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City of London – Broadband backwater?

Optical fibre cablesPhilip Virgo, a fellow member of my Livery Company, recently alerted me to a problem affecting ‘small & medium enterprises’ (SMEs) in our Ward and across the City, relating to the provision of fibre broadband services which many of us now take for granted in providing fast access to the internet and other online services.  The issue also affects residents across the City, where they are served by exchanges that are not predominantly residential, such as in our Ward.

 

Unfortunately, it would appear that whist super fast fibre broadband is being rolled out to many rural areas through Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – the government body established to “to continue to improve the UK’s broadband network, with particular emphasis on making high-speed broadband available in rural communities” – many built up areas including London, are missing out on this vital modern utility.

The problem appears to be arising because those served by the Fleet, Faraday, Monument and Wood Street exchanges in the City, cannot get “Fibre to the Cabinet“, while those served by the Wood Street exchange cannot even get 21CN, which has been running since 2009 and is an older, limited technology.1

 

Definitely not infinity

The net result of this is that while many rural areas are getting very fast broadband, residents and SMEs in our Ward and City are stuck on very slow broadband, or are being forced to choose between other slower and less reliable services, or expensive “Fibre to the Premise” services which really isn’t a viable option for residents or SMEs.

More details can be found on Philip’s ComputerWeekly blogs:
How rural is Smithfield (London EC1)? Where is the final 10% which it is “uneconomic” for BT to upgrade?
BT to give fibre to the premises in Dolphinholme (Lancashire) but not fibre to the cabinet to Smithfield (London EC1)

Following  a meeting with Philip, I wrote to Steve Bage who is the City’s ‘Strategic Infrastructure Advisor’, and part of the City Property Advisory Team (CPAT) – this is the team at Guildhall who are responsible for trying to ensure the City has what it needs in terms of utilities and infrastructure.

In his reply, he explained that the City had been “aware of this issue for some time”, and had discussed the problem with several SMEs in the City who cannot afford dedicated leased lines and have to rely instead on shared broadband services providing “contended bandwidth” – the more people online, the slower your connection.  This basic broadband is often insufficient for business use, especially for those types of companies who have a large online presence, forcing some businesses to do their back-ups less frequently and overnight as they can take several hours due to inadequate connectivity.

 

The City – not a priority for BT

At a meeting with BT, they informed the CPAT that BT will not be installing Superfast Broadband services in the City as “the business case for doing so is predicated on the number of dwellings in the area”, and obviously with us ‘only’ having around 8,000 residents, BT view other areas in the UK as having a greater priority.  BT also explained that the funding for Superfast Broadband is “largely exhausted” and that a contribution in the ‘low millions’ would be required in order to consider investing in the City.

This is partly due to “How BDUK bungled Britain’s next-gen broadband rollout“, allowing providers bidding for funding to cover only 90% of a given area with high-speed connections, and partly due to the bias towards rural communities.  But there has also been an accusation that BT may be reluctant to enable Fibre to the Cabinet for certain exchanges, as this is likely to encourage businesses currently using those exchanges, to switch from other apparently more expensive BT services, such as existing leased lines.

This is an unacceptable situation.  I believe that if we want the City to be an attractive place to live and work, and where our small and medium-sized City businesses can grow, we need reasonable access to all levels of connectivity.

 

Super Connected Cities, but only if you have a voucher and can keep up the payments

Obviously, at a time when savings are having to be found across the board, the City does not have any funding for such services itself.   However, Steve Bage also informed me that he has been working with the GLA in this area, who have a “Super Connected Cities” fund of £30m to bring faster broadband to London.  The London Boroughs, along with the CPAT for the City, recently sent out a survey to assess areas of need across London, and the GLA plans to use the funding to offer SMEs a £3,000 “voucher” which would cover the cost of the installation of “enhanced broadband”, with SMEs picking up the on going costs.

I’ve yet to find out exactly what “enhanced broadband” means, but I believe this could be FTTP or a leased line of some sort.  Even if this scheme gets off the ground, it’s unclear at this stage which telecoms providers could offer a suitable product.  Regardless of these efforts, the question remains around who will pay for the wider enabling costs of bringing FTTC to the City and London.

The GLA expects to know more in October, and at the same time the CPAT is in discussions with the City’s 13 telecoms providers to assess whether they would be willing to provide a high bandwidth affordable service for SMEs.  A report will be written and circulated to Chief Officers and the Town Clerk in late October, and I will continue to take an active interest in this issue.

 

Your views

I’m sure that many of us online would love to have a faster broadband connection, and there are a whole host of issues that can affect the speed and quality of the service received, but we need to ensure a level playing field is in place, and that real competition is able to deliver the range of services needed in the City.  If you are a resident or SME that is unable to receive the broadband service you need, please get in touch.

 

 

1 This is according to SamKnows, a global broadband measuring site, generally regarded as the source for such information.

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12 thoughts on “City of London – Broadband backwater?

  1. Marcus Cooper says:

    Individuals living in these areas and just needing a single wireless/hardwired connection should seriously look at Relish as an option – we have a box here next to the Museum of London and it’s giving us 3x the download speed (18mb) and 15x the upload speed (4mb) over our main network, which is connected to Wood Street. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem viable to supply the internet to a network as the connections and communications aren’t compatible so we’re still stuck in the dinosaur age.

    If anyone has managed to wire a Relish box into a network then please let me know!

    Reply
    • Graeme Smith CC says:

      Marcus,

      Glad to hear you’ve found some sort of solution or at least an alternative. It’s incredibly frustrating not having a decent afordable broadband connection, but this is all too common throughout central London, and is something that the City and others are working to resolve. There is an article giving an update in the latest cityview magazine which you may find interesting http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/about-the-city/about-us/Pages/publications.aspx

      I think there are ways to network your Relish connection, but not having used this or any first hand knowledge, you’re best talking to them dirrectly.

      We will keep working on this, but it seems like until there is some serious competition to BT, things may continue to crawl along at a snails-pace in all respects.

      Graeme

      Reply
  2. Jamie Elmer says:

    I am the IT Coordinator for a non-profit making SME in the City and I recently wrote a letter regarding this matter to Maria Miller’s office (obviously there’s been a few changes there since I sent the letter!). I have yet to receive a response and this was around mid-March when I sent the letter. I shall now write to Boris, see if that gets me anywhere – I doubt it though, BT seems to be too powerful. Any more news on this or tips on where I should focus my efforts would be greatly appreciated!

    Jamie

    Reply
    • Graeme Smith CC says:

      Jamie,

      Thanks for the comments. City officers are actively working to come up with a genuine solution to this City-wide problem, and it’s hoped that there will be some news on this over the summer. I expect to hear more, and will be able to share more after the next Information Systems Committee meeting on which I sit, which is at the end of the month. I can’t disagree with your view of BT.

      Graeme

      Reply
      • Jamie Elmer says:

        Thanks Graeme, have felt a bit alone on this until I came across this site yesterday. In case you’re interested, I’ve inserted a link to the 2 letters that I’ve written so far. If you need any examples of a small office (especially non-profit making)  trying to obtain fair speeds at fair prices then I don’t mind commenting.

        Link to letters

         

        Reply
  3. Charlie Simon says:

    BT Openreach has a natural monopoly over fibre optic cable and their lack of commitment to provide it in the capital is quite frankly pathetic. Their argument just does not stand up as they have an obligation to provide their service to the public. As a Farringdon resident I have written to my local MP and Ofcom to put more pressure on BT to DO THEIR JOB and install fibre optic cable. My flat is 372 metres from the BT central office for the WHOLE of the UK based by St. Pauls – a lack of super-fast broadband it just ludicrous.

    Reply
  4. David Wilcox says:

    Thanks Graeme for such an informative article. I wonder if the proposed residential developments in the ward will make any difference to the case … or whether we could enlist developers and agents in a campaign?

    Reply
    • Graeme Smith CC says:

      The issue has been raised a number of times by officers and members in the Information Systems committee I sit on.  I know that the City has had a number of discussions with BT and other potential providers, including Virgin Media through a contact I made at a Parliamentary meeting to discuss the very same issue in a wider context.  I think we will get some results in the coming months, but you’re right in that more residents will help – I believe that Virgin are to provide cable to residents in the Barbican for the very reason that there are a large number of potential customers in a relatively small area.  Will keep on pressing the issue and keep you posted!

       

      Reply
      • David Wilcox says:

        Thanks Graeme for your perseverence. A Virgin diversion to Bartholomew Close would help!

        Reply
          • Graeme Smith CC says:

            Definitely.  the Information Systems committee meets tomorrow, and there is a paper on the agenda relating to these issues, so hopefully I will be able to provide some very up-to-date information.

  5. Richard Latto says:

    The lack of cable is also a problem for residents surrounded by high rise buildings blocking reception via an aerial.

    Reply

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