A common complaint about the gap funded roll-outs is that public money is being used to help BT Openreach build more VDSL2 cabinets in areas where a competitor already exists, most commonly this is a Virgin Media area, but this scenario should be handled by the invoice system where BT invoices only for the gap funding on those premises that will benefit from the cabinet. Less common but expressed more vocally is complaints with overbuilding of alt-net operators and the latest one is about one of the BDUK pilot projects that was meant to explore wireless services in North Yorkshire.
Based on local reports the base for a new VDSL2 cabinet has been installed just to the east of West Witton North Yorkshire and this this appears to be a gap funded solution and based on the location should provide 40 to 76 Mbps speeds for the core of West Witton i.e. Main Street between Flats Lane and Chantry Bank.
"West Witton in Wenlseydale North Yorkshire suffered from poor to very poor (0.75Mb/s) broadband speeds being too far from its fibre cabinet to gain any advantage of FTTC. At the end of 2015 a BDUK funded trial of microwave to the premises opened giving up to 30Mb/s availability to the whole village. Residents were offered service at full commercial rates and less than a year later around 33% of premises in the village are connected at 10, 20 or 30Mb.s as they require with many leaving BT altogether using VoIP.
But construction by BT the edge of the village reveals that the BDUK money spent on the excellent microwave may be thrown away as BDUK is now funding a rival system fior the village by subsidising BT to rearrange its network. meanwhile in the Parish we have a hamlet that still has slow speeds and will gain zero benefit from this expense as they are connected to a different exchange.
BDUK seems keen on spending money even if it subsidises BT to be a competitor to an entrenched small operator. Why can't they spend money on places that need 30Mb/s rather than those that actually have it?Local West Witton resident - John Loader
The BDUK pilot was a £1.5 million scheme with Airwave to provide wireless connectivity and explore options like TV White Space and small LTE cells, with a coverage target of 270 premises. The West Witton area is thought to have accounted for around £700,000 to cover the 130 premises. The pilots were never funded to operate for years, and contacts allowed operators to back out if after the pilot period they did not want to continue providing service on a commercial basis. Obviously backing out would upset locals who may have paid the usual installation and monthly costs.
So why is BT now deploying VDSL2 to a village that is enjoying wireless now via Boundless (sample speed tests 10 Mbps down, 1.5 Mbps up, 11 Mbps down, 3.6 Mbps up and 22 Mbps down, 4.3 Mbps up? 30 Mbps is an option but appears to be a rare purchase decision.
It appears that the Open Market Review did not exclude the area and thus the village was up for grabs, and ignoring the pilot the location of the cabinet fits in with the current sort of rural places that are getting VDSL2 cabinets deployed in North Yorkshire. One issue apparently has been that while the BT contracts give a certainty of service over a period of a decade there was no guarantee that AirWave/Boundless would keep the service in place and if the Superfast North Yorkshire project had finished the village could roll-back to ADSL only services.
Issues like this are not going to go away and as the BDUK projects reach deeper into the rural areas they will have BT bumping into competitors more and more. Once the superfast projects morph into dealing with ultrafast broadband issues, or maybe a new fully independent national operator (PLC or nationalised) this issue is going to be massive. In short the race to deliver better coverage in as short as timeframe as possible means lengthy on-going constant reviews are not really done, and period reviews will always miss the changing situation on the ground.
Update 5:20pm 12th October We've had something approaching an official reply on the overbuild concerns, we did chase BT last week but as with many enquiries immediate answers don't always appear. It would appear that this cabinet in West Witton is one of a batch that will eventually serve 4,620 premises across North Yorkshire which were receiving under 2 Mbps from existing services in December 2015 (known as phase 2a). These 4,620 premises are described by North Yorkshire council as at no cost to the public, but given the sums involved in earlier phases and the issue of the Universal Service Commitment that is open to debate. The cabinet in West Witton will also provide an improved service to 18 premises that received no service from the Airwave project.
On the subject of worries that the Airwave service would not continue after the pilot, it seems that Airwave did not respond to the Open Market Review and confirmed it would not be in January 2016 as at that time there was no intention to continue service post pilot. Of course since then things have changed and Boundless are offering service and in the position to acquire the assets in the area and run them as an on-going commercial service.
So a much more complex and nuanced situation where officials are confident that nothing untoward is going on, and the interests or rural residents are at the forefront of their decisions. Of course the public will simply see a market test pilot that seemed to have a high cost per premises served and subsequently a BT service arriving. It will be interesting to see what people in the area decide to do with regards to which service they use, particularly for those where VDSL2 may offer a faster service than the wireless services. Since if the majority are happy and stay on the up to 10,20 and 30 Mbps products it raises a real question over whether delivering anything beyond 30 Mbps to consumers is worthwhile in 2016.