Digital Fibre installations – helpful information

The copper telephone network is reaching the end of its useful life and is being replaced with fibre optic cables. This is being achieved by telecoms companies who are regulated by Ofcom via the ‘code powers’ act which allows them to install new equipment, including poles and street cabinets without consulting or seeking permission from local authorities. However, companies must follow legislation with regard to works quality and safety.

There is a central government sponsored project - Building Digital UK - to drive wider availability of fast and reliable broadband across the UK. This has meant either existing infrastructure needs to be upgraded, or in many cases new infrastructure must be installed.

The UK Government has set a target of 85% of premises to be able to access a one gigabit or faster broadband service by the end of 2025.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/digital-connectivity-portal

Commercially funded upgrades

The vast majority of the work (around 80% of premises) are being upgraded by private investment and no Government subsidy is needed. This can lead to multiple services being laid in the same street but gives the consumer greater choice of service.

Project Gigabit

Government believes that up to 20% of premises across the UK will not be upgraded by commercial investment and will require a subsidy.

The government set up Project Gigabit to reach these properties with a £5b fund which suppliers can bid into. Further information about Project Gigabit.

  • The first Project Gigabit contract in Hampshire has been awarded by government to provide FTTP broadband to properties in the New Forest.
  • A second contract to cover other parts of Hampshire that are not commercially viable should be awarded in summer 2023.
  • What is FTTP or ‘full fibre’?

    FTTP is an acronym for Fibre to the Premises, it is sometimes called ‘full fibre’. Prior to the installation of FTTP, broadband connection is ‘fibre to the cabinet’.

    Data travels quickly through fibre optic cables until it reaches a cabinet, where the connection changes to copper cable. Since copper cables are not capable of carrying data at the same high speeds, the end user experiences slower broadband.

    Complaints about the location of new cabinets and poles and a lack of notification to residents.

    Complaints about the site of a proposed or newly installed cabinet or poles should be directed to the apparatus owner (the broadband provider).

    Cabinets and poles to be installed on land that forms part of the public highway require the provider to notify the local Planning Authority (N.B. in Hampshire this would be the district or borough council for the location). Planning permission for installation of fibre optic cabinets on the public highway is not required unless the dimensions of the new cabinet exceed those set out by Town and Country Planning legislation.

    Notice to the County Council & Works Permits

    As the Street Authority the County Council has a legal duty to coordinate all works on the public highway with a view to minimising traffic disruption. This is achieved through the County Council’s permit scheme, whereby any organisation wishing to work on the public highway must obtain a permit. The County Council can set conditions on granting a permit that are aimed at reducing traffic congestion.

    The County Council cannot refuse a permit and the granting of a permit relates purely to the coordination of the work and does not indicate any approval regarding the installation of cables, cabinets, or poles.

    In some streets several companies may decide to install new networks side by side. This is their commercial choice, and the number of suppliers is not regulated by central or local government.

    The choice of temporary traffic management used is wholly that of the company carrying out the works on the highway. The minimum requirement for methods of controlling traffic are set out in regulations. These are based on the width of a road, the speed limit, and the size of the works area. A company may choose to utilise a higher level of traffic management if they deem it necessary for safety reasons.

    Government has produced guidance to help suppliers and local authorities with the planning and installation process:

    Government Digital Connectivity Portal.

    Notice to residents and local businesses

    There is no legal requirement for telecoms and fibre companies to notify or consult with local residents or businesses if they are proposing to install new cabinets in a neighbourhood.

    If new poles are to be installed, ideally the operator should place a site notice as close to the location as possible in advance of the planned installation.

    Providers can identify the correct planning authority and how to contact them via the PlanningPortal webpage.

    The Code of Practice for Cabinet and Pole Siting contains useful information about considerations that must be made when planning the location of a new cabinet or pole. It is described as voluntary, but legislation also exists that makes it a legal obligation to comply with the Code.

    Complaints about works blocking driveways and lack of notification

    Complaints about blocked accesses should be directed to the company who are undertaking the work.

    Note that it is illegal to drive over the footway where no drop kerb has been installed. Therefore, any works in front of a driveway without a lowered kerb are generally not considered to be blocking access.

    There is no legal requirement for the works operator to notify local residents in advance of any works taking place. However, it is considered good practice to give residents and business some notice if they know that they will be restricting an access to carry out works. This is actively encouraged by Hampshire County Council.

    Hampshire County Council’s Street Works team can place conditions on long duration work permits, including requiring a utility company to actively publicise their proposed works. Accepted methods of publicity could include advance warning signs, use of company social media platforms, letter drops etc. However, the County Council would not normally request advance publicity for immediate/emergency works or most short duration works.

    Each site should have a permit board containing a unique permit number and the name and telephone number of the company responsible for the works. However, if works are ongoing, it is suggested that residents speak to the operatives on site who will be best placed to provide information regarding access etc.

    Each work site is different, and it may not always be possible to provide overnight access using road plates, or similar. Safety will always be a priority and the operator will base their actions on risk assessments carried out prior to the work starting.

    Many companies are moving away from the traditional format of letter drops due to the environmental impact and cost. On 3 April 2023, a regulation change will come into force requiring all publicity measures to be agreed between the utility company and the Highway Authority, rather than a Highway Authority imposing conditions. This may lead to a decrease in individual notifications and an increase in other methods such as Advance Warning Signs.

    Residents can sign up to be notified about future works by signing up to One Network and setting up alerts.

    Complaints about the quality of reinstatements

    The County Council actively monitors works, assessing them against a national specification. If any are deemed to be substandard and fail to meet the required specification, they are reported to the works operator who is then required to undertake remedial works at their own cost. Inspections can be carried out during works, upon completion and two years after completion.

    Legislation also allows for works to be reinstated with a temporary material for a short period, generally for a period lasting no longer than six months. This is to allow the works operator to make a site safe and reopen it as soon as possible, or to reopen the site whilst they source specialist materials e.g. slabs.