Clarity needed on fibre cabinets

A lot of people are asking questions about what BT is actually going to deliver from its £2.5bn programme to fibre up its street cabinets to provide “superfast broadband” for all within the two-thirds of the country where BT says it is economical to lay fibre.

Reports in ISPReview and PC Pro claim that BT’s fibre upgrades to its exchanges could leave as many as 60% of cabinets in an area not connected to fibre.

In response, BT said, “Openreach averages 85% coverage of homes and businesses within an enabled exchange area.

“The economics of deployment dictate that the cabinets serving the largest number of homes and businesses are most likely to be enabled, though the costs involved in enabling each cabinet are also very important. However, the 40-50% figure quoted [in the reports] is inaccurate – on average, well over 70% of cabinets within an exchange area are enabled.”

That 85% average still leaves 15% of the homes and businesses in a fibred area without access to the service BT is rolling out. Add to that the one-third of homes and businesses that lie outside BT’s currently planned fibre footprint, and the numbers could be interpreted to mean that nearly 50% of UK premises might see no immediate benefit from BT’s investment.[Editor’s note: see below]

BT, of course, works for its shareholders, while Openreach, the division that builds its physical network, is regulated by Ofcom because it has “significant market power” (ie a virtual monopoly) over two-thirds of the land area of the UK.

Unfortunately BT does not publish which cabinets it will upgrade or when – it only publishes the schedule for exchanges. Anyone who wants to buy a house or open an office in a fibred exchange area can’t be sure if they’ll be able to get even “up to 40Mbps”. It also means that residents find it hard to attract alternative fibre suppliers. No alternative network operator wants to risk competing with BT, which can amortise its costs across the entire nation, in an area where BT already finds it hard to make money.

The net result is that a large chunk of the population could struggle to get access to the superfast broadband supplier of their choice. Is that what the government intends with its broadband strategy?

[Editor’s note: This blog was amended from its original version after BT’s clarification published as a comment below. BT has pointed out that it is not the case that the 15% and 33% figures are mutually exclusive and we are happy to make such a correction – but acknowledging also that there remains confusion in areas of the market about the detail behind some of these figures].  

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Does anybody know if the BT 66% is premises on exchanges that will have some FTTC, or is it actually 66% of UK premises.
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BT has kindly provided us with the following clarification, from a press office spokesman: "I just want to point something out in your blog that I would take issue with. In the piece entitled ‘Clarity needed on fibre cabinets’, you state; "'That 85% average still leaves 15% of the homes and businesses in a fibred area without access to the service BT is rolling out. Add to that the one-third of homes and businesses that lie outside BT's currently planned fibre footprint, and the numbers suggest nearly 50% of UK premises might see no immediate benefit from BT's investment.' "This makes us sound disingenuous by suggesting that we have included the (average) 15 per cent of each exchange area which won’t be served by fibre within our “two thirds by 2015” goal. We haven’t. "The two thirds goal is based on the number of marketable premises which WILL be covered by upgraded cabinets. The 15 per cent (average) within an exchange area which won’t be served falls within the remaining “final third” of the country, which we have publicly stated is not commercially viable. i.e. the 2/3 is a based on actual served premises, not the number of homes within an exchange boundary."
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It would help if BT would state timescles for announcing the full rollout plan, down to cabinet level, so that communities can plan ahead. Clearly they read this!
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