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Toob’s Broadband Poles Cause Annoyance in Surrey UK Again UPDATE

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022 (4:46 pm) - Score 3,648
toob engineers meeting 2021

Residents in the Camberley and Frimley areas of Surrey have complained of an “eyesore” and raised other concerns after UK ISP Toob began deploying new telegraph polesin the area, which are being used to serve local premises with their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband network.

Such complaints, as this time aired through the BBC and Get Surrey, are sadly fairly familiar on these pages and include gripes about the fact that the poles often appear without residents being given any prior notice. Not to mention concerns that the new infrastructure could have a negative impact upon local house prices.

NOTE: We realise that “telegraph poles” is a description that doesn’t strictly match today’s use of the structures. But the reason we use it is that saying “poles” is very generic (can be confused with other things) and isn’t as immediately familiar.

Just to recap. Toob, which is being supported by £162.5m of investment from the Amber Infrastructure Group and the Sequoia Economic Infrastructure Income Fund, plans to cover 1 million premises across the South of England by 2027. But so far they’ve been most active in some of the cities and towns around Hampshire and Surrey (e.g. Southampton, Aldershot, Eastleigh, Chandler’s Ford, Ash, Farnborough, Woking etc.).

Like a lot of network operators, Toob is also deploying plenty of wooden poles to carry their overhead fibre, as well as some underground infrastructure. However, such poles have a tendency to divide public opinion when they’re erected (examples here, here, here and here) and, as a result, they remain one of the least loved pieces of modern broadband and phone infrastructure (not unlike mobile masts).

As one local, Paul Reynolds, in the Surrey area complained: “How can this be allowed without consultation with residents? There are already underground ducts along the street used by BT and by Virgin so there is no logic in fitting poles.” But Virgin Media (VMO2) does not have to make their ducts available to rivals, while Openreach’s (BT) ducts may not be suitable due to other reasons (space etc.).

Sometimes the cost of going underground would simply be too high for a build to be viable, which is where poles come in. Such poles are typically built using Permitted Development (PD) rights, which means they don’t have to go through the usual planning process and can pop up quite quickly, often without residents getting much of a say, which adds to the frustrations of those who oppose them.

However, poles are a very common sight across much of the UK, and you can find plenty of people who would be more than happy to accept their deployment if it meant gaining access to a full fibre network. Likewise, there seems to be no shortage of studies claiming to show how the provision of faster broadband tends to result in house values going up, rather than down.

Last year we asked 657 of our readers whether they would accept poles to get FTTP, if the alternative meant having to wait years longer for the service. Some 71% replied in the affirmative. However, we’re also keen to understand more about how people perceive poles when buying a new house, which is covered in today’s snap poll.

If you were looking to buy a new house, would the existence of telegraph poles to carry FTTP broadband in the street outside be a major negative factor in your decision?

  • No (77%, 301 Votes)
  • Yes (19%, 74 Votes)
  • Unsure (5%, 18 Votes)

Total Voters: 393

Admittedly, this whole debate may be lost on those who have lived with poles for years, since many of those individuals wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at them when looking for a new house. Having said that, it might be a different story if one was directly obstructing the view from a key window, but experiences and personal preferences do vary.

UPDATE 7th July 2022

Toob has informed us that they re-use as much of the existing Openreach infrastructure as possible (ducts and poles), but where this is not possible then they will build their own. For example, there are a number of areas within Frimley that have no Openreach poles or ducts that they can re-use.

A spokesperson for toob said:

“When we designed the network here, we deemed that new poles would be the most viable solution. To inform residents of these new poles, we placed notices on lamp-posts, and we were going to follow up with a letter.

However we had clear indication from these areas that new poles would not be acceptable to the local community and, as a result, we decided to hold meetings with residents to explain our plans and to gain their thoughts. Following their feedback, we have placed the pole deployment on hold in roads where there are no poles in Frimley.

Elsewhere, we continue to deploy new poles where appropriate, providing access to our full fibre network and allowing customers to benefit from our service, 900Mbps for £25 on an 18 month contract.”

The tricky part above is that if a community broadly rejects poles, then that can often significantly delay the local rollout of full fibre or cancel it altogether, as it may not be economically viable for the operator to dig new underground infrastructure.

Similarly, deploying new trenches is a significantly slower and much more disruptive type of civil engineering, which can create all sorts of different problems for residents (e.g. noise, road disruption, restrictions to property access, safety etc.).

Some residents will always welcome the rejection of new infrastructure work, but others who want it will effectively be punished by those who cannot yet see the future benefits. At the end of the day, a brief period of collective disruption is often a small price to pay for gaining access to the many benefits of a new full fibre network.

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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.
Leave a Comment
20 Responses
  1. james smith says:

    If a street light in front of my main window is a fair comparison, yes it is there but I don’t kill my self with stress over it. Where I used to live there was a bus stop under my window, the noise of the bus engine while silver tops ‘tried to remember where they had put their bus pass’ was more anoying because the stop on the other side of the road was quite close too. Posts of any sort are at least seen and not heard

  2. crazyuk says:

    How is it these poles get the go ahead with all the overhead cables? yet ThreeUK struggling to get planning for masts ? This country eh

    1. Mike says:

      Anti 5G nut jobs are more organised.

  3. Jack says:

    It’s amazing they are saying the poles will put children at risk because parents won’t be able to park anymore to drop off / collect.

    Usually residents complain about parents doing exactly that.

  4. plunet says:

    Part of the problem is that there’s usually no prior notice given to residents that the poles are coming, and when they arrive there’s no realisation that they’re going to help bring their street into the 21st century for connectivity. Whilst they are permitted development some common sense to inform the neighbourhood before and solicit some feedback would go a long way, but as we all know Telco companies, despite enabling communications are terrible at communicating themselves.

    1. David says:

      When Openreach and CityFibre were building FTTP in my area if they needed to erect a new telegraph pole they posted a notice on the nearest lamp post or existing pole a few weeks before with contact details for any concerns.

  5. plunet says:

    I suggest there is a difference between a statutory notice that is a legal requirement and doesn’t really explain what the end game is and something that is understandable by the general public.

  6. MrLuke says:

    If there are already poles then no issues. Only issues would be if a street had none but already had services from virgin and open reach. Is just seen as a cost cutting exercise to get the job done as cheaply as possible. If the other company’s spent the money to do the job with least impact to the above environment then a precedent has been set. Why should a company effectively cut corners to save money and then undercut the competion who did the job to a better standard.

    1. 125us says:

      Because broadband is bought on price. If a supplier can find a way to reduce cost they can sell at a lower price. It’s the very essence of competition.

      The alternative isn’t for the company to build ducts instead, they’ll just go and find a different town or street to install their infrastructure.

    2. Gary H says:

      125us, You didn’t really answer MRLuke in your ‘answer’, The question was why should we just allow one operator to impose poles on a neighbourhood when others ducted. Because its cheaper and provides service competition really isn’t really the answer to ‘Why should we allow it’

      Planners decline lots of applications due to the application being out of character, intrusive, unsightly and plenty of unfathomable reasons Permitted Development rides roughshod over this, simply claiming ‘Its For Your Own Good’ isn’t good enough.

  7. FibreBubble says:

    The future should be buried properly in ducts.

    Toob’s poles have the added disadvantage of nobody else being allowed to use them. So when they get overbuilt by another cash rich altnet you could easily end up with another row of them.

  8. Chris says:

    Interesting that they thought it would be acceptable to install poles where there previously where none.

    VM should be made to share their ducts, the public paid for them through the debts VM accrued via its predecessors and thusly reduced their tax liabilities etc etc.

    1. An Engineer says:

      ‘VM should be made to share their ducts, the public paid for them through the debts VM accrued via its predecessors and thusly reduced their tax liabilities etc etc.’

      Legitimately paying less tax due to accrued losses isn’t public subsidy. It’s not even tax avoidance it’s basic accounting.

      I claim a few small tax reliefs when I fill out my self-assessment for charitable contributions, working from home allowance and the like. Should I feel subsidised? If I’m honest looking at my P60 I’m pretty sure I’m more than paying my share.

  9. Disgruntled of Dankshire says:

    Well Surreyites, tell Toobs to come to Dankshire, home of SuperSlow broadband. We would love the poles as we can tie our sheep & cows to them as well as being able to watch Netflix instead of Net-Net-Netflix. Still Evog has promised to level it all up soon. (oh I forgot, the Very Expensive Train Set has been cancelled, silly me, still we have Stephenson’s Rocket)

  10. TimF says:

    Some points to consider IMHO :
    – New electric & telecoms utilities should go underground where possible
    – If there are no poles, then FTTP should go underground, not overhead.
    – If there are already poles then overhead is an option.
    – Local residents should have a say (via planning consent) on new poles.
    – Any poles should be usable by other telecoms services if needed.

    1. fred says:

      All very idealistic, but forcing services to be underground does increase costs and disrupts residents gardens. There already is planning consent for poles via permitted development. And there is no mandate for infrastructure sharing unless it’s Openreach owned.

    2. James Brown says:

      The fibre is going to be around for 50 years. It warrants the upfront investment in ducting IMHO. In this case Toob are offering a low cost product, but the market in the area wants a premium product with ducting.

  11. John says:

    Posh snobs will always boggle my mind, I don’t know how they care so much. I’ve had one outside my home for as long as I remember and never cared about it, nor does any other people I ask.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      I’ve not seen anything at all to suggest that complaints like this only, or even predominantly, extend from “posh snobs”. The gripes seem to come from all sorts of areas and demographics. Inverted snobbery isn’t going to solve this one.

  12. Don says:

    These proposed poles will damage what is currently a pleasant residential area. We will have one directly outside my house, blocking my current view of the South Downs. I do not want or need high speed broadband – what could that do that I currently can’t do? For Toob to try and bluster their way through this by saying they are doing this for us, for the country is complete BS. We will use all means – lawful and unlawful to prevent this. Disgusting behaviour. Our MP is in bed with them so is not exactly trying too hard to help his constituents.

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