside. Their engineers confirmed that their fibre rollout would be underground to premises. It was only then that Openreach quickly started to install telegraph poles to carry their system above ground and claim the area. We the residents are against this method of delivery as we consider it to be a backward step considering all our services are underground and have been for the last 50 years. Openreach are completely intransigent on this point with their only consideration being cost.

    1. Graham says:

      So that’s why, all of a sudden, someone put up a telegraph pole at the end of my road! I heard the bloke whose house it was place in front of wasn’t too pleased. Explains a lot.

    2. Mike says:

      That`s incorrect. They`ve since updated the website but it was stated on there that they would use duct`s AND poles where an underground build would not be viable.And in most cases the last part would be from a Pole to save digging up people`s gardens. There was a woman on facebook moaning about having a new pole near her house as she thought it would devalue it. I disagree, if th epole is hte last part to getting UF to that ( and surrounding houses ) it would increase the value beacuse of the access to Ultrafast.

      Does anyone still following this thread know if there are any ISP`s taking UF orders yet? BT currently are not.

  14. Lloyd F says:

    Ofcom wants to promote choice for the consumer. This is to be applauded.

    However, if the major ISPs continue to refuse to use the new networks that are being built by the many Independent Operators (under the argument it is too costly to integrate their systems with other providers in addition to Openreach) then such consumer choice is always going to be conditional on it being the choice ‘as offered over the Openreach network’, and as such not a ‘fair fight’ when Independent Network operators can’t offer the National ISPs products.

    Incentivising BT/Openreach to build FTTP via the application of remedies (that could even give the ISPs a larger margin over an Openreach network) as currently being considered, could have the direct effect of encouraging the ISPs further away from using Independent Networks, stifling the market and ultimately limiting choice for the consumer.

    Ofcom engaging and encouraging national ISPs to use Independent Networks where available would be gamechanger. A common wholesale platform (as is being developed now by the Independent Network industry) will offer the National ISPs a single point of integration for their systems, taking away their previous concerns about costs of integration…

  15. Craig says:

    Well almost 6 months on from Peoples Fibre departure openreach has yet to open up orders for FTTP, so I definitely think PF missed a big opportunity here scene as they had already began investigation and deployment.

    I also see from their website that they are still in the devolpment phase in their new area.

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