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Starting up a New Scheme

If your street is not included in any existing schemes, then you have two options:

  1. Get an existing scheme extended to your street, or
  2. Start your own scheme.

The best option depends on where you live and how the telephone lines from your property run to the nearest BT Cabinet. For example, if you are in Alresford, look at the map below. Locate where you live and where you are in relation to the BT Cabinets - numbered in red on the map.

The above map is a screenshot from https://labs.thinkbroadband.com and reproduced with thanks to their policy of allowing the sharing of screenshots.

The South East Alresford scheme is all served from BT Cabinet 4, and the telephone lines run in ducts along Sun Lane to all the properties off Linnets Road (South) via Tichborne Down. Putting them in the same scheme should make sense as they all share the cabling costs for dragging fibre optic cables all the way down Sun Lane.

On the other hand, the northern end of Linnets Road was built at a different time and the properties off this part of the street are served from BT Cabinet 6. All they share with the southern end ('The Castles') is a road name. There are no synergies at all with the properties in the South East Alresford scheme.The cost of connecting these properties would simply be additional to the rest of the scheme - adding complication without any benefit. It would make sense for this part of Linnets Road to set up its own scheme with Benenden Green and other properties off Jacklyns Lane connected to BT Cabinet 6. Costs can then be shared helping to drive down the cost per property.

You can easily find out which BT Cabinet you are using by going to the BT Broadband Availability Checker. If you know your landline telephone number then use this to find out everything the BT Database has about your broadband service including the cabinet you are using. If you click on the "Address Checker" tab then you can search for the broadband service available at any address.This is a useful way of finding out the addresses that should be in your scheme and whether you are someone who should join an existing scheme or should consider starting up your own.

It can also be worthwhile to "walk the streets" looking to see where your telephone cables run and how they get to the Cabinet. This is usually fairly obvious. The ducts run under the pavement or road and link up the BT manhole covers. This gives you a good idea of which other streets are a natural fit with your proposed scheme. Note that there is history here. Some pre-1980 manhole covers are stamped PO (Post Office) and even older ones are General Post Office (GPO). The two digit year they were installed is usually also visible.

Starting your own Scheme

This is the easy bit. Go to the BT Openreach Website Portal and enter your postcode and select your address. The website will then respond with the services you can get. Scroll down and register your interest in a Community Fibre Partnership.

In a day or so you should get an EMail back with login details to the Community Fibre Partnership portal and you can register your community.

You need to be more than just one household in order to get going and you probably should have started by polling your neighbours. Social Media is a good way to do this where (e.g.) suitable Facebook or WhatsApp groups exist. We started with an EMail to an Orchard Close group and then picked up others by pushing a leaflet through everyone's letter box. It is also useful to engage your local councillors at this stage. One of their roles is to co-ordinate community groups and they can tell you who else may be interested in joining your scheme or of any others doing the same thing and which you should be getting together with. You can also contact us and we can try and help co-ordinate other schemes.

Once you have your initial list of addresses, you can enter them into the Openreach Community Fibre Partnership portal (see the Manage Addresses form). Once you are happy with your initial set of addresses then you click on the "I have finished adding addresses" button. This locks your "Manage Addresses Form" and Openreach will prepare an initial quotation for you. This takes two to four weeks or so.

Openreach don't just include your initial set of addresses in the quote - they also drag in all addresses that share the same infrastructure with your initial list. You thus only really need to have a sample set of addresses covering the area of your proposed scheme. You then get an estimated price for the scheme, a cost per property, and a complete list of addresses covered.

At this point you should review the cost and scope and see if there are any holes in the coverage, i.e. other properties that you could add to the scheme. You also have an Openreach contact person that you can talk to and discuss how to progress the scheme. The advantage of widening the scheme to properties that share the same infrastructure is that you can drive down the cost per property.  If you can identify additional properties then you can request that your address list is unlocked and add them in. Remember that you only need a sample of the street addresses as the rest will be automatically added - although you should get the permission of the resident at each property that you add.

Once you are happy then you again click on the "I have finished adding addresses" button. This locks your "Manage Addresses Form" and Openreach will prepare an updated quotation for you. You can repeat updating the address list and quotations several times if you need to.

Hopefully your cost per household is below the value of the voucher available to each household (currently £1,500 residential or £3,500 for an SME - see https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/). Your scheme becomes "Demand Led" and all you need to do is to get enough residents in the scope of your quote to go the Openreach website and Pledge their Voucher. You need enough to cover the cost and some more to cover the risk of voucher cancellation. This is a real risk because pledging a voucher is only the first step. Once the full fibre infrastructure has been installed, the DCMS will contact all those who pledged their voucher and ask them to "self-certify" that they have upgraded and only if they complete this step is the voucher money paid to Openreach. As a result, Openreach will want more vouchers pledged than are needed to cover the scheme's cost so that they don't end up out of pocket. Currently, Openreach look for 30% more vouchers pledged than are needed to cover the actual cost.

If the cost per household is too high for the scheme to be Demand Led then you will have to form a Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) together with your neighbours i.e. all those who want to be included in the scheme. A CFP is a legal entity and that can take responsibility for raising the remaining funds necessary to complete the work. The CFP can raise the funds in any way it wants. However, it will typically require its members to share and cover its costs.

You can  now ask Openreach to move to the next stage and to produce a detailed costing and to start accepting voucher pledges.

Now comes the Hard Bit

So now all you have to do is to reach out to all these addresses and persuade them that it is good idea to upgrade to Fibre Optic broadband and to pledge their voucher. This means that the current householder or more specifically the person (the 'beneficary') that pays for the broadband service to the property has to pledge their voucher. In the case of rentals, if the tenant pays directly for the service then it's the tenant who has to pledge their voucher.

There are several possible strategies here:

  • Viral Marketing is probably the most efficient. If you can exploit Social Media to get networks of neighbours to push each other into pledging their vouchers then this low cost and should get a high hit rate.
  • Leafleting is another route - but probably not available while COVID restrictions are in place.
  • Same for "knocking on doors".
  • Mailshots may also be necessary to get to all the target addresses. Speak to your County Councillor here as small grants may be available to cover this.

This website is also available to help you. It has been set up to support the South East Alresford scheme, but we can also add a description of your scheme and add your own contact details/contact form. This is volunteer run, so there is no cost for doing this.

However, you do have a bit of mountain to climb when it comes to persuading residents to pledge their voucher and the biggest problem is hidden in the DCMS voucher Terms and Conditions. This is that when someone pledges their voucher, they agree to

  1. commit to upgrading to a 12 month contract with the ISP of their choice for a fibre connection with a download speed of at least 30Mbits/s, and
  2. which is double their current connection speed.

This second condition can be a deal breaker. In the South East Alresford area, our current download speeds with FTTC are below 30 Mbits/s. Existing broadband contracts are typically BT Fibre 1 (£27.99/month) or equivalent (prices correct January 2021). These properties can meet the DCMS conditions by agreeing to upgrade to BT Fibre 2 (£29.99/month) or equivalent. You are talking £2 for a far better service and a more reliable service. This is not too difficult to sell.

On the other hand, at the northern end of Linnets Road (BT Cabinet 6) you are seeing download speeds between 50 and 80 Mbits/s - simply because they are closer to BT Cabinet 6 than South East Alresford is to BT Cabinet 4. Here the DCMS compliant upgrade is to BT Fibre 100 or equivalent (140 Mbits/s download for £39.99/month). In bits per pound still an improvement - but you have to persuade the resident to pay up £10/£12 a month more. This is a harder sell. The arguments are all there including:

  • Up to 1Gbit/s internet – fast enough to download an HD movie in 8 seconds
  • Much more reliable than copper wires with a much faster connect time
  • Cost per Megabit/s lower than for copper wires
  • Ideal for families sharing an internet connection – multiple Netflix and YouTube streams, Working From Home, Online Lessons, Zoom Calls, etc.
  • Can only be positive for House Prices. Fast internet is a deal breaker for many if not most purchasers.

However, it's still £10 a month - but tell them how much more that they get for their money and after the end of their upgraded contract they can replace it with whatever service they want. So it is a limited commitment. Also, the price of BT Fibre 100 is only as high as it is because the competition has not yet caught up. It won't be that long before the price gets more reasonable.

You can find out each property's expected download speed using the BT Broadband Availability Checker. However, it is also worth polling some residents to find out what they actually get. BT can be "optimistic" when it comes to the actual speed they get.

In the end, you will have to take a view on how many really will sign up and that's why you need to do your homework right at the beginning.

  • Find out how much genuine interest there is.
  • What are residents' current download speeds?
  • Do they need to upgrade to BT Fibre 2 or BT Fibre 100 or more?
  • Will they pay for better internet?

You are planning a marketing campaign and success will depend on correctly identifying your target audience and what will motivate them to first pledge their voucher and then to follow through with the actual upgrade.

You will also need to educate them into what they are signing up to - see Pledging your Voucher - Your Responsibilities.

Enough Vouchers have been Pledged

Congratulations, you have made it - at least to the next stage. Openreach are currently on a 10 month or less timetable for installing the cables. Once they do so, residents in the scheme should be contacted by Openreach suggesting that they upgrade - although you will want to be able to monitor this and also tell them when they should order an upgrade - and here comes the next problem.

Not all Broadband providers currently support a Full Fibre Service. They may say that they support fibre (superfast fibre) but what they really mean is that they support FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet). The choice of ISPs for FTTP (Full Fibre ) is currently more limited and this raises issues about the length of a resident's current contract, their upgrade options and costs, and cancellation fees if their current provider does not support full fibre. Our webpage What does it Cost? tries to give guidance on this subject. It's best to have made clear up front that once a resident has pledged their voucher they may have to change contracts. Otherwise, you will get drop outs who do not follow through with the upgrade and Openreach don't get their money. This is why there have to be more pledges than cover the cost of the scheme.

Note that there are also other reasons for residents not following through. Some may move house, others may, unfortunately die. Again, why there have to be more pledges than cover the cost of the scheme.

You made it!

If you have finally made to this point successfully and upgraded your internet to a full fibre service, then it's time to sit back, Netflix and chill!

Perhaps also time to ponder as to whether the Government really meant this to happen. If they really wanted to improve rural broadband then why did they make it so difficult?

See also - DCMS Grant Roadblocks