An angry BT Openreach has pulled the plug on its deployment of fibre broadband in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea after the Council refused permission to install its over-sized street cabinets on aesthetic grounds.
The company had wanted to site 108 FTTC (fibre-to-the-cabinet) boxes offering high-speed internet access to 34,000 addresses but was knocked back on all but 12 of these on the grounds that they were out of keeping with a borough full of “historic streetscapes and listed buildings.”
“We expect developers, including utilities like BT, to work with us to find suitable solutions to ensure that our environment is protected,” the council said in a statement. “It [BT] would not compromise on the number, or on the design.”
The reaction from BT did little to hide the company’s exasperation.
“We can confirm we have ceased deployment of fibre broadband in Kensington and Chelsea. This is unfortunate but we were left with no option after having the vast majority of our applications rejected by the council,” it said.
“Other councils, including those of neighbouring boroughs, have shown a greater eagerness to enjoy the benefits of fibre broadband. We will therefore refocus our engineers' efforts in other areas where planning authorities have taken a positive approach and are keen to ensure their residents and businesses can benefit from this technology.”
The company’s mood won’t have been helped by Kensington and Chelsea’s favourable comments about rival Virgin Media, which is also busy bolstering its own fibre network across the UK.
“We regret that BT are not proceeding with superfast broadband in the royal borough, but virtually the whole borough is already covered by superfast broadband with Virgin, who obviously appreciate the very valuable market the borough represents,” said the council.
“Virgin has been able to do this without ruining our historic streetscape. They will also consider extending to the few streets they do not already cover in the borough if demand is there.”
BT will have known that Kensington and Chelsea featured a number of conservation areas, which can give councils grounds on which to refuse developments of all types.
The bigger problem in this case appears to have been BT’s deployment of FTTC technology, which unlike direct-to-premises connections requires street cabinets that are considerably higher and wider than coaxial copper cabinets that have been a feature of Britain’s streets for decades.
A Virgin Media source confirmed that the company was able to offer a more discrete FTTC deployment in Kensington and Chelsea thanks to the legacy of the 1990’s underground cable roll-out by NTL (one of Virgin’s merged constituents). Recent FTTC cabinet designs were also considerably larger than had been the case in the past, he said.
BT’s argument is that it has already rolled out 4,000 FTTC cabinets in 31 of London’s 33 boroughs without problem and that consumers stand to gain from competition.
Negotiations on their size, location and the possibility of running fibre underground appeared to have stalled. This will leave BT – and possibly some of the borough’s consumers and businesses – frustrated. Kensington and Chelsea is one of the wealthiest boroughs in the UK and the uptake would likely have been profitable for the company.