Rural broadband service deployed by Tim Robinson has made a difference to his local community – Part 3
The success of the farm project has encouraged us to deploy into other rural areas. For the less financially promising locations we have taken a very conservative approach to funding, generally getting most of the installation costs for new repeater sites paid for upfront by the very customers who are driving the deployment. This ensures our ability to remain profitable and also ensures a level of commitment from our customers. Also, early on we took the decision that all services would be provided on a one-month contract. People seem to like that. A lot.
We have so far chosen areas that that Big Telcos will have real trouble covering with FTTx but that we can easily reach from our existing backhaul. We are also deploying into a local business park that has particularly bad ADSL service Such facilities are a lucrative area for us and seem thus far to have been deliberately avoided by Big Telcos, but we cannot be complacent as they are likely to be targeted in the future. We have sought to be very supportive and provide a good level of customer service, and business users tend not to be lured by the promise of high speeds and free sport channels. People seem to like that. A lot.
Since 2010 nearly 100 customers have connected to the network. In answer to such demand, we have expanded from a single VDSL2 backhaul from AAISP to multi-homed Ethernet transit over VDSL2. More recently, we added an EAD fibre backhaul. Our VoIP service has been widely used by our customers as a way of reducing cost and improving audio quality, as even phone calls over 8km lines sound rather muffled in comparison!
Some random thoughts and lessons learned:
- Don’t just sit there and moan at Big Telcos. Do something creative. Nothing will happen unless you do.
- If you don’t ask, you don’t get. People are much more accommodating of having a rather ugly 60cm dish on their chimney than you might at first have thought.
- Farmers and landowners are great to work with. They have a can-do attitude to most things, unlike the naysayers of Big Telcos and the local authorities. They also have cherry pickers to help with link tests, and 4x4s to pull you out of muddy fields.
- It’s easier to seek forgiveness than (planning) permission. We are operating on the basis that our antennas are ‘de minimis’ and the local council have been extremely supportive of our service.
- When FTTx becomes available, not everyone leaves. A lot of people actually have a strong dislike of Big Telcos and welcome the alternative!
- Use a professional aerial contractor for all ladder work. You know it makes sense.
- A bridged Layer 2 wireless network will eventually end in tears. Route, Route, Route!
Things that are holding back small ‘alt-nets’ from deploying more coverage:
- There is no such thing as ‘BT Retail’, ‘BT Wholesale’ and ‘BT Openreach’. These exist only in the minds of the regulator and BT plc’s internal processes. They are all part of BT plc and they can juggle profit centres to suit their shareholders, keep the wholesale prices high and retail prices low. Until BT Openreach is physically and legally separated from the other two, there will never be a ‘level playing field’ in this market. I call upon the government to force the Openreach division to be hived off into a totally independent, Network Rail-like, not-for-profit company.
- Cost of backhaul. With the incumbent monopoly charging for fibre backhaul in the way they do, there will often not be a business case for installing service to some of the more remote places – wireless represents the only sensible way of delivering the connectivity.
- By all accounts, the BDUK government funding of rural broadband is an utter fiasco. The whole process has been shrouded in secrecy, deliberately restricted to BT as the only real participant, and is thus holding back our wireless deployments. This is because we as small operators don’t know where the taxpayer funded FTTx footprint is to be extended next. It’s like the government building a road but not telling anyone where it is going to be until the diggers arrive! Government funded FTTx is part of the national infrastructure and there should be total transparency of which cabinets will be upgraded, which postcodes are served by these cabinets, and which will definitely not be done.
- Fibre business rates and proposed business rate liability on wireless internet antennas. These are not progressive taxes, and as such makes it hard for small telcos to invest in fibre or wireless infrastructure. I call upon the government to overhaul this iniquitous situation and instead find a way to raise funds in a more progressive manner, based on profit. Oh wait. It’s called VAT and Corporation Tax.