Firstly, a massive THANK YOU to all those who took time out to attend one of the sessions on Tuesday. The Box team surprised me by presenting costs based on a “commercial” funding model, which they had previously thought unrealistic. This is a very much simpler scheme from our point of view, as I understand it, eliminating the need for us to become involved in fund raising, Government red tape, company formation and accounting etc. However, to make it viable, Box needs a high level of take-up in the area to be covered (essentially the Parish plus some immediate neighbours). The proposals were enthusiastically received by the audience at the two afternoon sessions I attended. Those who commented felt that the monthly fee was realistic for the service being offered.
Andrew Lock has very kindly taken the trouble to write the following in depth report for those who could not attend.
Box Broadband Limited is a new company specifically set up to develop this FTTP network, whereas the parent company, Box Synergy have already installed 100 networks, passed 30,000 potential customers, mainly in the Oxfordshire area, and have converted 7000 to customers. Their presentation focussed on the need to get confirmed interest from the potential 900 households in Ewhurst & Ellens Green of about one third, or 300 households. The incentive for reaching this pre-build commitment would be free installation and fibre router representing a cost saving of c£285. Customers signing up after the network has been constructed are unlikely to be offered this subsidised access as it will require recalling a moling team and connection engineers to the area which is less efficient.
The key take-away from the presentation is that unlike existing asymmetrical broadband provided by Openreach, this would be 100 Mbps minimum both down and up. There is nothing like this provided by BT Fibre to cabinet nor is there ever likely to be as the copper to the home has physical limitations. The benefit of a symmetrical connection is that services like phone calls, Skype, Cloud storage and uploading large files will be superior as they will not be jittery, for example. Indeed such is the upload speed, it would be possible to host your own website from your house/business premises, without the need to pay a hosting company. Fibre to the home/premise (FTTH/FTTP) will allow users to ditch their BT Openreach copper connections, saving the compulsory line rental element of the current broadband services available in Ewhurst, and your existing phone number can be “ported” to an internet phone service referred to a Voice over IP (VoIP). Box have good experience of the Vonage service which even allows your calls to be routed to wherever you are in the world.
The cost is dependent on initial take-up but could be in the region of £56.60/month for the first two years for a 100 Mbps connection which compares well with BT once the old copper line rental is dispensed with, and of course that speed is both up & down so is not directly comparable. Ultimately it would be possible to connect at substantially higher speeds and an illustrative cost of £76.50/month for 1 Gbps circuit was mooted.
Initial scoping of the project suggests Box will install three cabinets to connect to, after which it will hook up with their “back-haul” (ultra high speed connection to Telehouse East in London, via Crawley). Ewhurst’s proximity to Crawley makes our village an attractive starting point to roll-out similar networks across the south east as there is currently no competition (for symmetric FTTH/P) in rural areas. Box will be approaching other towns and villages in the south east and commercially will be driven to start where demand is greatest. For this reason it is important that residents and businesses demonstrate their collective enthusiasm for a 21st century network, as this presents a unique opportunity to leapfrog other rural and even urban areas as BT continues its policy of sweating their 20th century asset of copper (or indeed aluminium in some locations).
It was pointed out that even where residents were happy with their current connection, the availability of fibre to the home would increase the attractiveness of properties in the area to buyers from outside the area, as good quality broadband is now becoming an essential prerequisite to even consider a property. With so few rural properties having access to this sort of connection it would set Ewhurst apart. In fact Box’s experience is that even where businesses have paid Openreach for their own private fibre connections often costing ten’s of thousands of pounds to install, they are migrating to Box solutions when they become available as the monthly rental costs are substantially lower.
Questions were asked about a) proximity to the highway where the main fibre would be installed. Box explained that only isolated households down very long driveways would need to negotiate an additional cost to cover the moling work involved in laying an underground fibre exclusively for that property. b) laying the fibre. It is preferable to bury fibre near the highway, or across fields, rather than share BT’s poles as this has proved unreliable and bureaucratic. Surrey County Council has an obligation to assist new contractors by allowing access to the verges along highways, and modern surveying and utility plans ensure that disruption to existing services is minimised.
Afterwards, informally, I discussed a tiered pricing model according to need, as it was apparent that those in the centre of the village already enjoyed acceptable connections but there were a cohort of outliers for whom the benefits could justify either a contribution to the initial infrastructure or a higher service change. Once the responses have been analysed Chris Box would be in a better position to develop a pricing model that worked for everybody.
Many thanks to Andrew for that excellent summary.
Please register your interest in the project on the fledgling Box Broadband web site, which will be fully developed over time, at www.boxbroadband.co.uk.