Digging for victory in next-generation broadband

Broadband coverage outside of major towns and cities has been a sore point for rural communities for some time. It is easy for well-connected urban users to forget just what a pain the lack of service can be for individuals and small businesses in remote parts of the UK.

BT seems to win itself few friends, and the current regulatory environment – in particular, around the way that business rates are applied to fibre-optic cables – makes it difficult for those rural users to cost-effectively get high-speed connectivity.

You have to appreciate the sheer chutzpah of cattle farmer Christine Conder in digging up a field and having her own fibre cable laid – but lament the fact she had to do it.

Broadband roll-out has been a double-edged sword for too long. The standard services we use now were the fastest-adopted technology ever. The UK is one of the most connected countries in the world. It now seems strange to think back to the turn of the century when arguments raged over funding broadband infrastructure.

BT and ISPs did not want to spend the cash because they said there was no content to encourage customers to sign up. Content providers complained that nobody could get fast enough access to make their sites worth using. Government said it was up to the market to decide.

The rapid take-up since BT decided to invest in broadband proved that if you build it, people will come.

It is frustrating, therefore, that we seem to be having very similar arguments now about next-generation broadband. Nobody wants to fund the roll-out outside of the commercially attractive urban areas. A different government still wants to leave things to the market – the market says it can’t afford the cost. Yet everyone agrees that high-speed broadband access is an economic essential. The government doesn’t need to spend the cash – but it does need to facilitate a change, through persuasion, coercion or policy.

Meanwhile, the Christine Conders of the world are left stuck behind a logjam with seemingly little chance of a breakthrough – unless they have a digger handy.

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The real point is that the costs that a "BT" face for digging are a factor of 10 (or more) higher than if a community or a Chris Conder JFDI.

Meanwhile, we are continually being told that the economics don't stack up; yet, they clearly do from a community, citizen and consumer angle.

Firstly, because we cannot continue to operate on our impoverished rural connections, either as businesses or citizens, so we are failing to contribute into the economy of UK Plc at a level which we could be capable of;

Secondly, the savings which could be made at county and regional level through better use of technology for delivering services such as healthcare and education to remote and rural populations (and that includes those living within spitting distance of large urban conurbations such as Leeds);

And finally, there is the social capital, which includes environmental savings, keeping money in the pockets of the impoverished, rather than giving it to large corporates and their shareholders.

The economics only DO NOT stack up when FTTH is done for the level of profits that a telco requires. What this country needs is a profitable and sustainable infrastructure, and that has been proven possible in many other countries around the world where costs are reduced by cutting out those who want their palms crossed with gold, or by working in partnership so there is a piece of the pie for everyone.

Yes, the profits may be reduced but "build it and they will come" is true with FTTH, and hence the profits can be generated, albeit at a marginally lesser rate than the market would choose in an ideal world. But we are playing a long-term game with FTTH for UK Plc and the sooner we realise that the better.
agree with what Lins says above, but would like to add that we built our fibre run because there was NO other way to get those people online. No mobile, no adsl, and the trees had killed the wireless that used to feed them. We tried satellite but that was expensive and not good enough for our needs. Many round here can't get that either due to south facing hills and massive trees.

The main problem in building a fibre network for a community remains the FEED. BT quoted £76k last year, which is far too expensive for us on our little community network. We just can't get affordable backhaul and we rely on our feed from an arqiva mast over the valley. This feeds into the fibre - and the rest of the network over 10kilometres sq remains wireless. If there was a digital village pump somewhere handy we wouldn't hesitate to dig more fibre, because it is so easy. It is affordable too, cheaper than copper actually. I stick by what I said at the end of the video, if we can do it, so can you. We have just bought another roll and we're saving up for the diggers now.
I can't see the incumbents ever choosing to help the rural areas. They didn't with ADSL, we still don't have that after 8 years, so there isn't much hope for NGA unless we JFDI

Chris gets it as does Lindsey and any local community prepared to step-up Big Society style can have future-proof FttH.

Perhaps not in one go and assured that their 4th Utility will be both built and run in the Community Interest.

FttH, the 4th Utility, is capital intensive to build and durable once deployed (stray JCBs notwithstanding!).

Actually, all utilities have this high cost upfront + long life ahead investment profile.

What matters more than the technology, even if FttH takes a decade to reach the most remote spots, is how the FttH 1st Mile is governed for the hundred years ahead.