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Community Fibre Partnerships - how do they work?

Mark8253

Regular Member
Our local BDUK authority (Cheshire) has admitted that it will run out of money this summer, so no new upgrades are planned after this date unless it can secure additional budget. I'm therefore exploring a community fibre partnership as an option to upgrade our sub 1 Mb/s broadband (extremely long lines), but I'm not clear exactly how it works in practice.

We are not a discrete village, more a collection of hamlets and individual farms/houses in open countryside, so it is not obvious where to draw the boundaries for our "community". If I follow our 5 km cable back to the cabinet, it passes about 24 premises that receive < 10 Mb/s. Adding in other legs and branches takes us to 62 premises and a total of 9.6 km, so on average less cabling per premises passed (I know that FTTP cabling doesn't go back to the cabinet, but I'm assuming the nearest fibre aggregation point is in the same general area).

It could be scoped for lowest total cost, or lowest cost per premises. Do BT advise the preferred option? Do other premises that already get decent speed from FTTC have access to "our" cable if it passes through their distribution pole on its way to us? What about residents who choose not to join the partnership? Can they get FTTP later anyway if it is available nearby, or are they excluded? If they are excluded, is this lifted if the house is sold, so the new owner gets unrestricted access to FTTP?

Given these relatively low number of potential subscribers and long lines (roughly 50:50 between overhead cabling and soft digging in grass verges) it may turn out to be uneconomic even with available grants. Local 3G/4G is reasonable, so the future USO probably won't help (and it might make people less inclined to support an expensive FTTP scheme).

I'd like to be able to answer these basic questions before canvassing the community about joining in, but it appears to be very difficult to find anything online to this level of detail. Has anybody got any relevant experience of similar situations, please?
 

Mark.J

Administrator
Staff member
ISPreview Team
Tricky as we don't know what Openreach's internal decision making process is like. You might be best to collect interest from as many premises as possible in the area, then present that to Openreach and see what they say is actually possible. I've seen them bring FTTP to very sparse communities before so it's possible.
 

sheephouse

Regular Member
A few points from my own experience.
My nearest cabinet is a mile away (I'm not connected to it as I have an EO line), but the nearest aggregation point is 11 miles away (or was at the time, and I'm not aware of any change).
I tried a CFP for the people on the edge of the local village that are on EO lines. Because the properties are dispersed around the village in small groups, they split the application into separate projects. The result was that there were only about 6 properties near mine that could be covered, so the cost per property was prohibitive.
 

Badem

Casual Member
Which part of Cheshire are you in? have you checked B4RN as they are installing FTTP around the Capenhurst/Neston section and I believe they are expanding to cover the more rural areas of Cheshire?
 

Green Meanie

Casual Member
You can contact Openreach and put your questions to them, they will be able to tell you what you would need to do and advise you on any vouchers or grants you could be able to use to offset the costs.
 

Mark8253

Regular Member
Which part of Cheshire are you in? have you checked B4RN as they are installing FTTP around the Capenhurst/Neston section and I believe they are expanding to cover the more rural areas of Cheshire?
We’re down the bottom end - a bit far for B4RN at the moment unfortunately. There does seem to be some local interest in exploring a fibre partnership, so I’ll report back as and when we get the first outline quote.
 

Mark8253

Regular Member
To answer my own question for the benefit of others - the community define the addresses they want to cover, but Openreach may modify it slightly when making their proposal. In our case, they added a couple of extra premises at the margins, but deleted one particularly hard to reach one. Once a project is agreed, Openreach make the upgrade available to every premises in scope, irrespective of whether they contributed financially or not (that's really the only option that makes sense with FTTP). Managing financial contributions is up to the community, so the larger the group, the bigger the risk of somebody not contributing and getting the benefit anyway if it goes ahead.

In our case, we deliberately went for a large group to maximise the grant money available and minimise the cost per head of the long cable run from the cabinet to the first property (about a mile, mostly underground in soft verges). We canvassed all 89 premises in our area that did not get at least 30 Mb/s according to the BT retail speed estimates (over half are sub-10 Mb/s, and over a quarter sub-2 Mb/s). They are all on the same cabinet, spread over a couple of square miles of hamlets and individual houses.

Over 50% responded positively for the initial submission, even without any local hard sell. However, the initial Openreach estimate was over a quarter of a million pounds! Throwing every grant we could at it still left a shortfall of nearly £4000 per household even if everybody in the initial scoping signed up. Getting the take-up to 70% (higher is probably unrealistic) still required over £2000.

Self-dig will get that figure down, but it's a big project and I doubt we would have the resources to take it on successfully.

Needless to say, we are highly unlikely to be going ahead at that level of contribution, particularly as local 4G is reasonably good with either EE or Vodafone and "unlimited" data contracts are now available and very affordable.

Note that we are not particularly remote - it's a rural Cheshire plain farming area that happens to be a long way from the local cabinet, not halfway up a remote mountainside. It does rather illustrate the challenge of nationwide fibre though, as there will be thousands of similar areas all over the country.
 
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