Virgin Media pulls out of Westminster area

Virgin says the BT infrastructure it leases for residential services in the area will not allow it to offer super-fast broadband,cable TV and phone services, so it is shutting shop there

Virgin Media is to withdraw from an area in the London borough of Westminster because the infrastructure it rents from BT there is insufficient to allow for super-fast broadband, cable TV and telephone services.

Westminster London

Virgin Media has withdrawn services from an area in Westminster, London because the existing infrastructure it rents from BT is not good enough to offer super-fast broadband and cable TV. Photo credit: Trodel/Flickr

Customers were notified in mid-July that their services would be cut off in January 2012 and urged to find another communications provider, a Virgin Media spokesman said on Tuesday.

"This is an unusual circumstance, in that it's one of the rare areas where we don't own the network ourselves," the spokesman told ZDNet UK. He explained that the other area where Virgin has to lease BT's network is in Milton Keynes, but noted that services in that location will not be shut down.

The affected Westminster neighbourhood, which the spokesman did not identify, also happens to be a conservation area, which is why Virgin cannot build its own network there. "It makes planning permission very difficult," the spokesman said.

He noted that only "a couple of thousand homes" would be cut off from Virgin's services, and businesses would not see any impact at all.

The use of BT's lines had meant Virgin could not offer broadband speeds of more than 50Mbps in the area. When asked whether that speed was not fast enough, the spokesman said it was "ultimately not just about broadband — we're only able to deliver analogue television and we're not able to offer telephone services".

Analogue television signals are due to be turned off in London in 2012.

Angry customers

Virgin's withdrawal will at least answer the concerns of customers there who had grown irate over the lack of service range being offered to them.

People posting on Virgin's customer forums have long been complaining about the situation. "I have been waiting for a very long time now to get details of when my local area (Westminster, London W1) will be upgraded to digital cable," 'markallday' wrote in a comment in May. "I have been previously told that this would happen 'within a few years' ...that was back in 2003".

"Today I contacted your customer service to be told that there 'are NO plans to upgrade this area'!!!!! I can't even get Sky Sports channels anymore. I'm effectively paying £22.00 a month for an out-of-date and inadequate service," markallday continued.

Meanwhile, Virgin has unveiled plans for further expansion of its own broadband network, which offers services of up to 100Mbps.

On Monday, the operator said in a statement that "a substantial new construction project is about to begin in Southampton which will see Virgin Media almost double the size of its presence in the city".

Virgin Media's spokesman told ZDNet UK that this project will add more than 30,000 homes to the reach of the operator's network. He added that other projects will be announced later this year.

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