Eight weeks on from my last message to those that have expressed interest, an update on FTTP in the parish.
Let me start by saying that running this FTTP process is painful and at times I feel that it might be easier to lower the Atlantic than raise the Titanic.
Following a recent Teams meeting with two high-level Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) contacts running the FTTP rollout across Oxfordshire I now understand more of what is an incredibly opaque process. It should also be noted that OCC are as frustrated as I am; they are having to run between Openreach and Whitehall and the ground rules seem to be in a state of flux.
In summary, delays were fed into the process following a change of voucher scheme in February and new terms and conditions applied to the replacement scheme. Due to the changes set out in the new terms, Openreach entered into extensive talks with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This was meant to have been resolved by the end of May and then by the end of June. The contacts at OCC have confirmed to me today that this has now, finally, been resolved… to the best of their knowledge.
According to OCC, our scheme looks to be fully funded from the conversations they have had with both myself and Openreach. This means that we, as residents, shouldn’t have to pay for any of the infrastructure providing we pledge our vouchers in the correct timeframe and we meet the terms and conditions for the voucher scheme.
However, in June – see https://news.oxfordshire.gov.uk/gigabit-capable/ – Openreach unilaterally decided that it would commercially (not part of a voucher scheme) bring FTTP to a number of exchanges. Kingston Blount was announced as one of the exchanges featuring in that rollout. The theory is that these exchanges will be FTTP enabled by 2026, however what OCC does not have sight of is confirmation of what proportion of premises on an exchange will benefit from this rollout. In other words, it may miss out some.
Will this impede our use of the voucher scheme? Both I and OCC don’t know, but rest assured both myself and the council are looking at every option available to us.
Our scheme has now been sent to the DCMS for approval and until we know more there’s no telling which way it’ll go. However, what we are aware of, is if we are given the green light, then Openreach will ask DCMS to issue the vouchers to our community to verify that we can, and will, pledge them for our premises to the scheme. Residents will then receive validation emails where they will need to enter their details on a separate website within a certain timeframe. Following this step and the target value being reached once the pledges begin verifying, the process should lead to installations within a defined 12-month period.
So, what does all this mean? In answer, we are in a holding pattern for the moment and nothing else. It’s not ideal, but it’s not bad news either. The saving grace is that in the unfortunate event that our scheme is not approved, unlike other areas of the county, a solution will still present itself over the coming years.
Lastly, regarding Airband. I still feel that Openreach, one way or another, is the favoured option – for a number of reasons too. Firstly, it took Airband a year to garner just 26 expressions of interest. We’re at 158 with the vast majority coming though in two-three weeks. Secondly, Airband will tie subscribers into its offering; Openreach permits subscribers to use any ISP – BT, Sky, Zen and so on. Thirdly, while not guaranteed, because Openreach already has an extensive network it should require the installation of fewer telegraph poles.
I want to keep residents informed and am happy to take any questions.
As before, if you know of anyone not signed up, do send them my way. Remember – at this point there is no obligation and we gain strength through force of numbers.