A long read I’m afraid, but a complex situation requiring a bit of background. Go to the end for links to the principal sources of information. I should say at the start that this article should not be seen as a PC recommendation, just an attempt by me to understand the state of play and explain it in good faith. People will have to make their own decisions as to what actions if any they need to take.
The short version is that while the main options right now are the BT copper+fibre network or wireless, a full fibre network from Gigaclear is due to be extended to this area in ‘early 2019’. TrueSpeed is a competitor to Gigaclear, also extending their network in the Southwest, but while TrueSpeed is dependent on a 30% uptake to make their network build commercially viable, Gigaclear is not because they are contracted to CDS (Connecting Devon & Somerset) for Phase 2 of the nationally subsidised broadband rollout in this area.
To recap: at present most people in the village are connected to the BT network (whether or not they pay bills to BT), and will receive their broadband via the same copper line that has brought voice calls to the house since long before the Internet was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Although houses within 3/4 of a mile of the fibre cabinet at the end of Church Close (or the North Curry one) will receive enhanced speeds because the cabinet itself has a fibre connection to the exchange, the speed tapers off the further you are from the cabinet, and about a third of the village have seen no speed increase at all since ‘fibre’ was installed.
Many of those who originally had very slow speeds are now connected to the RBS wireless network, which has done an invaluable job of supplying 10+ Mbps. A few others have satellite or 4G connections.
For reasons which we need not dwell on, BT chose not to install a full fibre network, but to connect new fibre cabinets to their existing copper network. The result has been the very imperfect and unreliable service that gives high speeds to some and unacceptably low speeds to others. It has been clear for some time that the sensible way to build a modern broadband network is to take fibre all the way to the home, and BT’s dinosaur approach has left a space in the market for companies like Gigaclear to do just that. This is why the contract for the next stage of the local superfast broadband rollout was thankfully (and belatedly) awarded to Gigaclear and not to BT.
Gigaclear is not the only full fibre network provider around, and recently I encouraged people to express an interest to TrueSpeed as well. Recently TrueSpeed have been calling people who did this to invite them to sign up for their service. Trying to decide how best to respond to these calls is what has prompted this article. The following facts have emerged.
• Gigaclear will be extending their network to N Curry and Stoke St Gregory irrespective of where Truespeed or other providers may go, since that is what GC have contracted with CDS to do. Unlike TrueSpeed they are not dependent on wooing customers in order to get a 30% pre-order to make the build viable. Their current proposed build date for this area is early 2019. I would take the timing with a pinch of salt, but the intention is firm.
• All newly built networks are legally obliged to be ‘open’, which means that capacity can be leased to other providers. Typically what happens is that the major ISPs will move in and compete on price, so that although the initial monthly sub from Gigaclear (and TrueSpeed) is high, it is likely to come down once the network is up and running and other suppliers are competing for business.
• There is an installation charge from Gigaclear of from £130 upwards depending on distance from the nearest road (not from the cabinet), though there is also the option of DIY installation. There is also an unavoidable one-off activation cost of £100. TrueSpeed are offering to waive these costs for early-bird subscribers, but the monthly costs are comparable or slightly more, since GC’s lowest plan (50Mbps) is cheaper than TS’s only plan (200Mbps), and these are likely to be more significant in the long run. Both companies tie you into an 18 month contract.
• Another selling point of TrueSpeed is that each domestic connection is ‘uncontended’ whereas Gigaclear’s connections are shared. While both companies provide fibre to the premises (no copper involved), it is true that Gigaclear’s connections are shared back to the cabinet, but the speed and bandwidth of fibre is such that this seems not to be a practical issue.
• To those considering signing up for TrueSpeed, the conclusion I draw is that it is unlikely that TrueSpeed will attract the 30% sign-up in the area to initiate a build, so whatever you sign now it is unlikely that you will end up either receiving a service or having to pay for it before Gigaclear comes to the area. If I am wrong, and TrueSpeed does beat them to it, you will receive the service you signed up for at the cost agreed. Either way, it should not compromise the spread of the Gigaclear network. Since Gigaclear are not dependent on pre-orders to finance their build, they are unlikely to ask for a similar commitment in advance, but in any case I would seriously advise against signing up for both!
It is not entirely clear yet just how far Gigaclear’s network will penetrate, but the intention is to serve every property. If you enter your postcode on the Gigaclear website, it should give you an indication of your status. It is likely that the PC will ask a representative from Gigaclear (and maybe TrueSpeed) to come and and hold a question and answer session here. I would expect that we will be cooperating with them to facilitate the installation of their network to all parts of the village.
What action is required? At present none. If you are happy with your current broadband connection, nobody is going to stop you using it or require you to pay more. If you would value a much faster connection, it should be available, at a price, in between one or two years time. The price will initially be high, but should drop as Gigaclear recoups the very high build cost from subscriptions and third party leasing revenue. (Although the build is subsidised by CDS, the full cost is far higher.) It is likely that BT lines and wireless will remain for the foreseeable future as economy options, and may also drop in price. There is likely to be considerable shake-up in the market as rival networks consolidate.
There is more detailed information on the Gigaclear and TrueSpeed websites.
The Connecting Devon and Somerset website may also be helpful.
For an impassioned and nerdy approach to all things broadband (and for some caustic criticism of BT) the B4RDS Facebook group is good value too.
Feel free to email me if you have any comments or questions about the local situation, or if you have spotted any errors.