Frustration in Wales over part completed full fibre broadband
The Superfast Cymru project is generally unnoticed by hundreds of thousands of people across Wales who can order services and have upgraded, but for those missed out it may as well not have happened and the most frustrated group is those who have seen the upgrades actually start but for work to be halted when the contract hit its hard stop date.
BBC Wales has looked at one small village West Williamston in Pembrokeshire where ASDL/ADSL2+ speeds are below 3 Mbps and the frustrating part is that fibre (or fibre ducting) is hanging on a number of poles in the village.
The site of coils of the tubing (1 inch diameter with a yellow stripe) or even connectorised fibre hanging from poles in Wales was not a uncommon site in the summer of 2017 and while a lot of this did see all the components added and services went live there are places like Williamston where they are left in limbo. The limbo exists because Openreach if they went ahead and completed would be paying for it themselves, since the deadline for submitting new infrastructure invoices as part of Superfast Cymru has passed. In a number of the situations we have stumbled across in our travels you will find the coils sat on a lone pole and no sign of any run of fibre or tubing back to the most likely location for the aggregation node, for West Williamston we do not know what the state of the run between the village and suspected aggregation node a few kilometres away is in.
One confusing part within the contract of Openreach is their own checker, which shows the following message in situations like this, i.e. the Superfast Accepting Orders box is highlighted, but once you read the further text it warns about line length and the key part is that the Technology line is showing just a dash. The accepting orders message is appearing because cabinet 1 has a VDSL2 twin but at over 2 kilometres away the speeds are going to be slower than ADSL/ADSL2+.
So what is the future for villages like this? Well if BT and Openreach win the contract for Pembrokeshire it is likely the work will be completed, but if another company wins the contract it is almost guaranteed that the part built infrastructure will be ignored.
Other areas of the UK have had similar issues and in many cases this sort of thing has been resolved by quick turn arounds on aggreements to continue building utilising the gainshare mechanism, hence the drop feed of a couple thousand premises from various councils in the last year or two. Wales did squeeze some additional VDSL2 cabinets that were part built and some FTTP areas during 2018 but clearly plenty more left in limbo.
ISPreview has covered another area, Blaenffos which is on the Boncath exchange and in that case some premises are actually able to order a FTTP service but for those living locally the actual coverage makes no sense to actually have the service live for so few when more are very close. The reality is probably sat in a spreadsheet run by an accountant, i.e. the cost per premise was outside the budget the SuperfastCymru project was working to and rather than absorb that they stopped work and by March 2018 Openreach was confident it had delivered enough that expensive penalties from the Superfast Cymru project would not be enacted.
The next 15 years are going to through up lots more problems like this since as full fibre roll-outs scale to reach ever higher levels of coverage there are going to be areas that hit delays and at times it may be that many kilometres of work has been done and just one small stretch of blocked ducting under a busy junction is holding progress up. Remember that the all of the UK with access to full fibre broadband may be the gold standard now being aimed for, but it is clear that there is no big pile of gold to pay for the roll-out and problem areas are going to be bypassed to be dealt with later.