Norfolk community broadband suffers from BT delays

Failing to supplying one rural broadband network with its backhaul may be regarded as a misfortune. Letting down two projects looks more like carelessness

The launch of broadband services in part of rural Norfolk has been delayed after BT failed to supply two crucial backhaul links to support a community wireless network in the area.

BT has admitted that the West Norfolk Community Broadband (WNCB) project has not received these high-speed backhaul connections, which were due to be installed in December last year. These links are essential if WNCB is to offer wireless broadband services to local homes and businesses.

This is the second time in a month that a community broadband scheme has accused BT of failing to supply the backhaul connections that it needs to operate high-speed services and to compete with other broadband suppliers such as BT itself.

"The longer the delays, the more our advantage disappears to our competitor, BT," Will Newman, operations director of Dark Side Technologies, told ZDNet UK. Dark Side Technologies is responsible for setting up and running the WNCB network.

WNCB's ordered two links through PSINet -- a 2 Megabit per second (Mbps) fibre connection to its main site at the village of Dersingham, and a 1Mbps link between Dersingham and the coastal resort of Hunstanton.

BT, which supplies the private circuits to PSINet, has admitted it is at least partially to blame for the problems.

"BT would like to apologise to West Norfolk Community Broadband for delays in delivering their private circuits to their supplier PSINet," said the telco in a statement. "Although our initial delivery date for the Hunstanton link was 18 December, we later ran into problems with capacity on the network and have had to delay installation. We have promised to deliver this link by May, but we will make every effort to deliver it earlier," said BT, adding that the Dersingham delay was caused by a misunderstanding over whether a copper or fibre link had been ordered.

Faced with the prospect of this six month delay, WNCB is building a wireless link to Hunstanton.

In Dersingham, a 2Mbps link was partially installed last week -- but over copper, not fibre as previously ordered. WNCB is taking the view that it will accept any high-speed connection that BT can manage to provide, and is currently liaising with PSINet to get the link made operational.

The problems experienced by WNCB are similar to those suffered by wireless operator FDM Broadband. BT failed to deliver several backhaul links on time for FDM, which prevented it from offering its broadband services.

Both FDM Broadband and WNCB have complained to communications regulator Ofcom about BT's actions.

Many of the places that companies like WNCB and FDM Broadband want to serve can't currently get broadband from anywhere else, but may be able to get ADSL in future months through BT's trigger-level registration scheme.

BT insists that there is no question of its delays being part of a deliberate attempt to hamper rival providers in order to benefit its own ADSL service.