Braunston & The Internet.....
The Village that BT forgot (until 2016)
Update November 2015
The saga regarding fast broadband for the village has been going on for some years now. To avoid having to read about what went on in chronological order I have summarised the story to date (November 2015) below. For those enquiring minds who want to know more you can keep scrolling down...and down...and down to read the whole sorry tale.
Braunston is a medium sized village of about 400 people (180 houses) quite close (2 miles) to the county town of Oakham. Oakham has had a fully fibre-equipped exchange since 2013; the fibre trunk cable supplying Oakham runs through the village. We are not a truly rural community and connecting us to fast fibre is a straightforward job which would have been completed by now if bt had not reneged on its plans, in 2013.
Back in 2011 the Rutland County Council put in place its plan to fibre connect most of the county, including our village. bt was asked whether it had its own plans to upgrade Braunston to fibre speeds. When bt said 'yes' the council had to remove Braunston from its Digital Rutland programme.
Work went ahead in 2013 to connect Rutland to fibre via the Digital Rutland scheme.
In late December 2013 bt formally confirmed that it would not connect Braunston after all. In the meanwhile, it had not only 'landgrabbed' Braunston, given us assurance that we would be connected, but had also told our MP (as late as November 2013) that 'the village is now connected to fibre broadband via the Oakham exchange'.
We are quite clear that our lack of fibre broadband lies at bt's door; before stating its intentions to the council, it should have researched and committed to the work, and not left us in the lurch a long way down the road. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the council spent over two million pounds paying bt to complete its own Digital Rutland programme, while bt refused to spend a tiny fraction of that amount to fulfil its promises to Braunston.
Since 2013, when most of the county was successfully connected to fibre, the council has had to re-apply to BDUK for permission to connect us and in June this year finally signed a contract with bt to make the connection. bt has committed to surveying the route in April next year and connecting us in the second half of the year. However, we learned last month that this could be advanced into the first quarter of 2016.
Meanwhile, we missed an opportunity in 2012 to connect using Rutland Telecomm, because we relied on bt's plan.
Right now, a local community organisation (HERBS) has started to install a wireless network to small villages close to us, and we are being offered a fast service by HERBS which could arrive as quickly as December 2015.
We have written a song that describes our frustration with bt which should be playing as you're reading this!
1. bt's formal reservation of the Braunston area in 2011 should have resulted in an enforceable, contractual commitment; it didn't
2. We missed the opportunity to sign up for a 2012 fibre service from Rutland Telecomm because bt said it would do it during 2013.
3. bt's digital communication into the Oakham exchange goes through a trunk fibre which passes along Braunston High Street.
4. We look forward to a superfast 2016, with either bt or HERBS.
Today's government statement represents a five year delay in implementing its 2010 promise that we would have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015. That's doubling the timescale, when it was quite possible to have completed by now.
Of course broadband has become an essential commodity like water, electricity or a TV signal; we knew that five years ago, too. Unlike the other utilities we are now duplicating networks to encourage competition. This is wasteful and results in companies competing for the high margin areas and ignoring the rest of us. It's time to put the trunk and local infrastructures into a 'fibre network' company and rent space to the competing providers just as bt rents space to its competition, but without the current conflicts of interest.
Without this commodity we cannot perform the requirements of today's businesses, schools, or the day-to-day transactions which we all rely on.
In Braunston we have a dozen small businesses which need Broadband, many children whose homework depends on it, families keeping in touch, and just carrying out the day's work.
The average speed on the net worldwide is 26 mbps; we get 3.5 on a good day.
7th Nov 2015
Update August 2015
Rutland County Council has re-run the government-required Open Market Survey to determine that no commercial enterprise has a competing commercial project to fibre-up Braunston. Nobody came forward this time, and RCC signed a contract with BT in late June to take the work forward.
However, installation won't be any time soon. BT now has to survey, design, and plan the remaining Rutland works, starting in April next year, with installation work likely to start in July 2016. There is apparently no further pressure that can be brought to bear to accelerate this effort; Alan Duncan, BDUK, and others are all in the loop. July 2016 installation will be three years after most of the county was connected to fibre, and some four years after the main trunk fibre connecting Oakham to the world threaded its way through Braunston.
Meanwhile, the Harborough East Rural Broadband Syndicate (HERBS) has raised the potential for stretching its proposed wireless network as far as Braunston, as a trial, temporary fill-in, or even a permanent solution. This seems quite viable; relay points to Braunston have been investigated, and a trial installation would be interesting. The necessary permissions are being sought by HERBs to put some discrete equipment on several local churches to relay wireless signals between rural villages, which could start before the end of the year. With the assistance and approval of local church councils and their members a suitable network could be established, giving acceptable speeds.
Whilst our local Broadband Action Group is keen that Braunston participates in a trial, we are waiting for a firm proposal on costs, technology, and available speeds from HERBS; this should be available soon.
RCC has researched other options for providing us with better broadband, and is aware of the potential of wireless technology, but is not prepared to commit to it, either as an option, a trial, or temporary solution.
RCC considers that the fibre option is the best for Braunston, even though we won't see it for some time, and the technical details have yet to be determined.
So in summary, we will get faster broadband in the village via BT fibre possibly by late 2016 but it may run into 2017. The HERBS wireless system plans to be up and running later this year and may offer some villagers a better option to BT fibre depending on the solution BT deliver to the village.
As more information becomes available on both options we will keep everyone informed.
Jim Atack /Paul Rogerson
Update October 2014 :
After the government committed to providing decent broadband to everyone in the UK, in 2011, BT said it would pay to bring fibre broadband to Braunston.
This meant that we were left out of Rutland County Council's Digital Rutland plan.
In August 2013 BT changed its mind, but didn't release it's 'lock' over Braunston until December.
RCC has been trying to pick up the pieces, but is hamstrung by Government policy and process.
RCC will probably now pay BT a large sum to complete our simple installation, in a year or so.
Meanwhile, most of Rutland can now access the internet using fibre broadband.
Whilst Braunston hasn't given up its campaign, we thought we would translate some of our frustration into a little humour, so Paul has recorded our own protest song; we hope you like it. You can find it in the link below :
Broadband in the UK
Four years ago the government committed to providing decent broadband to everyone in the UK. People in Braunston can see that, already, more than 90% of Rutland has achieved that goal; they can also see that Braunston, where a simple and cheap technical solution is available, has not got decent broadband, and they ask 'why not'.
The detailed answer is in the Public Accounts Committee report from September last year: https://www.publications.parliament.uk/ essentially a critique of how the government's agent, Broadband Delivery UK, failed to control BT's quasi-monopoly in UK broadband.
This has played out locally in a frustrating, but understandable way, which may represent a systematic approach by BT to increasing its returns from the installation of broadband, whilst increasing its quasi-monopoly position. What we are seeing in Braunston could be running in parallel in many other counties; we simply don't know. One of the main issues identified by PAC was BT's secrecy around costs and schedule for what is, after all, a taxpayer-funded programme.
Broadband in Rutland
In 2010-2011, stimulated by the government plan to sponsor fibre broadband, Rutland County Council (RCC) created its excellent plan for upgrading the whole of Rutland to Digital Broadband. This plan is called Digital Rutland.
As a part of the process to gain state funds, RCC had to check that no one else already had plans to do similar work anywhere in Rutland; RCC was specifically excluded from competing with any such private 'commercial' ventures. This process of consultation, known as 'Open Market Review', took place toward the end of 2011. The 'commercial' areas were to be identified by their postcodes.
Broadband in Braunston
BT declared the LE15 8XX postcodes as areas where it would be upgrading to fibre broadband at its own cost, thus locking these postcodes out of the Digital Rutland scheme for a period of three years. This simple fact was held to be confidential between BT and RCC, and wasn't admitted publicly for two years. Braunston is covered within this set of postcodes. Braunston is two miles from Oakham, and a duct carrying the fibre trunk service into Oakham passes through Braunston, making Braunston fibre one of the quickest and easier 'rural' installations; no new ducts are anticipated to install the new service, which could cost as little as £15,000.
In January 2012 Braunston called a meeting with BT which confirmed that it anticipated that Braunston would be upgraded to fibre broadband under BT's Oakham exchange commercial rollout, probably commencing March 2013. BT disputes our record of what was said at this meeting.
In March 2012 Braunston declined a Rutland Telecom (RT) private fibre offer after the meeting with BT. RT expected to deliver fibre broadband to Braunston around January 2013, but required an investment loan from Braunston. The BT scheme would be subscribed on a normal monthly rental, and would therefore be cheaper. The imminent expectation of a sponsored BT service being delivered has consistently prevented Braunston from opting for a definite, but higher-price alternative.
In May 2012 RCC and BT signed a contract for Digital Rutland work, outside the reserved postcodes. There were apparently no competitive bids, and the price and form of this contract remain undisclosed by BT and RCC, despite the wishes of the PAC, and the curious idea that the cost of publicly sponsored works would remain a secret.
In September 2012 RCC confirmed its expectation that Braunston would be upgraded to fibre broadband. This was also re-confirmed by BT in October.
In April 2013 BT presented at the RCC Parish Councils forum. No mention was made of 'excluded' villages within the BT Commercial rollout area.
In August 2013 a BT email stated that Braunston would not be upgraded because there were too few lines to make it commercially viable. This was immediately confirmed by RCC, upon enquiry. There are 180 properties in Braunston.
Braunston called a further meeting with BT, which confirmed it was no longer committed to upgrade Braunston. BT provided a price of £45k, for which it would do the work, which would take around a further year to schedule.
Our Rutland MP, Alan Duncan, was lobbied, and accepted our understanding of the position; he wrote to BT to seek specific performance of its commitments. BT refused to confirm either that it would do the work or release the postcodes so that RCC could sponsor the work. RCC was keen to intervene but was excluded for the three year period. Unfortunately, under the BDUK process, the nomination of commercial areas by their postcode, does not constitute a contractual obligation to do the work intended, so there is no contractual recourse against BT.
By the end of 2013 most areas of Rutland had successfully been connected to fibre broadband.
At a meeting in December 2013 BT finally agreed to relinquish its commercial hold over Braunston, and will therefore not install fibre broadband to Braunston until paid by RCC under the Digital Broadband scheme contract. Unfortunately, this required re-application to the government scheme and running the whole 'Open Market Review' process again. RCC estimated that this would take at least another year, say early 2015.
In March 2014 RCC estimated that installation would not be likely before autumn 2015.
In October 2014 RCC noted that the Braunston programme had fallen back to 2016.
RCC and Braunston are likely to be reliant upon BT for the installation work; no price or schedule has been published.
The current RCC broadband map is appended. This appears to suggest that Braunston already has fibre broadband.
What's gone wrong? - my opinion
We need a simpler, fully transparent, process to contract for the installation of UK fibre infrastructure.
There should be competition in the award of contracts; with more than one contractor.
The infrastructure installed at tax-payer cost should not be owned by BT.
BT's reservation of postcode areas, followed by default, has left potentially many communities in the UK without fibre broadband. These must now be connected under non-competitive contracts awarded to BT.
What do we want? - general comment
Fibre broadband for Braunston at a realistic cost.
Publication of all infrastructure costs paid for by the taxpayer.
The government to act upon the findings of the Public Accounts Committee and take back control of the process and the networks
BT to open up access to 'its' facilities and ducts to competitors, without the current imposed red tape, bureaucracy, charges, and secrecy.
16 October 2014
Update April 2014 :
We have learned from RCC that following a review of the processes necessary to receive permission to use Government funding (the funding is already in place, it is the permission to use some of it for Braunston that requires RCC to seek permission from BDUK) to supply Braunston with Fibre Broadband that the earliest we can expect to receive the service in the village will be late 2015.
Further Update February 2014 :
As reported below, the village broadband group met with BT and RCC in December. At the meeting BT confirmed formally that it would not connect Braunston with fibre, despite its prior stance that was preventing RCC from sponsoring the work itself. RCC has since met with the government sponsor, BDUK, and there is now agreement that RCC will sponsor the work. Sadly, the bureaucracy involved is estimated to take another year until our broadband gap will be plugged, with the current best estimate from RCC being early 2015.
Update February 2014 :
Most village residents will be well aware of the efforts that have been made to bring Superfast Broadband to the village. Following a vigorous campaign by a village action group and involving RCC, BDUK, our MP Alan Duncan, and local councillor William Cross we have arrived at the following position :
Representatives from the committee set up to fight for Superfast Broadband for our village met with RCC and BT in December, and made good progress. It was generally agreed that RCC would re-apply to the government for funds and permission to bring fibre broadband to Braunston, and that BT would not stand in the way. We must now await the government process, but will be watching progress keenly. Meanwhile, we delivered the village broadband petition (217 signatures) to RCC, which left no doubt as to the frustration felt by villagers at being left out of the Digital Rutland upgrade.
Update 25/08/2013 :
In our area BT is rolling out High Speed Broadband using a combination of fibre, copper, and VDSL2. This combination has been successfully trialled and is being implemented quickly and effectively in a country-wide programme. Use of VDSL2 protocol over the copper network, between the fibre cabinet and the user, is reasonably effective at distances up to about 500m; the signal deteriorates significantly above that distance, but is usable up to around 2,000m. Proximity of the user to the fibre cabinet will also allow those with sufficient funds to elect for a FTTP direct fibre to home connection, which will drive useful additional revenues to BT, or the ISP; in Braunston an anticipated minimum of a dozen people would likely sign up for FTTP on this basis.
RCC has contracted with BT to install this system throughout Rutland (Digital Rutland initiative), with the exception of areas which have already been upgraded by Gigaclear (Rutland Telecom) or those areas which are served by the BT's Oakham exchange. A number of villages around Oakham, including Braunston, are served by the Oakham exchange. Typically, villages down to the size of Stretton and Ridlington with less than 100 customers are being fibre connected by the Rutland County Council's Digital Rutland scheme; these villages are about half the size of Braunston which has about 180 customers.
Unfortunately, BT has elected not to bring a fibre service to Braunston. Its plan is to install fibre from the Oakham exchange only as far as the cabinet at Glebe Way in Oakham, some 2,000m from the first houses in Braunston. The existing copper wires from the Glebe Way cabinet to the our cabinet outside the Old Plough will continue to carry the service to most Braunston residents, who are already connected to the cabinet; the more remote users in Knossington Road and Wood lane are a further 1,000m from this cabinet. Unfortunately, this plan will not give improvements in speed which are anywhere near approaching fibre connection speeds of 50-100mbs. Likely speeds at Church Street would be less than 10mbs and less than 5mbs at the end of Knossington Road and Wood Lane. If the proposed scheme goes ahead, BT can anticipate a disenfranchisement of existing Braunston customers (around 25% use BT as an ISP) and customers are likely to go out of their way to sign up with an alternative ISP. So there will be an opportunity cost to BT for this proposal, as well as continued bad feeling toward BT and RCC, for not delivering on the expectations raised by the Digital Rutland programme. The potential to sign up FTTP users would also prove prohibitive since an additional 2,000m of private fibre would be required on top of the fibre from the Old Plough cabinet to the user, losing further available revenues to BT. It would also be a rather futile exercise since the first fibre pulled in the existing duct from Oakham to Braunston, would complete the scheme favoured by Braunston.
Our preferred scheme for Braunston would be to connect the Old Plough cabinet to Oakham with an additional 2,000m of fibre; this could be done either by connecting via a fibre splitter at Glebe Way, or by running a full fibre back to the Oakham exchange. Speeds of up to 100mbs would then be possible at Church Street and up to 24mbs at the far end of Knossington Road and Wood Lane. The incremental cost of extending fibre beyond the Glebe Way cabinet is estimated to be of the order £10-15,000 to cover 2km of fibre (£2,000), a new cabinet (£5,000) and installation (£5,000). This would likely be covered by new sign-ups for an improved service and for FTTP connections.
The likely incremental cost to BT of installing the VDSL2 system over the existing copper network is minimal and is required for either scheme. There will be a cost to users for upgrading to this system since new modems will be required. The modems are likely to be provided by ISP's, but this cost will inevitably land with the customer.
If you are unhappy with the current situation regarding Braunston please make your RCC Ward councillor William Cross aware of your feelings by emailing him at email@example.com, write to him c/o Hilltop Farm, Braunston Road, Oakham LE15 8UH or phone him on 01572-755-744) and please copy Parish Councillor Jim Atack (firstname.lastname@example.org) on any correspondence so he can keep track of local feelings.
Update 24/11/2012 : I'm pleased to say that yesterday, Tuesday 20th November 2012, Digital Rutland received good news from the European Commission (EC).
Please see the Digital Rutland website for full details: https://www.rutland.gov.uk/my-community/digital-rutland/
Update 01/10/2012 : We have had the following update today from a BT representative : I am pleased to advise that Braunston is to be included within the plan announced by BT in June to upgrade the Oakham exchange to superfast fibre broadband which will take place early next year. I will keep you advised of progress .
Update 21/03/2012 : Rutland CC have awarded the contract for 'Digital Rutland' to BT. You can read more about this in the News section of this website.
Braunston Broadband Options
Rutland County Council has started a process which will improve broadband speeds to the rural communities. The RCC website (https://www.rutland.gov.uk/my-community/digital-rutland/) sets out RCC ambitions for delivery of higher speeds, but no schedule has yet been published. RCC encouraged feedback from residents on current and required broadband services, via an online questionnaire in November. There are around 160 houses in Braunston, with about 400 people. We estimate that around 75% of households in Braunston now have broadband, which is in line with the recent RCC survey of county-wide take-up.
People are using a number of providers in the village; BT, Talk-Talk, Rutland Telecom are popular. All connections are dependent on BT's copper technology; the village is serviced by multiple copper pairs from Oakham exchange, some three miles away, which are terminated at a local cabinet outside the Old Plough. Client lines then distribute individual service to householders. At present this technology limits us to a maximum 4.0 Mbps/ 0.6Mbps. Typically an average of 2.5/0.5 is readily achievable, but we believe that some folk have old connections that run slower.
Recently the Parish Council was approached by potential broadband providers, Rutland Telecom and BT , to discuss options; we have used these opportunities to see what is possible.
Rutland Telecom is a local supplier which is majority owned by Gigaclear, a fibre infrastructure company. It has installed two local fibre networks over the past few years.
Rutland Telecom pulled a fibre trunk into the village and connected to BT's local distribution cabinet. This gives a fibre-to-cabinet installation, allowing speeds typically up to 40Mbps. Since the copper connection from the cabinet to the client is owned by BT a proportion of the rental goes to BT.
Rutland Telecom installed fibre into the village and made direct fibre-to-client connections to all who wanted them (41 out of 66 houses). A termination point was left outside the balance of properties for future DIY hookup. This gives each resident a potential 1,000Mbps symmetrical connection, although this is currently choked back to around 10Mbps guaranteed speed.
The cost of the Hambleton installation was around £150k; funds were raised by the residents and lent to Rutland Telecom (with the fibre assets as security) amortised over a period of twenty years, with a 5% interest rate. This is the Rutland Telecom model and is typically at a capital cost of about £2k per installed client. Line rentals are charged at £37 per month for broadband and landline. For the economics to work an initial client commitment of 30% of the properties in the location is required.
1. Rutland Telecom Option - meeting with Matthew Hare (CEO, Gigaclear) and Christer Karlsson (MD,) 24th January 2012
The commercial model would follow the Hambleton prototype; Braunston has around 160 properties requiring capital of some £320+k to be raised by the community, and a line rental from a minimum 54 households at £37 per month. The fibre line would be connected back to the main A47 trunk route and other villages would likely be connected on the way (e.g. Ayston, Preston, Manton). There would be no reliance on BT networks. Speeds of 1,000Mbps would again be possible.
Delivery of such a scheme would be possible well within one year; the Hambleton installation time was around five weeks, once all the permissions, procurement and installation contracts were in place . Gigaclear would be the infrastructure owner, with Rutland Telecomm becoming the service provider.
2. BT Option - meeting with Paul Bimson (Regional Partnership Director, BT) 20th January 2012
It is thought likely that BT will win the current procurement exercise with RCC to cable up Rutland for faster broadband; Rutland Telecom /Gigaclear has apparently been excluded from the tender process for reasons which aren't clear to us, but most probably because of its size, experience and capabilities.
Initially most rural communities could be attached to fibre-to-cabinet service, giving speeds up to 40 Mbps. We do not have an installation schedule from RCC, but one should emerge over the next several months. The first stage would be to improve the equipment in the Oakham exchange , and then run fibre out to Braunston and other rural communities. The line to Braunston would be quite straightforward since there is already a fibre duct running over the whole distance. Connection of the fibre in Braunston would also be straight forward by placing a new fibre cabinet next to the existing copper termination cabinet outside the Old Plough.
We have two choices, if BT is confirmed as RCC's County-wide option:
1. Wait for BT to install a fibre-to-cabinet service, or;
2. Raise funds and press on with fibre-to-client service with Rutland Telecom.
In January we proposed to:
- Run a fact-finding survey across the village using a website survey page.
- Press Rutland County Council for an installation schedule.
RCC has now confirmed that the contract for county-wide broadband upgrade will not be let until at best August, when details of installation and upgrade schedule may become available. This means that we can't make any sensible decision on alternatives until then. In the meanwhile RCC has confirmed that its data collection process on their digital rutland page is still live:
Could we again urge you to fill in the online survey if you haven't already done so? This will be more effective than duplicating the effort by running our own web survey.
If we are proactive on broadband issues we may rise up the installation schedule, especially since there is already a bt fibre trunk line which passes through the village along the High Street and out along Knossington Road.
Please check the Braunston website for updates:
Paul Rogerson and Jim Atack
8th March 2012