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Gigabit Broadband Anti-Poles Protest Turns Ugly in the Cotswolds

Monday, Nov 6th, 2023 (4:25 pm) - Score 6,056

The deployment of a new gigabit-broadband network by FullFibre Ltd in the Cotswolds village of Broadway, as well as in nearby Willersey, reportedly resulted in ambulances and an arrest after residents made a strong protest against the UK operator’s plan to deploy telecoms poles in the area.

Poles are a common sight across much of the UK, which is in no small part because they’re cost-effective to build, can be deployed in areas where there may be no space or access agreement to safely put new underground cables, are less disruptive (avoiding the noise, access restrictions and damage to pavements of major street works), can be built under Permitted Development (PD) rights with only minimal prior notice and are faster to deploy than digging trenches.

NOTE: The lower cost impact of poles can often mean the difference between building gigabit broadband into an area or skipping it entirely.

However, not everybody is a fan of poles, which is an issue that is cropping up more and more as network operators expand their FTTP broadband coverage (examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Complaints often focus on their negative visual appearance, concerns about the risk of damage from major storms (example) and a lack of effective prior consultation.

The complaints can be particularly vocal in communities like those in Willersey and Broadway, which may have several operators trying to deploy new infrastructure across the same areas. Some locations have also previously managed to secure agreements to put cables underground, which can easily be undone when a new operator enters and decides to do poles – much to the annoyance of residents.

According to the Cotswold Journal, Willersey’s local MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said: “This is a crazy situation where a highly attractive village is being forced to accept a significant number of ugly wooden poles blighting people’s properties when a satisfactory broadband system already exists.” The MP is seeking to block network operators from deploying poles if good broadband via underground infrastructure already exists.

Protestors in the neighbouring village of Broadway, specifically those on The Sands estate, even went so far as to form a blockade late last week to prevent new poles being built. As a result, one elderly protestor was taken to hospital – after an incident involving one of the FullFibre vans – and a man was arrested by police on suspicion of preventing a telecoms worker from doing their legal work.

A Spokesperson for FullFibre Ltd told ISPreview:

We always do our best to respond to residents’ concerns about poling, and to highlight the importance of building work going ahead. We are a business that is working to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure to future-proof the UK’s towns and villages. However, we are aware that these changes can bring a level of disruption, and we continually strive to minimise any impact as much as possible. This includes working with communities to reduce their frustrations and understand the importance of the work we are doing.

However, whilst the vast majority of our delivery requires minimal physical works to deliver, sometimes it is necessary to deploy new infrastructure to enable the services. This is always conducted in a safe and orderly manner, following due process to ensure the safety of our teams and the residents.

We are aware that a protester climbed on to one of our vehicles to disrupt our lawful work. After several hours of negotiating with the individual concerned by the local Police force, in an effort to resolve the situation amicably, they were arrested.

The individual was then later bailed to attend Hospital, where we understand they were treated for exposure. It is unfortunate that this person required medical attention as a result of their actions. We wish them a speedy and full recovery. However, as this is an ongoing situation, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment.”

So far as we can tell from the feedback we’ve received, there may be some subtle differences between the deployments in the two locations. A quick look at both communities shows activity from both Gigaclear and FullFibre Ltd, with some areas getting poles and others benefitting from underground cables. Openreach also has the odd small FTTP deployment.

In some areas, both of the alternative networks are building in roughly the same places and at the same time, which won’t be helping matters. Needless to say, the local rollout appears to be a bit of a patchwork and the approach taken can vary between streets, which helps to explain why we’ve had conflicting reports from residents in the same communities (i.e. the context may vary from street to street).

On top of that, both communities sit in designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). But overall, it’s the deployment of poles that seems to be attracting most of the irritation, particularly in areas where one or the other operators has built or is building the new infrastructure underground.

As we’ve said before, the government currently seems unlikely to pay much heed to any attempts to restrict related street works, as any limitations on build would seriously damage their own targets for digital infrastructure, while also ignoring the many people who are still seeking access to faster broadband and better mobile connectivity. Lest we forget that quite a lot of people would be happy to see poles if it meant they could access full fibre, but such voices are often drowned out by the more vocal gripes.

On the other hand, network operators do need to be very careful about their approach, particularly as we go into what could be a General Election year – disputes against poles are starting a gain more political support. If part of a community is so strongly opposed to poles that they’re willing to go to extremes and that same community is already covered with a gigabit service, then the argument against deploying becomes a lot stronger.

On the subject of infrastructure sharing. At present only Openreach, which is in a position of significant market power, faces a regulatory requirement in this area to share access to their underground ducts and poles (PIA). Smaller AltNets do not have such power and can thus protect their more fragile investment against sharing. In the case of this location, Openreach may not have many accessible ducts to spare (a fair bit of it seems to be direct buried).

Personally speaking, poles have never bothered me, as they’ve existed in every area I’ve ever lived (both urban and rural) and are just another part of familiar street furniture, like street lights and post boxes. I’d also much rather have the choice of several full fibre networks, if at all possible, than only one, as this provides more options and a greater potential for savings. But each to their own.

NOTE: Credit to P.Taylor for granting us permission to use his local photograph on this article.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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35 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

    Such a divisive issue. Personally I’d happily take poles in my estate it if guarantied I finally got fiber. I seem to be stuck with all providers trying to using PIA to use openreach’s 50 year old ducts with little success. Yet similar streets in the area the same providers have laid their own ducts instead. Its all a bit hit and miss. I can’t help but think better messaging (Fiber will put up your house price) plus a bit less pointless over building would help matters out (Do these firms think they’ll get take up as a third provider?).

  2. Avatar photo Cognizant says:

    So you don’t want poles? Alright then, dig all the pavements up? If not, just stick with your copper and the 20th century.

    1. Avatar photo Jason says:

      Telegraph poles usage dates back to the early 19th Century!

      We are not averse to fast internet, in fact were I live we have Gigabit internet speeds, with 10Gb on the horizon. But what we are averse to are these start-up companies coming along to our neighbourhoods which have no above ground infrastructure and planting these ‘UGLY’ poles when where is a perfectly good underground network already that they could utilise.
      They are a blight on the landscape in areas which historically have been void of poles.

      These companies are opting for the what they perceive to be the cheapest option to gain the maximum profit. But when people are rebelling and vowing not to use any service provided by these new poles, we are seeing areas with these poles which are devoid of connecting wires.

      And lets be honest about it. These companies are been funded by the Government, so they do not care if where they stick the poles there will be a return.

    2. Avatar photo Fastman says:


      where is a perfectly good underground network already that they could utilise.
      They are a blight on the landscape in areas which historically have been void of poles.

      so how do you know that’s is a perfectly good underground network — you dont your making assumptions poorly i might add if you think that altnets are being funded by the government in this instance

      the cost difference between Undergound / overhead is significant (likley to be in four figures) if there is either blockages or major congestion in the cables or its intermittent or no duct and could result in those areas being excluded from any future build by any infrastructure

  3. Avatar photo Peter says:

    Honestly I’d rather the short term disruption on digging than the long term looks of ugly poles in the middle of the street.
    Don’t get me wrong we have a few poles out back but you don’t see them from the street.

    1. Avatar photo Robert says:

      100% – do the job properly or not at all. Those unsightly poles will be around for 50 years, long after FullFibre shut up shop.
      This is a failure of government planning that has allowed VC investors (mainly foreign owned) to ride roughshod over local neighbourhoods. Let’s be realistic here, digging the fibre is absoltely possible for this neighbourhood, just costs more money that FullFibre (and most AltNets) paper-thing buiness plan cannot support.

    2. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

      I once tripped over the badly put down tarmac on the pavement Virgin Media did. Still walk with a limp now.. so I would rather the pole than an ugly pavement with a dark trench up it.

    3. Avatar photo Flame Henry says:

      I agree with Starlink.
      Council wanted to dig up my road to install a sewer. No way I said.. I’m not risking tripping over your badly laid tarmac.
      I’m the only person on the road still empying a sceptic tank and they dug up the road anyway because everyone else wanted it.
      Same thing with gas.. No way they digging up my drive. I stuck with the oil and enjoy the interaction with the oil man every winter when he comes to top up my tank.

  4. Avatar photo Jordan says:

    tbh people like this SHOULD be left with bad internet so they can then realise oh wait everything is ran on the internet!

    some people in those areas probably want fibre but then you got people who hate poles, welcome to the UK 🙂

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      These folks don’t have bad Internet. Full Fibre are overbuilding Gigaclear. Gigaclear went underground.

    2. Avatar photo Alex A says:

      @XGS indeed, all get good VDSL coverage as well with the denser part of the village getting 70+ mbps.

    3. Avatar photo Robert says:

      Did the neighbourhood ask for fibre in the first place though? Did they petition FullFibre and beg them to come and disrupt their quiet cotswold village?


      FullFibre will have run some data and highlighted them on a map as having decent housing density and decided they could beat BT to the build by popping in a couple of cheap telegraph poles, add another 50-100 properties to the FullFibre RFS totals, rinse and repeat until you get 100-200k RFS, then sell the company in 12 months time.

      They could have buried the cables of course like many other AltNets do, but that would take longer and cost FullFibre more money and, why would they care. Welcome to the UK

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Regardless of the rights and wrongs the people that they wish to sell their services to are the same ones they are currently upsetting. Probably not the best way to get your potential customers onside.

  5. Avatar photo Mark smith says:

    It is important that operators win hearts and minds when it comes to new pole installs, otherwise their brand will become so toxic that there will be no point.

    Ultimately, those who advocate expensive underground installations should either be prepared to pay higher fees for their broadband or explain to all the people served via overhead lines why they should be subsidising them.

  6. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

    They put a pole up for us a few years ago. No problem it was done in a matter of hours. WHY do people do this.. Looking on Street view there are loads of poles around the village one more is worth a criminal record over? insane

  7. Avatar photo Sheila Bradford says:

    My area of Hull and East Yorkshire has full fibre with blistering speeds and all ducted underground. However we have three companies coming in who refuse to use the existing ducting or even each others new infrastructure. The result poles side by side and every 9 meters. Then there is all the cabling which goes from pole to pole and criss crossing the road. The end result something from spiderman and it looks like we are living inside a net. These are not small telegraph poles or streetlights which are not that close together. When I hear someone say it is just a few poles, I want them to come and see these few poles (500 in one village per installer multiplied by 3 and 600 in another). It really is beyond a joke.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Any of you guys in the Facebook group / campaign asking why it’s so much worse in KCom areas than the rest of the UK or too busy claiming MS3 are getting taxpayer money to overbuild KCom?

      Poles/masts are a major issue in relatively few places. In many places they aren’t greeted with joy but are tolerated.

      Who exactly are you and the rest of your campaign to try and get in the way of the millions of homes that may benefit from the infrastructure you’d deny them?

    2. Avatar photo Robert says:

      @XGS – What are they being denied? They already have access to Fibre via underground ducts from another operator

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      The campaign is to change the law nationwide, Robert, hence my reference to ‘millions’.

  8. Avatar photo Ni says:

    Gigaclear are managing to do the very same village underground, FF I guess just want to do it on the cheap.

    I think if it’s a case of poles or nothing that’s one thing but I would probably be annoyed too in this case

  9. Avatar photo TrueFibre says:

    You can’t make everybody happy I hate the poles too they would’ve took even longer. I live in Scotland Fife the pole in front of my house is squint Lol done by an engineer with squint eyes.

  10. Avatar photo Dave says:

    I will soon be having two poles outside my property less then 8 meters away from my living room windows I know children will use these poles as goal post and when I say children they may be 12 years old plus I am not against people having a choice of Internet but these companies do not care where these poles are located so long as its the cheapest way doesn’t matter who it upsets

  11. Avatar photo 1st world problems says:

    A lot of people are assuming that companies are just trying to use poles to build on the cheap, without any insight into what might actually make a build viable and although cost is a huge factor it won’t be the only variable that determines if poles are used. There is a shift in focus into connecting customers as opposed to simply homes passed and poles enable much easier installs with less disruption. Nice newly laid asphalt or printed drives may prevent some residents from signing up if it means excavating to the property from the Toby box.

    Willersey has also been built by Gigaclear and people seem to forget the disruption laying the multiduct caused. The services strikes etc, Not to mention the failed reinstatement and pot holes to come from the road crossings.

    Poles are an essential part of our infrastructure but there needs to be better engagement and planning prior to deploying. Unfortunately a lot of residents object without much understanding which can be frustrating and vocal residents can stir up mob mentality in a street, which is why prior engagement is essential.

    1st World problems hey!

    1. Avatar photo Dave says:

      As in my previous statement we are not against the poles just there location they are planted outside your home with no consideration to the people who live there I will have two side by side goal measurement perfect my wife who is very ill will be constantly getting a knock at the for footballs we have lived here 34 years and will strongly have to consider moving is that fair

  12. Avatar photo Just a thought says:

    All Altnets should all be forced to offer PIA equivalents.

    Otherwise you could end up with n*number of poles, one set for each of the n altnets that wants to overbuild. Then with a n ONTs inside your house for each net you switch too, that’s n cables to each property too.

    Had poles most of my life so not generally an issue. However, even with PIA the BT poles are starting to groan with only two operators stringing new fibre between poles as well as the usual ‘to property’ drop line.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      I mean they can offer them but they probably won’t be useful. KCom supposedly offer a PIA solution but no-one uses it for anything of scale.

      The Openreach PIA solution was largely pointless until Ofcom made them invest in automation and making data available to potential PIA customers electronically. It’s not the easiest thing keeping track of every stretch of duct, every pole and every chamber and who is renting space in each one.

  13. Avatar photo LincolnshireLeftOut says:

    If they don’t want the poles then they could bring them to my area. I agree poles aren’t ideal but it’s a sacrifice I’d happily settle for just to be able to get full fibre

  14. Avatar photo Gone but not forgotten says:

    Half these Altnets will go bust before long then it’s someone else’s problem. Blame the Tories they want their broadband targets met and introduced changes to ease regulation.

    Everything is done on the cheap. How many will build these networks then think, Duh! How do we make money now, we need customers on it. Simple answer to this is, if you don’t want poles don’t buy broadband that is provided by those that deliver over it.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      ‘Everything is done on the cheap.’

      Cable companies had to put everything underground. How did that work out for them?

  15. Avatar photo FTTH says:

    Bunch of nimby’s, king nimby is Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown pretending to fight policies his party voted through in parliament. Wonder how he voted on it? Perhaps they’d enjoy having higher bills if the companies go underground and how many of the protestors will block the planning applications for that? I bet a few will.
    Leave them all without fibre and then they can have lower house values if they can only get FTTC. Other places with existing telegraph poles don’t complain.

  16. Avatar photo Sandy says:

    Holy God – just wait till 5G comes. For full functionality you will need a mast every 300m. I.e for your fridge to speak to Tesco and Tesco to speak to a driverless vehicle to bring you milk. Also for a driverless taxi to bring you home from the pub.

  17. Avatar photo Her indoors says:

    All this fuss over a bit of wood in the ground! We’re a long time dead, don’t people have better things to do with their time!? Honesty, go outside and smell the fresh air, touch some grass, get a cat. Whatever it takes, just chill the hell out. Honestly. There are kids dying in war zones, try to have some perspective a pole is not going to devalue your home, the XGS-PON based broadband will add value. I now need to go play with my pussycat whilst looking at one of the large wood erections outside my house…. Hahahah

  18. Avatar photo Mike says:

    They don’t own the land so it’s none of their business.

  19. Avatar photo Chris says:

    The only ugly thing is the locals attitude. What a dire place

  20. Avatar photo bluefish2303 says:

    We have the opposite in our street; Openreach decided THREE years ago that it would be too expensive to build new ducts thus abandoning us to 40/10 FTTC. Not an altnet in sight either! To add insult to injury my current ISP wants to charge me £30 per month for this inferior service and will eventually disconnect my phone line as they do not even support the conversion to Digital Voice. There are definitely other reasons at play behind this decision, not least that we have been served by the ‘dark side’ (Virgin Media) for some time now. I believe that there is a gentlemen’s agreement with OR to not invade their patch, despite it being a relatively affluent neighbourhood. When I challenged the Openreach CEO’s office, they could not come up with a good enough reason why OR don’t use VM’s ducting. Some other streets nearby have existing telegraph poles and of course they’ve already got full fibre. In fact our exchange has reached the 75% threshold to enact stop/sell on copper lines. Frustrating to say the least.

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