BT chosen to sort out Bradley Stoke broadband with taxpayers’ money

Broadband - photo by charmcitygavin (licence: cc-attr).

National telecoms firm BT has been chosen as the preferred bidder for South Gloucestershire Council’s (SGC’s) state-aided broadband improvement project which promises to bring superfast connection speeds to 90% of the district by 2015.

BT was selected in preference to the only other bidder, Fujitsu, a firm which has yet to win any of the contracts being offered by Councils around the country under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework.

SGC, which is putting £2.2m of its own money into the project, says it aims to award the contract in early December, when further details will be made available.

The news suggests that the project is running around six months behind schedule, judged by timescales presented to a Cabinet meeting in February, which anticipated the contract being awarded in “summer 2012”. The same report anticipated that “infrastructure and civil work” would begin in “winter 2012” and the rollout would be complete by April 2015.

The state-aided BDUK project is intended to cover the gaps left by the commercial rollout of standard and superfast broadband but the locations and extents of the areas that will require state subsidy are still unclear because SGC has refused to publish the results of its provider survey conducted earlier this year.

Assuming that BT fails to include the Almondsbury exchange in its commercial rollout that is due to be completed by spring 2013, The Journal estimates that around 4,000 homes of the 9,000 homes in Bradley Stoke will be eligible for inclusion in the state-aided investment programme. Of these, around 2,000 are thought to be currently receiving connection speeds below 2Mbps, the so-called “standard” level which the government has deemed as the minimum acceptable.

It is estimated that the commercial rollout of superfast broadband (faster than 24Mbps) will reach 82% of the premises in South Gloucestershire. The Council will therefore shortly have to decide which of the remaining 18% are to get “superfast” speeds with aid from the state, leaving the remainder to languish in the slow lane of “standard” broadband for the foreseeable future.

Last month’s launch of 4G mobile broadband in the Bristol area by EE gives at least some hope to those living in Bradley Stoke’s broadband “slow spots”, although tariffs are expensive and connection speeds are likely to drop once bandwidth demand increases as mobile phone users upgrade to 4G-capable handsets.

Mobile operator EE (formed following a merger of Orange and T-Mobile) is currently offering 4G dongle or MiFi solutions from £15.99/month, with a one-off cost of £49.99 and a 2GB monthly data allowance.

Ofcom says it expects average 4G download speeds to be around 6 Mbps.

BT has previously come under criticism from Councillors and residents in Bradley Stoke for failing to invest its own money in the town’s telecommunications infrastructure despite there being a proven demand for better services. BT’s own nationwide Race to Infinity survey conducted in late 2010 to measure the demand for superfast fibre optic broadband saw the Almondsbury exchange ranked 19th in the country, out of nearly 2,500 eligible exchanges. However, the exchange has been overlooked in every subsequent upgrade announcement made by the company.

The latest slap in the face came in October when it was announced that the Thornbury exchange is to be upgraded, despite its subscribers demonstrating barely one-quarter of the demand shown at Almondsbury.

Inclusion of an exchange in BT’s upgrade programme does not. however, mean that everyone in its area of coverage will be able to receive the new superfast service. The Filton exchange, which serves 0117 numbers in Bradley Stoke, was selected for upgrade in April 2011 but The Journal has not yet heard of a single customer in Bradley Stoke who has managed to have the service installed.

One local resident became so frustrated at the lack of progress in delivering broadband speed improvements to the town that he recently paid BT around £5,000 to install a leased line to his property in Crystal Way.

Industry observers point out that BT has ignored the results of its own customer demand survey, preferring instead to invest its own money in areas where Virgin Media already provides a near-100% geographical coverage of potentially superfast cable broadband, in anticipation that it would win state-aided BDUK contracts in other areas where there is little or no competition from Virgin.

Virgin Media itself is unable to bid for BDUK projects because its network is not open to other ISPs on a wholesale basis, which is a requirement of EU state aid rules.

Related link: Better Broadband Campaign (The Journal)

Share this page:


  1. It has taken a long time to reach this stage, but still no clear statement of when and where!

    The current investment in 4G infrastructure by the mobile firms, in anticipation of the LTE licences in 2013 suggest that for many this will be a better option. Already my MiFi dongle can deliver data faster than my broadband connection.

  2. To be fair – my Mifi dongle gets faster speeds than my home line … HSPA and especially HSPA+ can get some nice 8Mbps+ speeds.

    But there are considerable downsides to using this – especially the fact most internet access packages will only give you an allowance of 2-5gb.

    Add to that, mobile broadband lines are highly contended compared to the 50:1 ratio with fixed line.

    Mobile access just doesn’t make sense at all.

  3. Unfortunately one of the main issues is “home wiring”, I am a BB engineer and for friends that i have helped in Bradley Stoke I have managed to gain on average an extra 2mbps, I am not touting for business as I am full time employed but even at the Trench lane end of Bradley Stoke 6mbps from the Almondsbury exchange should be achievable.

  4. I am using a three Mi-Fi dongle and I have seen speeds up to 10MB!

    I pay £22.99 a month and that gives me 15GB usage. It’s not much but it’s worth it since fixed line was giving me 500K – 1MB.

    For the rest of the time I use all you can eat data on my mobile contract.

    I could save more money by cutting my phone line but unfortunately I am in a 12 month contract with BT!

    If you live in the south of BS you should get these kinds of speeds with a mifi as there as a Three data mast on the Winterbourne Road.

  5. Whilst I applaud the fact that they are trying to resolve the BB speeds here in BS – let’s be honest, if you’re on ADSL (BT) they they are a joke!

    I’m not sure it’s right that local government should be sorting this. Surely it should be down the government/business to sort this. Am not sure I want my council tax spent in this way – there are far more pressing things that should be covered before this!

  6. I have a Three HSDPA+ dongle at £10pm for 2GB.

    I mainly use it for emergencies and when from home, but I do regularly see speeds between 6-10MB/s at home, and around Bristol. This is a lot better than my 5MB/s ADSL service.

  7. @Stuart – while I agree that some tinkering with home wiring will gain some extra speed, I think you’re being slightly unrealistic with the situation at the “spices” end of Bradley Stoke.

    No matter how much we rewire cables here we’re never going to get much more than 2mbps (if that) because of the simple fact that the exchange is so far away.

    With the current ADSL setup, a lack of cable services and mobile broadband being so expensive (@Matt K – I pay £12 a month for 60gb allowance – so how is £22.99 for 15gb a realistic option) then I fear parts of Bradley Stoke are doomed without FTTC.

  8. Why would BT spend their own money when the Council is going to hand them a wedge of tax payers money instead? I bet BT are rubbing their hands together at the additional revenue they will earn. Did the council negotiate a share of future profits? No of course not.

    Is this something the Council should be spending our money on?

  9. I’m in Juniper Way, and have had countless BT engineers come out on the request of my long-suffering ISP (thank you PlusNet, you rock) over the years to try to improve my speed.

    I started with an unstable 512kbps a few years back.

    After removing the bell wire, I got to about 1800kbps, but it wasn’t stable.

    After completely disconnecting the internal wiring and using a BT filtered faceplace on the master socket, connecting directly to my modem (I went through 6 different types of modem), I can finally get around 3mbps. Mostly stable.

    I have to reset periodically when the transmitting (oddly, not receiving) SNR margin drops below 6dB.

    But it took 2 lift-and-shifts and a lot of wasted days to get the nice BT guys to finally find me a quiet path.

    I could really do with your expert help Stuart to get 6mbps. 🙂

  10. In respect to your story, residents in Bradley Stoke will not easily be able to benefit from infinity service until BT provide a major change to how their Infinity (40Mb) or infinity 2 (80Mb) services are delivered.

    The Infinity service relies on street cabinets placed adjacent to DP’s (Distribution Points).

    There are few above ground DP’s close to residents properties in Bradley Stoke, the DP’s installed are typically pre-wired and below ground with access to this being difficult to move from the ‘last mile’ service over copper for ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) to the ‘last few feet’ FTTC (Fibre to the Curb) service for VDSL (Very-high-bit-rate DSL).

    As it stands currently if you require a next generation service this would need to be via Virgin Media (100Mb).

    It is a shame Virgin are not actively spotting this opportunity and cabling the rest of the town…

  11. I am no expert, but it will be no more difficult to connect up Bradley Stoke, than any other area, i.e. Winterbourne or Thornbury, after all BT did not change their method of installing phone systems just for Bradley Stoke, and unlike many other areas, Bradley Stokes phone system is full ducted from home, to DP, to Cabinet to exchange.

    My understanding of Infinity was that street cabinets are linked to an adjacent fibre cabinet, effectively using fibre to cut the distance from exchange to customer allowing VDSL/2 to be used over the remaining copper link to the home. I thought the DP was used to allow a single duct to be used to deliver the line to the home, and as such is not relevant.

  12. @ gyre, sounds like you’ve done all you can with eliminating the bell wire, NTE2000, tie pair shifts and BT finding you a quiet pair but this reinforces what i was saying, how many people would not go to this effort and still be suffering with the 512k you had originally, sounds like plusnet(bt in a different guise) have been helpful, have you asked them to tweak your profile since all the other work? might be worth a try if not.

  13. From what I can work out looking at the small print, this will only benefit white areas on the map (map is pretty useless as the colouring makes it very difficult to determine key points on the map). Most of south Bradley stoke appears to be black or grey. I think (using overlayed maps) my house is close to the border. I’m on the edge of the Almondsbury exchange coverage so that makes me think that it will only benefit that exchange.

    Will – I’d like to think things are looking up but I’m not holding my breath!

  14. Stuart, yes, plusnet and I have spent many months playing with my profile. They put me in their DLM trial so that they could tweak the profile directly rather than ask BT to do it each time.

    I have to limit my upsteam speeds to 448kbps otherwise I disconnect on incoming phone calls for some reason that BT are unable to find after many visits.

    I’m on 6dB target snr downstream and 12dB snr upstream usually. That gives a stable connection and 3mbit/s download. I can get another 500kbps by artificially dropping the target snr, but the error rates start climbing.

    Plusnet have been very responsive. I can just ask their twitter guy to tweak things and it usually happens in an hour or two.

  15. @MattK: £23 for 15GB allowance seems an awful lot.

    I have a mobile phone (Galaxy Ace) through `3′ which is £15 per month, which gives includes unlimited data. And seeing as I can tether the phone to my laptop, that’s effectively a 7-15GB modem.
    Admittedly, the service is very variable, so I don’t use it as my main internet provision, but if I was down at the Webbs Wood end of town, it would probably be better than ADSL.

  16. @Bert: Yes it is an awful lot but unfortunately there are no alternatives to get 8mb speed in an area which gets 1.5mb tops. So if your prepared to drop the cash to get the extra speed I would say to anybody go for it. + You could cancel your phone line to save more money.

    I also have unlimited data with three on a mobile plan, but I don’t treat it that way becuase if I did three will start to throttle your connection down to 200K (GPRS Speeds)

    For the mobile I tend to use about 3-4 GB a month if you go past this they will throttle the connection.

    My contract with three for the Mifi is 18 months 16 to go and so I’m hoping by the time it’s finished the BDUK rollout will be in full swing and hopefully all EO lines will have a fibre technology, which by then maybe heading up toward 500MB speeds!

  17. An interesting read. As a Virgin Media customer since May, I personally will do a happy dance once the Almondsbury cabinet is finally upgraded and BT Infinity is available. BT might think that VM have a monopoly in Bristol, but given the shoddy level of service (my 100mb service is currently running at sub 1mb), and VM saying a fix date of December or January – they’re not really sure. The sooner BTWholesale is available, the better.

    I’d worry slightly that everyone currently with VM experiencing issues will all jump ship at the earliest opportunity, possibly causing BT a headache, but I’d trust BT more to know what they’re doing, unlike VM who merely brag about speeds, and then have an oversubscribed service which is now crippled and essentially broken.

    One quick note; the article mentions someone paying BT for a lease line. I’d asked BT about that as I’m desperate to leave VM for a more reliable fibre line, and they said they didn’t offer such a service i.e. custom install?!

    Roll on Spring 2013! 🙂

  18. @Jon B, I wouldn’t get too excited because none of the BDUK/SGC money can be used to bring superfast broadband to a (postcode) area that already has it. As you already have access to Virgin Media, this project won’t help you.

    Your only hope is for BT to decide that it will upgrade your area using its own money. Time is running out for that option as BT has said it will complete its “commercial” rollout by spring 2013. Insiders say there will be just one more announcement of exchanges to be upgraded.

  19. The following statement appeared on the SGC Broadband web page yesterday:

    “On 20 November 2012 the Government announced that the UK has received state aid approval. This means that we can proceed to contract signing with BT shortly.”

    “As we progress through the next stages of contract award and BT begins work on detailed surveying of the current coverage we will update this web page with the latest news and information. By increasing access to technologies that provide improved broadband we are undertaking a complex infrastructure upgrade project. We will be working on tools and videos to help explain the technology and processes involved, we have written a jargon buster and FAQs that will help explain some of the terminology and questions you may have.”

  20. I believe it when I see it. Sadley Broke was promised faster broadband some 5 years ago, and still we get 3mg speeds compared with the 10+mg speeds a mere 2 miles down the road…Not gonna hold my breath for 2015.

  21. Not sure that Swindon is still in Great Western partnership.Where does that leave Haydon Wick not even on the BT roll out plan.?

  22. Close neighbours Herefordshire and Gloucestershire have announced that they have signed their BDUK-assisted contract with BT.

    Worryingly (or perhaps more realistically) they have set a target of “end of 2016” for bringing superfast broadband to 90% of homes and 2Mbps to the rest.

    The BDUK target is May 2015 and South Gloucestershire is currently quoting April 2015.

    However, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire also promise that “all those who want a 24 Mbps or faster connection will have access to one by 2018”, which is more ambitious than the bare minimum BDUK-compliant target set by South Gloucestershire.

  23. Did my monthly check on the availability of Fibre BB in the BS32 area.
    BT Wholesale web site is now showing that the completion of the Filton exchange to cabinet upgrade should be June 2013.

  24. What wonderful new year news. What are BT Openreach doing? I would accept a couple of month delay but five months is taking the biscuit. I’d been holding off signing up for another 12 month contract; I wish I had now.

Comments are closed.