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Job Cut Fears Strike Rural England Full Fibre Builder County Broadband

Tuesday, Sep 26th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 5,432
County-Broadband-Engineers-Viewing-plans

Rural network builder and UK ISP County Broadband (CB), which holds an aspiration to cover 500,000 premises across the East of England with their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network by the end of 2027, appears as if it may soon become the latest network operator to make redundancies.

Just to recap. The full fibre provider, which has so far been supported by an investment of £146m from Aviva Investors (here), is currently deploying their new FTTP network across rural parts of Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk in England (i.e. they’re currently building to over 250 villages and rising). Aviva also backs Truespeed (here) and ITS Technology (here) etc.

NOTE: No operator is immune to the current climate, with even some major players having to make job cuts and changes to their build strategy / plans.

Customers of the service typically pay from £37.99 per month (reduced from £47.99) for an unlimited symmetric speed 300Mbps package with a bundled wireless router on a 24-month term, which rises to £49.99 for 900Mbps (reduced from £79.99).

However, alternative networks are currently under a lot of strain, not least from rising levels of competition (price and overbuild etc.), rising costs (e.g. leases, build, inflation) and the need to generate a good level of consumer take-up in order to satisfy investors. Often those pressures, if they reach a certain point, can make it hard to attract fresh funding and that may also result in a slower build, with job losses often following.

In recent months we’ve seen a growing number of network operators hit similarly troubled waters, and the fear is that CB may also be feeling the strain. Concerns were raised toward the end of last week, after some of CB’s workers reported to ISPreview that they expected to be made redundant, while others added the “Open to work” status (i.e. out of a job) to their LinkedIn profiles – this spanned a variety of roles from sales to network build.

A Spokesperson for County Broadband told ISPreview:

“Since 2018, County Broadband has been delivering an extensive full fibre broadband build programme across the East of England and has connected hundreds of rural communities to its network.

Our focus has, and always will be, to provide services to rural communities and as such we enjoy one of the highest rates of customer adoption in the industry.

As with all prudent companies, County Broadband is exploring a number of business scenarios to maximise the value of the business. These include continuing to build at our current rate with our business maintaining its excellent progress while securing further funding, or managing the business to become cashflow positive within its current funding facility.

In order to facilitate the second scenario, a redundancy consultation process has begun, but as yet no one has been made redundant, and no decision has been made to complete the process.

We remain fully committed to strengthening and delivering our full fibre services across the East of England and we are well prepared to continue this trajectory whilst taking account of the current market conditions and movements facing all altnets.

We are proud of the positive impact we have made across the region, and we will continue to connect more homes and businesses to our full fibre network.”

Put another way, County Broadband’s build could slow as they focus on trying to drive more consumer take-up in the areas where their network is now live, which inevitably means that some jobs are likely to be cut. At this stage we don’t know precisely how many positions could be chopped, but it’s interesting to note that the operator isn’t yet certain whether their consultation will reach completion, which might suggest the possibility of an alternative solution (if it can be found in time).

The operator’s most recent Company Accounts to 31st December 2022 reported that turnover had increased from £4.11m to £4.69m, although their losses before taxation jumped from £9m to £17.3m. The operator also had total assets, less current liabilities, of £41.3 million (up from £25.45m last year). But CB’s total net liabilities hit £35.83m (worse than £18.55m last year) – this is a negative value.

The directors expect this trend to continue while the fibre networks are being constructed. They also expect substantial long term revenue to flow from the completed networks in due course,” said the accounts. CB has also been very coy about revealing how many premises they’ve passed or customers they’ve secured, which makes it difficult to judge what kind of progress they’ve been making.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Intergalactic says:

    So not collapsing yet, just struggling and adjusting finances to survive. Kind of expected.

  2. Avatar photo Ncrew86 says:

    Having seen LinkedIn post this week it looks as though redundancies has already begun at County Broadband

  3. Avatar photo Jo says:

    “County Broadband’s build could slow”..
    I think you’ll find it’s hardly started in most places they have promised.
    Maybe they are making redundancies to the sales staff who signed up people to contracts years ago, with still no install actually happening (or even a planned date).
    “CB has also been very coy about revealing how many premises they’ve passed” – I think it’s probably embarrassed to announce how slow they have been with delivery.

    I just sadly can’t see this company continuing to operate much longer!

  4. Avatar photo Oggy says:

    Another failing altnet.

  5. Avatar photo Roger Welsh says:

    My concern with all these altnets is how they are sometimes funded, a failing altnet could have far reaching consequences when the funding company tries to recover its initial losses. For example are Aviva Investors some how related to Aviva insurance and therefore look to recover their losses elsewhere.

    1. Avatar photo Longshot says:

      The AVIVA funding will all be about the management of risk – something the folks in the City of London have (mostly) been doing well for an extremely long time. We ought not to be too concerned about that aspect. The “fibre already in the ground etc” should also represent a valuable investment.
      On the other hand, County Broadband give the appearance of an inefficient organisation – probably due to having new, (thus, inevitably:) inexperienced and poorly joined-up management. Whilst insisting on obtaining 25% take-up commitments from each village before starting the build, they should be approaching a “break-even” position in each location much faster than many other Altnets. That is probably the business concept they initially “sold” to AVIVA. However, their ability to manage their processes appears poor and they give the appearance of a headless-chicken outfit – constantly playing catchup with yesterday’s problems. Some might speculate that the current situation is largely of their own making. Has AVIVA simply have forced their hand to introduce proper business discipline?

  6. Avatar photo Bob says:

    There is a lot of competition now in the areas they are rolling out to. At one point they were relying on local campaigns to decide where to roll out to. These generally do not give an indication of real demand but just that the area has a good local campaign. Without any commitment though it does not always result in high take up

    1. Avatar photo Jo says:

      But County Broadband do get commitment because they sign you up dodgy contracts.
      Three or four years later, those contacts are still in place but no sign of install (or even survey for that matter).
      They even setup the direct debit!
      If only there was competition, then we wouldn’t be relying on these kind of amateurs.

  7. Avatar photo Bill says:

    COUNTY, ZZOOMM and Truespeed to merge in the very near future

    1. Avatar photo MP says:

      Where have you heard this?

  8. Avatar photo M Poole says:

    I tried to ring their customer support today, and their line is dead.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      It seems like they’re aware:

      “Status Update: Thursday 11 Jan 2024

      We are aware of an intermittent network issue affecting telephone and client services. Please bear with us while we resolve the issue.”

  9. Avatar photo Ex Employee says:

    They laid off c.180 people (including the majority of the design team) in Oct/Nov and stopped the majority of new build, only finishing off existing village/projects in build. Not sure how they intend to build to the current cohort of “Pre Sold” villages with no design team to design the network…

    No one seems to have covered it

Comments are closed

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