Should companies get involved in “broadband city” projects?

The development of superfast broadband in the UK has been fraught with danger for companies involved on the inside as well as for those watching from the outside.

With huge amounts of money available to spend and a trough of seemingly endless confidence and good PR from city councils up and down the land, its easy to see why companies think it would be a great idea to get involved with ‘fibre city’ style projects.

A few recent examples however have indicated why there’s not always light at the end of the fibre. Bournemouth will sadly be the case study for future students of broadband rollout on how not to deploy a ‘fibre city’ vision.

In 2010, H2O Networks announced with much fanfare how it would lay fibre through the sewer system to deliver fibre-to-the-home connectivity to over 88,000 premises across the area. People jumped for joy at the prospect. However, teething troubles such as not being able to lay cable in the sewers, meant that the project was hit by delays, funding problems and inevitably collapse.

The project was rescued this year by a company called Cityfibre but deployment is still far short of the lofty targets that were set all those months ago. Add to this the negativity in the local press and among residents aimed at the project thanks to the sight of hundreds of poorly finished roadworks or streets left dug up.

Another issue facing Cityfibre in Bournemouth is that BT and Virgin Media have now muscled into the local superfast broadband market, announcing networks that will be able to provide end users with similar fast products.

The situation now sees Cityfibre touting its new network out to ISPs and broadband providers, rather than offering users connections directly. The realisation being that it’s a lot easier to build and lease out your network than build and run your own broadband service in a single city.

The way in which companies and broadband specialists can be successful is, if you look at past experience, by sticking to projects that involve the creation of networks serving public services in a particular town or city.

Usually this is down to not having the pressure of having to deliver a profitable commercial broadband service. Instead, the focus can be placed upon creating more reliable, fast and future-proof networks.

Neil Hawkins is a contributing editor for consumer information site Choose (follow @choosenet). He specialises in covering broadband industry debates for the home media section, as well as commentary on market research and consumer rights issues - find more on choose.net.