Edinburgh streets will be dug up twice by rival broadband firms

Openreach engineers installing one of the new fibre street cabinets.
Openreach engineers installing one of the new fibre street cabinets.
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PAVEMENTS across large parts of Edinburgh face being dug up not once but twice as rival broadband companies each install their own fibre cables to give the city new faster connections.

Both CityFibre and Openreach say the Capital is at the forefront of their UK roll-outs of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband, which carries the promise of “lightning” download speeds of 1 Gigabit (1000 Megabits) per second.

But laying the fibre cables is an open market so in many streets both companies will be digging holes or trenches to install identical cables.

CityFibre starts work tomorrow in Balerno and plans to cover the whole city over the next five years. Openreach has already begun work in some areas, including Abbeyhill, Corstorphine, Newington and parts of Roseburn, Gorgie, Haymarket and Murrayfield. It is also due to move into Morningside, Davidson’s Mains and Colinton and says its aim is to reach “tens of thousands” of premises in the city.

Mark Collins, strategy director for CityFibre, said the duplication was inefficient and risked unnecessary disruption for residents.

He argued the fibre network should be seen as utility infrastructure like water pipes or gas or electricity cables. “There is no need to replicate fibre to the same locations,” he said.

“Building in the same locations is clearly inefficient. If you take it to the extreme and our investment and Openreach investment all goes into the same areas, it means other areas miss out, so you have the risk of creating a new digital divide where you have those who’ve got the new gigabit-capable broadband networks potentially delivered two or three times to their house by different providers while other areas of the city or other parts of Scotland are missing out.

“We believe there is a role for local authorities and the Scottish Government to play in encouraging industry to come together to avoid that problem.”

An Openreach spokeswoman said the firm had introduced new techniques to avoid digging holes where possible.

And she claimed they tried to co-ordinate works with other utilities to avoid “double digging”.

But she said: “We fully support the Government’s and Ofcom’s objectives to promote competition and investment and we’re determined to be the national provider, so it’s inevitable there’ll be overlap in some areas. Where we do build in similar areas, that’s good for customers as it brings competition and choice.”

Experts say FTTP not only gives homes and businesses the opportunity of vastly improved broadband speeds but will be able to deliver future services for “smart home” items that may not even have been invented yet.

Edinburgh Western Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Residents in Edinburgh are understandably at the end of their tether after year upon year of roadworks which don’t seem to be well co-ordinated and see the same stretch of road dug up frequently.

“Installation of FTTP is a good thing but it needs to be co-ordinated in a way that means pavements are not dug up more than once.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com