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Minister cuts ribbon on Herts village fibre

Launching Vtesse's high-speed broadband service in Birch Green, communications minister Ed Vaizey gave his opinions on net neutrality and the Digital Economy Act, but knew nothing about Acta
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1 of 7 David Meyer

On Tuesday, communications minister Ed Vaizey cut the ribbon on a new fibre cabinet for residents of Birch Green in Hertfordshire.

The village is one of those in the 'final third' of the UK, in that it has been unable to get broadband speeds above 2Mbps because it is too far from BT's closest exchange and BT has chosen not to invest in upgrading its network there.

Birch Green also happens to be on the route of Vtesse's national fibre network, which is primarily aimed at supplying high-speed connectivity to the likes of the financial services sector. Vtesse is in the process of using that network to hook up villages like Birch Green.

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2 of 7 David Meyer

Vtesse's new cabinet sits right next to BT's ageing copper infrastructure cabinet. The new cabinet takes connectivity from Hertford town centre, through which Vtesse's fibre network runs.

The Birch Green deployment is the company's second in Hertfordshire. Vtesse already has two similar deployments in Cornwall. It also has plans to do a higher-speed fibre-to-the-home rollout in Broughton in Cambridgeshire, as that village sits directly on top of the company's existing network.

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3 of 7 David Meyer

According to Aidan Paul, the chief executive of Vtesse Networks (pictured above), the company's new cabinet can serve around 120 houses in a 3km radius.

Asked how the economics of this deployment worked, he said they did not. Asked whether the deployment was an attempt to put pressure on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to get BT to make it cheaper for smaller rivals to use BT's infrastructure in rural areas, he replied: "That's the point of all of this".

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4 of 7 David Meyer

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was a very British affair, complete with scones and pouring rain.

Vtesse's service actually went live a few weeks ago, despite the fact that the company said Vaizey "officially switched it on" on Tuesday. Around a dozen customers already use it.

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5 of 7 David Meyer

Mark Betteridge is one of the first customers to have signed up to Vtesse's Birch Green offering.

The solicitor, who sometimes works from home, signed up for a 16Mbps service. He told ZDNet UK that although the company offers packages of up to 40Mbps, he "wouldn't need that".

Betteridge said his testing had indicated download speeds of 15.6Mbps and upload speeds of "just over a meg". His previous broadband connection, provided by "a certain satellite TV company", had given him "barely 0.75Mbps", he said.

"In terms of quantifying time saved, over a year it will save thousands," Betteridge said. "My wife also runs a business from home — for her, it's a massive improvement."

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6 of 7 David Meyer

Ed Vaizey, the minister for communication, culture and the creative industries, took questions on subjects ranging from the taxing of fibre to net neutrality and the Digital Economy Act.

Vaizey, who had a meeting with the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) on Monday, said the business rates charged by that agency on fibre would not be reviewed. Small communications companies have described the charges as onerous.

"The key is that the system is transparent," Vaizey said. "My job is to work with the VOA to bring my issues to the table. We don't need to go through the rigmarole of a review."

This statement contrasts with the Conservatives' pre-election stance. The party had said that it would look at the case for changing business rates to ensure that there were no longer any disadvantages for new market entrants.

"I can't promise solutions, but what I can do is promise dialogue," Vaizey said. "We will make rapid progress. When I know what progress means, I will let you know."

ZDNet UK asked Vaizey for his opinion of the Digital Economy Act. "We [the government] can live with what was passed by Parliament," he replied. "Broadly speaking, it's relatively light touch. It's important to make the point that any kind of disconnections will be temporary."

Vaizey surprised many of those present by saying he had never heard of Acta, the global copyright treaty being negotiated behind closed doors.

Reacting to a question about this week's net neutrality proposal from Google and Verizon, Vaizey said net neutrality was "an issue that we [the government] will have to address ourselves".

"Broadly speaking, we're in favour of net neutrality," he added. "It's an issue that will cross my desk. The government is in receive mode rather than transmit mode."

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7 of 7 David Meyer

Vaizey insisted on seeing the innards of the cabinet, despite the rain. As Paul noted, there is room inside the cabinet for expansion.

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