New England broadband provider FairPoint Communications has completed an upgrade and expansion of its network in Vermont. The expansion covers 25 towns in Vermont that will now be part of FairPoint’s 18,000 mile fiber optic network, which is the largest, fully-owned and managed fiber-based network in northern New England. In order to finance the project, FairPoint got partial funding through Phase II of the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF) grant program. The expansion will add or improve high-speed broadband access for more than 4,500 locations throughout Vermont. Much of the work on the project improved FairPoint’s last mile broadband capabilities in Vermont.
With fiber improvements, the company says expansion towns will now qualify for speeds of up to 15 Mbps. FairPoint’s completed work in Vermont comes shortly after the company announced a merger with Consolidated Communications, which will take over broadband and landline service in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Consolidated bought FairPoint for $1.5 billion in December. The deal effectively makes for a secondary sale of the network that FairPoint originally purchased from Verizon for $2.3 billion in 2007. The purchase of Verizon’s network in New England was a lot for FairPoint to take on, and the company went into bankruptcy in 2009 as a result of its debt load.
FairPoint eventually recovered but has faced worker strikes and other issues in the aftermath of its bankruptcy.
The merger is expected to be completed by mid-year.
Despite its proximity to Waterford City, CountryStyle Foods in Kilmacow has to contend with very slow broadband speeds. That’s the reality for the company’s managing director Rory Williams, who’s had an ongoing interest in the National Broadband Plan since early details were announced. At a thinktank on rural broadband in Kilkenny last Thursday, Mr Williams said the real tragedy of poor quality broadband is its impact on young people — and, potentially, the businesses of the future. Given its importance today, he likened not providing broadband to going into a school classroom and taking a pen from a child.
“None of us know where the next Google or Facebook or Glass Eye is coming from,” he said.
Mr Williams is a member of the Kilkenny Broadband Action Group (KBAG) set up to look at broadband.
“We sat down at a meeting and said let’s see what’s out there,” he says.
“What have people done?”
KBAG then visited sites in the UK where different solutions have been applied. The first visit was to Cumbria where a ‘top down’ approach was being implemented. It was an insight into the various difficulties they faced, including trying physical terrain, and even historic problems
Mr Williams also spoke about Rakala in Finland — a rural area which relies on tourism. They were increasingly finding that young people weren’t visiting anymore.
“And so it became a community-led idea, and they reckoned if they could get fibre broadband it would bring more people into the area,” Mr Williams told the meeting.
“More people, more tourism, more spending.”
Another visit was to Lancashire, where a community-owned network, ‘B4RN’, was founded by volunteers.
“It turned out to be a fascinating rural community project where they considered a variety of options and then formed a co-op community,” says the CountryStyle managing director.
“It was a very powerful model, and it spread then. Because the next parish said ‘if they can do, we can do it’. It then became a social funding model, and the funds generated stay within the community.”
B4RN did have the benefit of an existing coterie of people, and some other advantages, but Mr Williams said the model had worked very well for the community there.
“It allows them to be co-owners of the internet, not consumers,” he said.
The MP for Warrington North (Cheshire, England), Helen Jones, has claimed that many residents in the area should be paid a total of ?246,000 in compensation by ISPs because of the slow broadband speeds that local homes are alleged to endure. She wants Ofcom to take action. According to the Warrington Guardian, local residents are owned the money because of “poor broadband speeds” and this apparently stems from an Ofcom report, which allegedly “revealed that a total of ?246,000 in compensation to constituents” could be due and that’s partly because “the rolling out of fibre optic broadband in areas including Burtonwood, Winwick, Culcheth and Croft has been ‘slow’.”
Helen Jones, Warrington North MP, said:
“Discussions I have had with service providers over the years has resulted in some progress but the position is still far from satisfactory. Less than half of all UK broadband connections are superfast, calling into question the government target to provide super-fast speeds to 95 per cent of all UK premises by the end of this year. That is why I’m supporting the call by the [cross-party] British Infrastructure Group of MPs to introduce a comprehensive automatic compensation scheme that allows customers to be refunded for receiving unreasonably slow broadband download speeds.
Millions of properties across the country fail to meet the proposed minimum download speed of 10mb/s and could be eligible for receiving compensation from their providers.”
As usual there are a few problems with this claim and the approach being suggested. Firstly, the figure of ?246K does not appear to come from Ofcom. Instead it looks more likely to be derived from either the MP or newspaper’s own interpretation of data from the regulator’s consultation on a new Automatic Compensation System (here), except that consultation was based on compensating for a total loss of service and not slow speeds.
Elsewhere Helen’s second paragraph makes the mistake of conflating the results from broadband speed testing with the separate aspect of network availability. Put another way, around 55% of the UK still connects via a slow pure copper based ADSL broadband line and that’s despite “superfast broadband” networks (e.g. FTTC / DOCSIS / FTTP etc.) being estimated to cover around 92% of the country. The choice of connectivity solution that consumers make may thus have been overlooked or not given enough weight in the ?246,000 figure above, although it’s difficult to know without further clarification of what that total truly represents and precisely where it comes from.
Mind you the idea of compensating for slow speeds isn’t entirely without merit, although in today’s market it would be very difficult to deliver. Identifying responsibility for slow broadband speeds, which can also be caused by things like weak WiFi, poor home wiring or even remote Internet services (plus a plethora of other factors that may be outside of an ISPs ability to control), is not a simple task. On top of that the Government and local authorities would also need to take some responsibility for ensuring that everybody can actually access a truly superfast and reliable connection in the first place (particularly relevant for the final c.30% of UK premises where public investment is usually required to deliver an upgrade), which is yet to be achieved.
Consumer prices would also need to rise in order to cover the costs of such a system.
It’s worth pointing out that Ofcom’s Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds, which is sadly voluntary and doesn’t apply to all providers, allows you to exit your contract penalty free if your service speeds suffer a significant decline.
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