Doubts voiced over broadband roll-out

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL

Rural households more than one kilometre from their nearest telephone exchange will not get superfast broadband, it was claimed this week.

Professor Peter Buneman of Edinburgh University, who helped develop a wireless system for the Glenelg and Sleat areas, said the fibre optic network currently being rolled out by BT would not cover up to 25 per cent of premises. He also maintains that BT, as part of its £146 million contract with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, will be using existing fibre optic lines to connect exchanges to local distribution points known as cabinets.

“Once you are more than one kilometre from the cabinet you won’t get superfast and more than two kilometres from the exchange or cabinet and you are unlikely to see any improvement,” Prof Buneman wrote in an advisory note to remote communities who may want to develop their own network.

Because copper wires will still be used to connect cabinets to houses, the length of this will dictate how good the broadband connection is, he said.

“We don’t have information on where the cabinets are or on the line-lengths,” Prof Buneman added. “We do know that there are not many cabinets in rural Scotland and we have heard of no plans to put in new cabinets.”

However, a spokeswoman for HIE said: “In this phase of roll-out this will primarily involve bringing fibre to street cabinets, but also in some locations bringing fibre direct to premises. The roll-out will see BT upgrade and install hundreds of new cabinets across the region. There will be circumstances where there are no cabinets, or very few premises served by a cabinet, or where the premises in general are a long distance from the cabinet. Where it can be delivered economically within the project budget, fibre to the premises will be one of the options considered.”

Initially, HIE predicted that the cost of bringing superfast broadband to the Highlands and Islands would be between £200 million and £300 million. BT would not comment on how they can deliver the service for £146 million. Neither could they supply a map of existing fibre routes, although one is available for the roll-out plans.

A spokesman added: “BT has been using fibre in its local network for several years and, where possible, we will use the existing fibre and upgrade the electronics. In other areas new fibre and electronics will be installed.

“Many existing routes will also need to be overlaid with additional fibre to increase capacity to meet demand. Existing capacity will not meet future demand given the extent of the coverage we will be providing. And older fibre does not always have the optical grade to carry high capacity next generation traffic over long distances.”

To find out where your nearest cabinet is, visit www.btwholesale.com/includes/adsl/main.html

michael.russell@whfp.co.uk