Birmingham compared to the BDUK projects received very quick EU State Aid approval back in June, with its plan to build a fibre network in the Jewellery Quarter and a second network in the Digbeth/Eastside area. These areas are part of an existing Enterprise Zone and comprise it appears mainly of business premises.
The Guardian over the weekend carried the news that may upset the City Councils plans, with Virgin Media and BT filing a complaint against the council. The complaint is on the basis that the project will overlap their existing networks to a significant level.
"We believe it involves a significant overbuild with our network.
It's a poor implementation of what is otherwise a sensible policy. It sets a bad precedent and sends a really bad signal to our investors."Virgin Media spokesman
Some simple map checking shows that the cable network from Virgin Media is available to around half the Jewellery Quarter area, but is absent from the Digbeth area, though with Virgin Media business services they will install full fibre rather than use their DOCSIS network where it is ordered. The issue is similar with BT as the density of Birmingham means that it should see ubiquitous access to FTTC, with the fibre on demand solution launching in 2013.
Critics of the Government investing £164m on broadband in the cities, while they normally complain loudly about BT may see this as an opportunity to redirect the funding from the cities to those rural areas of the UK where the difference broadband can make will be more acute.
EU State Aid approval is normally only forthcoming when market failure has been demonstrated in an area, and while it could be said that BT's resistance to offering dark fibre backs this up, has Birmingham been abandoned by other fibre providers such as Geo, CityFibre, C&W and others? Without careful planning, there is a real danger that areas that receive fibre via the Super Connected Cities projects might find that this becomes their only real option, creating a local monopoly, as commercial operators stay away from the area. The danger being that as bandwidth needs grow the more fibre can be easily lit, but interlink costs will rise, and the project may become a money pit, or costs rise to the businesses making it no cheaper than existing commercial options.
With the public perception of BDUK projects being that they are just exercises in keeping civil servants busy, and channeling consultancy fees to the private sector, problems with the Super Connected Cities will surely increase the dislike for all that is BDUK, which has yet to deliver a single connection, some 14 months after funding amounts for the different parts of the UK were announced and over two years since its formation.