The state aid supported Fastershire project, which is working to extend superfast broadband services across Gloucestershire and Herefordshire in England, has announced that a revised “full fibre” (FTTP) roll-out plan from UK ISP partner Gigaclear could be approved and published by the end of this month.
At present Gigaclear are responsible for a big chunk of the Fastershire contract, with Openreach (BT) holding another piece of the pie. However toward the end of last year it became clear that Gigaclear’s latest roll-out plan for an extension of their existing 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network had hit a spot of trouble due to “unexpected delays” (here).
A similar situation was experienced in several other counties, such as Devon and Somerset, where the local authorities stated that the provider had suffered problems due to a lack of operational capacity, poor decision making within the ISP, slow deployment by contractors, a lack of detailed planning and a failure to redesign the build methodology.
The situation, which partly stemmed from some of the challenges that the ISP had faced in scaling-up their operations in order to deliver on several new Broadband Delivery UK contracts, meant that a “number of the start dates anticipated for certain communities have been missed.” Gigaclear was eventually ordered to produce a new deployment plan, but the first revision was rejected at the start of this year (here).
The good news is that another revision has now been received by the Fastershire team and if all goes well (the new plan has to go through their governance process and BDUK approval again) then it will be “published via the Fastershire website address checker later in March, subject to approval.” We spoke to the project team about this today and have a bit more detail to add.
A Spokesperson for Fastershire (Herefordshire) told ISPreview.co.uk:
“A revised plan was received in mid-February and the timescale extension request is going through the council’s governance process at present and thereafter (subject to approval) the newly adopted plan will be incorporated into the premise checker on the Fastershire website.
It proposes pushing back completion to the end of 2021 with a handful in the January of the following year. The change will also see the inclusion of more premises into the contract so that more of our deep rural communities get the benefits of a full fibre connection.
Our hope is that the new plan puts us back in a position where we can communicate progress on the build in a transparent, timely and accurate way thereafter.”
Fastershire appears to recognise that one of the “biggest frustrations” has been their current inability to tell people when we’re getting the new service. “We find our local communities invariably understand the size of the task and can cope with delays but not the lack of communication,” said the team. However it’s important to recognise that a lot of progress has already been made and the roll-out hasn’t stopped.
The project has been working with Gigaclear since 2015 and manages 5 contracts with them. The first of these in the Cotswolds is now complete and was delivered pretty much within the contractual time-scales, delivering a significant boost to “full fibre” coverage.
The remaining 4 contracts are said to be at various degrees of completeness with North Gloucestershire at a relatively advanced stage of delivery. Gigaclear plan to dig c.4.5 million meters of fibre to reach the contracted premises and they have this month surpassed the 1.5 million mark.
Nearly 16,000 premises in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire can access Gigaclear already, and there is said to have been “tangible evidence of activity throughout this period“. The delays are thus more about “resetting expectations,” given a significant proportion of the build has taken place and they now have a better understanding of the task and scale ahead.
“The delays are a disappointment but given the extreme sparsity of many of our areas and the quality of the end product it’s worth investing the extra time,” said the spokesperson.