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Anger Over Netomnia’s Use of Telegraph Poles in UK FTTP Builds UPDATE

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 (10:44 am) - Score 9,120
Netomnia Engineer up Telegraph Pole

Netomnia, which is working to make their 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP network available to 1 million UK premises by 2024 (here and here), are facing complaints in a number of their build areas after residents began objecting to the erection of new telegraph poles “without their knowledge or consent.”

So far the operator, which is supported by civil engineering firms Light Source and MAP Group (UK), is known to have committed an initial investment of £150m to cover 14 towns (c.500,000 premises), with work having already begun in quite a few of those (Peterlee, Spennymoor and Durham etc.).

Once live, customers in these locations – via ISP YouFibre – will typically pay from £22 per month (currently discounted to £20) on an 18-month term for their unlimited 50Mbps package, which rises to £50 if you want their top 900Mbps plan. Suffice to say that you’d think people would be more than happy with all this, after all, who doesn’t want access to a full fibre network? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Over the past few months we’ve received a steady string of complaints concerning Netomnia‘s use of telegraph poles in their UK rollout. Most of those gripes centre on how unattractive they are, as well as whether they were even necessary (as opposed to underground deployments) and the fact that they often appeared without the locals “knowledge or consent.” A few example gripes can be found below from different areas.

Sample Complaint 1

“Peterlee as a new town developed after the Second World War planned with tree-lined open green spaces. In keeping with this concept, Peterlee Development Corporation held that all telecommunications cabling would be underground to maintain the town’s aesthetic.

Those who had the concept and planned Peterlee from 1946 viewed the timber poles common in the surrounding mining villages as outdated technology. After 75 years, it is disappointing that Netomnia believes such infrastructure is acceptable in 2021. While superfast broadband is welcome, I would question why Netomnia has chosen to deliver the service via timber poles in Peterlee while providing the service via underground cabling in other areas.

There is strong public opposition to these poles, which are considered as little more than an act of vandalism against the community.”

Sample Complaint 2

“The estate I live on is currently in the middle of fibre rollout but the company carrying out the work Netomnia is not working in accordance with code of practice … We are being threatened that if we don’t let them install fibre we will in 2027 be without broadband.

In addition, the infrastructure is being built on creosote soaked poles that are weeping given that creosote was banned for domestic use in 2002 and initially scheduled to be banned for industrial use in March 2021 but has now been extended to October 2021.”

Sample Complaint 3

“Netomania have started to erect hideous 12 metre high wooden poles in our street as preparation for the new Youfibre broadband installation. No consultation was carried out with the residents and when asked whether the wires would all be underground, a company employee said categorically that this would be the case. We are all flabbergasted at the height and general appearance of the poles and are trying to find how this operation can be stopped.”

Many of the complaints come from residents in Peterlee, although the network builder was also asked to attend a council meeting in Spennymoor last night after residents there allegedly made similar complaints to the local authority. A video of that meeting does exist (see below – the operator’s local rep speaks from just after the 2:40 mark), but the audio is of such poor quality that it’s hard to make out what is actually being said.

At this point it’s worth saying that gripes about the installation of telegraph poles (call them broadband poles, or just.. poles, if you prefer) are nothing new, especially when they’re erected in areas where residents have previously enjoyed the unseen visual benefits of underground infrastructure. Openreach in particular have often run into similar issues (here and here), as have Airband (here), when building fibre.

Sadly, such poles aren’t particularly attractive and they’re much more noticeable than those green street cabinets, although at the same time they are a fairly common sight across much of the UK. Likewise, if you’ve grown up with them on your street then you tend not to notice their impact so much, and in our experience, they rarely harm local property values (partly because so many people are familiar with seeing them).

Poles can also be deployed under Permitted Development (PD) rights, which means that they don’t have to go through the usual planning permissions process and can often pop up quite quickly, often without residents getting much of a say in the matter. Operators tend to use this where underground fibre would, for whatever reason (blocked, damaged or full ducts etc.), become too expensive, but that does depend upon lots of factors.

The operator won’t be installing poles just to irritate the community, it will almost always be for cost reasons, because in that area it makes sense to them. If the costs are pushed up too high, then the deployment may become economically unviable. In short, sometimes poles can make the difference between an area getting full fibre broadband or being left to wait years longer. Some people may be happy with that outcome, but others won’t.

A Netomnia Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Netomnia is committed to providing gigabit full-fibre to everybody where we are building networks and we continually review how we do this, sensitively, as we continue construction. We follow the Openreach deployment method, where they are ducts we use ducts, where there are poles we use poles. Unfortunately a significant amount of the network has been ‘direct buried’ and therefore requires extensive amounts of construction work to deliver fibre, and it is not always viable to carry this out compared with providing overhead infrastructure.

With regard to the Spennymoor meeting there appears to be some confusion. We were invited by Spennymoor Town Council to attend a town council meeting as an opportunity for us to introduce Netomnia and the benefits that we are bringing to the area. Poles were mot mentioned in that invitation and, indeed, we have not received any objections to poles from that area. We will discuss this with the council.”

At this point it’s worth saying that, for all the complaints from those who don’t like them, you can often find plenty of people who would be more than happy to accept the deployment of new poles if it meant gaining access to a full fibre broadband network. Plenty of surveys have indicated that gaining access to FTTP is likely to improve local house prices, although this does remain quite a subjective topic.

At the end of the day this remains a tricky subject for some communities, but over the next few years the UK will see many more poles being erected to help spread FTTP. Some will welcome this, while others will clearly hate it.

Would you accept poles to get FTTP, if the alternative meant having to wait years longer for the service?

  • Yes (71%, 464 Votes)
  • No (24%, 160 Votes)
  • Undecided (5%, 33 Votes)

Total Voters: 657

UPDATE 11:48am

Added Netomnia’s comment above.

Leave a Comment
53 Responses
  1. Barney says:

    Please stop rolling out FTTP in this area and focus on areas like mine that are semi-rural and are crying out for better provision!

    1. Sam P says:

      They need to get a large volume of customers onboard first before they can splash out millions on areas where they only may pick up a handful of customers. Sam

    2. Matt says:

      Yeah if there going to bitch and mone then just focus on other areas like get my area done quicker they can erect 200 poles here I wouldn’t give a s***

  2. Phil Scott says:

    If the area has no poles currently then it’s bound to upset residents when they arrive home one evening with a huge 9-12m pole outside their house. The telecom firms should be using existing Openreach infrastructure (ducts already in the ground) which will surely be there if no poles are present now. If poles have been there for years then other operators should share them. Residents will need to get together and speak to their local ward councillor to oppose this as the operators have been granted code powers to build their networks. The local authority highways department owns the footways and they give permits to plant these poles.

    1. Dave says:

      As noted in this and previous articles many areas are running into problems with the underground ducts being full already, or cabling laid directly in the ground which would require noisy expensive re-trenching to replace.

    2. Fastman says:

      phill

      Unfortunately a significant amount of the network has been ‘direct buried’

      this means no ducts

    3. Taskmaster says:

      The Highways departments that issue ‘permits’ for works are for the coordination of civil works on the public highway.

      Highway (Street works) Permits are NOT permission for telegraph poles (masts, cabinets or other telecoms equipment) as under the Code Powers from OFCOM, utilities have the right to install (and maintain) apparatus in the public highway.

      Planning Permission in most cases is also not required as it falls under Permitted Development (as per this article). It’s not the Highways or Planning departments at the authorities that have given permission or not told residents of this as it’s all come from further up by OFCOM under rules that were either already in exitance or even relaxed years ago to allow for such fibre rollouts.

  3. Benjamin Daniel says:

    Telecom operators should carry out door to door canvassing to determine the percentage of residents who would oppose the erection of these poles in all areas or at least alert residents a few weeks prior to planting one to avoid the sudden shock of one appearing outside ones house. I’d guess that the majority of complaints are more due to not being consulted or made aware in the first place. Residents are a major stakeholder in these kind of projects and need to be considered and included in the planning phase.

    1. John says:

      Why should they canvas every single door?
      Your don’t own the view from your window.

      I could understand wanting the rules changed so that planning permission was a requirement for telegraph pole but to expect them to do door to door canvassing for every single property is just absurd.

      How many people are going to answer their door and say yes I would love a telegraph pole plonked outside?
      Very few if any.

      I’m of the opinion that where possible telecoms should be buried.
      Sometimes that isn’t possible though and progress shouldn’t be halted just because someone doesn’t like the view.

      It’s usually the same people who complain that the pavement has been dug up to install telecoms.

      You can’t please everyone.
      Others just complain at anything.

    2. New_Londoner says:

      If residents want to know more about future works then they should pay attention to streetworks notices as this is the required method for companies to advise the highways authority of their plans – in most cases planning consent is not needed. Personally I don’t see a problem with poles, the fibre to my own home being delivered this way.

    3. Matt says:

      Why should thay your only standing in the way of progress

  4. Bob says:

    Some people eh?

    It’s not as if poles aren’t common place anyway. Granted, there may not be existing telegraph poles there, but chances are there are other utility or lighting infrastructure there surely?

  5. Phil says:

    I would object as well. All new developments have ducting and underground services for a reason, aesthetically it is more pleasing, the infrastructure is less likely to get damaged, and it is safer and easier to maintain infrastructure at ground level. If an area already benefits from underground services then adding poles is at odds to that and a detriment to the area. Not everyone wants or needs the speeds provided by FTTP, so why should they suffer the negative impacts?

    The trouble is these days many people don’t care about where they live or what it looks like, they’d rather be glued to a screen, seldom looking up.

    1. Fastman says:

      so phll for atguements sake it costs says 30k with poles or 100k because its all buried are you funding the difference ?

      the where you get build or no build

    2. Phil says:

      So @Fastman, for arguments sake it costs £30K to put new poles in and £5K just to lay the fibre along the pavements and across the road with some anti-trip mats over them for cars to bump over day in day out. So are you going to fund the difference? Of course you are, things need to be done properly and that costs money. Going for a cheap install so they can make their shareholders more profit at the detriment to people that live there, no, should not be allowed. Do it properly or not at all. Why do you think there are building regulations, because it stops developers cutting costs more than they already do by preventing outdated or shoddy building practices, well those rules need to catch up with broadband infrastructure. Poles are outdated, they are dangerous, and wouldn’t be used on a new build estate, so why accept them being added after the fact?

    3. NW London Person says:

      Phil – in the case mentioned cable is directly buried.

      There are no ducts to allow new cable to be pulled.

  6. Sam P says:

    Just let them get on with it. Upset a pole is going up? It’s pretty pathetic really.

  7. Matthew Jones says:

    I’m pre-ordered and waiting for the Barrow-in-Furness rollout to go live, and they can stick a 20 foot pole bang center of my front garden if it meant I’d get it quicker.

  8. Michael V says:

    People want better connectivity but don’t want the infrastructure. They make me laugh.
    Sometimes underground isn’t a suitable option. Plus they will probably complain about the digging up of roads & pavements.
    There’s nothing wrong with having a wood telephone pole put up.
    Even if they were notified they would have kicked up a fuss, so it would have been the same story whatever.
    But yes, the ISP should have made residents aware that they were going to put up new poles.

  9. Steven Brown says:

    Quiet comical that such am area would complain

  10. Yatta! says:

    The permanently aggrieved NIMBYs will moan about anything, it’s their favourite pastime. They’re the original Karens.

    1. Phil says:

      It’s people that moan that get things happening. Many communities have moaned about the lack of broadband to get it installed. Just because they are moaning about something you don’t care about doesn’t mean their views are not valid. I’m pretty certain you’d be the first to moan when your overhead wires get cut by a tree, come down in windy weather or a car drives into a pole cutting you off for days or weeks, yet your neighbours still on good old xDSL or Openreach FTTP all safe underground carry on regardless.

    2. 125us says:

      Cabinets get hit far more often than poles Phil.

    3. Yatta! says:

      Spotted one of the permanently aggrieved @Phil

    4. Phil says:

      I don’t live there and already have FTTP, it was done properly by Openreach and all ducted safely and secure underground.

  11. Chris Sayers says:

    So what, don’t have a pole, don’t have broadband, as long as they are situated in position that don’t interfere with access, ie across driveways also allows dropped kerbs and the installation of off street parking, then tough, poles are here to stay.

    I voted yes to “Would you accept poles to get FTTP, if the alternative meant having to wait years longer for the service?”

    Be realistic, depending on geological circumstances, trenching may not be possible.

    1. Phil says:

      Since when has a new pole been a requirement for broadband, it isn’t one or the other? If trenching isn’t possible then other services would be overhead on poles already and no one would mind. These poles are appearing because it is cheaper to install at the detriment of an area that otherwise isn’t littered with overhead wires and poles.

  12. Optimist says:

    The telecom poles my street are very unsightly, although those whose ISP is VM, such as myself, are connected by underground cables.

    Sometimes I feel the urge to go out in the small hours with a chainsaw and chop down all these wretched poles. On the other hand should all those affected switch to VM as a consequence my service would probably degrade, so I won’t!

    1. dave says:

      You sound pretty selfish tbh.

    2. Jack says:

      VM isn’t all sunshine as you believe… wait until you have a problem with them.
      .

  13. Power to the People says:

    I think it is crazy in this day and age that we are putting up new poles. They will degrade over time and are not great from h&s point of view. Today everything should be ducted and underground. It might cost more but over the longer term it is a better investment.

    1. 125us says:

      That’s fine as long as you’re willing to pay more and wait longer for better broadband.

    2. Fastman says:

      Power i assume you offerting to fund the substantial difference then between ducted and Poles where its currently Direct in Grounds as the difference is thousands of pounds and in cases 10 of thousands of pounds difference

    3. Brian says:

      The lifespan of poles can be quite some time. Our electricity supply is from a transformer fed with 11kV lines on wooden poles, 2 years ago they replaced the poles that were put up in 1956.

  14. Meadmodj says:

    Putting in a new pole is not cheap and creates a long term liability.

    CityFibre are utilising OR Poles where they exist (their own duct) and channel microduct to toby boxes where they don’t. Presumably it costs in for them. Utilising existing poles makes sense but the difference between a new pole and microducting to toby boxes outside each premise has to be smaller.

    Lots of FTTP providers are flocking to OR poles (own duct or PIA) as it lowers the risk regarding market share (which premises will actually order their service). Therefore it must this driving Netomnia to install new poles but I can see issues if its their only approach.

  15. PhilipSmith72 says:

    It’s not as if Peterlee is a shining example of 70’s architecture and a paragon of the New Town approach, you could say it is scenically challenged and that is being polite.They are lucky to be getting fttp, yet you will always have nimby’s complaining about something.

    1. Phil says:

      Perhaps that is why some people don’t want it making worse with extra street furniture?

  16. FibreBubble says:

    The future should be built properly.

  17. Gary says:

    I agree with the residents. If poles were not originally installed they should never be installed (unless for some very obscure reason where the road /path cannot physically be disturbed).

    Do it right or not at all in my opinion.

    Poles are an eyesore wherever they are, it’s simply a bodge to save money. I’d say keep on complaining as you’ll be putting up with them for 50+ years if not.

  18. James says:

    I am due to have openreach fttp by 2024 and I’m scared that openreach will install more poles. My supply currently is overhead but I would love for it to be underground as a tree has snapped my landline twice. What would they do?

    1. John says:

      If it’s currently an overhead feed then any future OpenReach FTTP will come via the same poles.

    2. James says:

      That’s annoying. My current telegraph pole is very far away so often Saggs. I wish openreach would underground everything.

    3. Leex says:

      If you want it you can pay the money to have it done underground

      Overhead is significantly cheaper to do and easier to deploy and fix when there’s problems and you don’t have to dig up the property owner land witch can have its own complications

    4. Phil says:

      Overhead isn’t easier to fix in many cases (main roads, poles become unsafe to climb). Underground cable requires less fixing as it’s protected from the elements and doesn’t have to support its own weight over spans of tens of metres. It doesn’t get cut by trees or end up having a pair of shoes hanging over it 🙂

  19. Jonesey says:

    When I joined Post Office Telephones in 1972 as an apprentice I was told on my first day they are not telegraph poles, they are telephone poles. After 49 years I’ve long given up, maybe broadband poles will catch on!

  20. Goodfellow says:

    My Dutch colleagues can’t believe it when they see telecoms, let alone electricity delivered overhead from poles!
    I personally advocate UG provision should be the default wherever possible, regardless of the current situation in urban and suburban deployments. VM’s predecessors managed it, installed properly the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) levels out eventually, if the bean counters that run most UK companies looked past 5 years, let alone the limited life of a wooden pole, as more wood preservative chemicals are outlawed they may have to!

    Many cable operators massively over specified duct capacity during the build boom of the 80’s and 90’s. I just wish VM would launch a PIA product of their own, I have no desire to use their outdated DOCSIS based infrastructure (or anyone that might be reselling over it in future) but if a decent altnet popped up that would shove a fibre up their ducts I’d jump at the chance to take their service and have the overhead wire to my house removed.

  21. Damien says:

    Can’t dig the roads – they whinge!
    Can’t use the poles – they whinge!

    Jesus… some people..

    1. Fastman says:

      yep

    2. Phil says:

      The problem is these poles are new, all other services are underground. Poles are old fashioned and seen as unsightly by many people, so some people will object, that is their right. Whether it is listened to or not is another matter. Life doesn’t revolve around a desperation to get 1Gbps fibre broadband for everyone. Be open minded and see things from other people point of view.

  22. Sussex Fibre says:

    The reason they will be putting up new poles is it is massively cheaper than putting in duct, it’s likely the area is covered by direct in ground cables. The company should be putting in a 28 day notice somewhere near where the pole is to be installed, where residents can write to appeal the new pole. Ultimately if it costs too much for the CP then they will not be getting a service!

  23. GiantSpider says:

    The issue with Peterlee in particular (as has been pointed out above) is that in the original bits of the town built after the war, there are no ducts or poles, the cables were just buried. In newer parts of the town (where I’m fortunate to live) there are ducts.

    When netomnia/youfibre launched, the sales team were just giving people random install dates. If your install was relatively straightforward (because there were ducts) you’d probably get connected around the date you were told. If it wasn’t straightforward, because they had to dig up several streets to lay new ducts etc, people weren’t being kept informed of the issues and the realistic timeframe for resolution. Often going without internet because they’d cancelled their existing supplier in good faith.

    Naturally they were getting slaughtered for this on social media and the costs must have been very high. Hence, they decided to switch to poles, but clearly, you can’t please everyone.

    Fundamentally, if the issue with the NIMBYs can’t be resolved, half the town will be stuck with FTTC for the foreseeable future (and my speeds on FTTC maxed out at around 50Mbps given the distance to the cabinet) further perpetuating a “them/us” situation.

    1. JohnDoeSoMyHouseDoesNotGetBurntDown says:

      I’m on an estate where the cables are buried under ground. I signed up over 12 month ago. I’m still waiting, with no date in sight because others on the estate have kicked up a stink about the telephone poles.

      I just don’t understand the issue. Peterlee is a bit of a dump, the new telephones poles will bring some much needed improvement to the area in my opinion.

  24. GamingPrincessLuna says:

    I’d say the b*s***ds are lucky, when we got fibre in our area we only got poxy fibre to the cabinet. I wish whoever did my area had the idea to use the old copper telepoles we already have to deploy fibre to the premises, gigabit internet would be a dream. And it’s only 10 quid more expensive than what I pay sky now for a 20th of the speed.

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