Why Virgin Media?
The network Virgin Media propose building is a brand new fibre to the home (FTTH) network. It does not re-use any other suppliers’ equipment such as ageing copper cable or exchange equipment. The speeds they are offering (and they confidently quote an average speed at peak times rather than just an ‘up-to’ speed) far exceed anything that can be achieved with fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). The service they are offering is a download speed of 200Mbit/s, with an average speed of 155Mbit/s at peak times. The upload speed is 20Mbit/s. The maximum speed that FTTC can offer, and that is only if you live very close to the cabinet, is 80Mbit/s. In the future, when even 200Mbit/s is not enough (as data usage increases by 50% every 18 months), there is no barrier to Virgin Media simply increasing the speed of the service they offer as optical fibre can operate at tens, if not hundreds, of Gbit/s without any degradation in performance.
Virgin Media are investing £3 billion in the UK’s internet infrastructure and are very keen for this pilot project to succeed with the expectation that it will expand and be repeated across the UK.
Who can get it?
Twelve villages have been selected for Phase 1 and form the basis of a virtual town. The following villages are in the plan for Phase 1:
- West Tytherley
- Kings Somborne
- Goodworth Clatford
The design of the network was completed by Virgin Media in December 2016 and it is no longer possible to add more villages to this Phase. It is also important to note that villages do not have 100% coverage; there will be properties which are nominally in the parish but are not part of the Phase 1 build. They could, however, be included in a later phase. It may appear obvious, but only homes in the current Phase 1 build will be able to sign up. It will never be possible to sign up, start paying your Community Contribution, and then later find out you cannot get the service.
Villages outside the current virtual town, who demonstrate significant demand, will be considered for subsequent phases, with the obvious caveat of Phase 1 being successful.
As Virgin Media operate on a demand-driven basis, villages within the virtual town were asked to demonstrate demand (by registering their interest on Cable My Street). All villages, except Winterslow and Stockbridge, met their 30% registration targets by the December 2016 deadline.
What is the cost?
Building a fibre network in a rural area is up to six times more expensive than in an urban environment. Virgin Media are investing significantly more money than their normal business case, but this still leaves a gap in funding. This gap will be filled using a Community Contribution which is dependent on the difficulty of the build in your area (split into tiers A and B) and the Council Tax Band of your property. Many different funding models were considered, but this one was perceived to be the fairest and most inclusive following consultation across the virtual town. The Community Contribution is in addition to Virgin Media’s one-off activation fee of £14.99. The Community Contribution can be spread over twelve months and the table below shows the Community Contribution payable per month over this period.
Tier A Villages: Goodworth Clatford, Chilbolton, Stockbridge, Kings Somborne, Broughton, Firsdown, Winterslow, Timsbury.
Tier B Villages: West Tytherley, Houghton, Wherwell, Michelmersh.
|Council Tax Band||Tier A||Tier B|
The Community Contribution quoted will be payable regardless of whether you sign up on day 1 or 5 years later. All costs are inclusive of VAT.
The final cost is dependent on the service you select which may be just Broadband, Broadband with Phone or Broadband with Phone and TV. These services are charged at standard Virgin Media rates, can be viewed on their website and are updated from time to time.
The figure below illustrates the breakdown of costs and what this may mean for you.
The total cost consists of 3 elements:
- Community Contribution (12 monthly installments starting from sign-up)
- Activation fee (one-off payment to go live)
- Service (payable monthly once you are live)
So, if you are a Band E property in Houghton requiring a broadband-only package from Virgin, but also wanting to replace your current landline for a non-Virgin VoIP (i.e. internet phone) service, your cost build up would be as follows:
Community Contribution of £75 per month for 12 months following sign-up + £14.99 activation fee + £37.25 per month for broadband + £10 per month for VoIP telephone.
Once you have finished paying the Community Contribution, and the one-off activation fee, your payments per month would be £47.25 for a 200Mbit/s service that is considerably faster and more robust than the current competition.
All the costs in the diagram above are non-discounted (and correct as of the 30/03/17), but at the time of choosing a service there will always be discounts on offer.
How does the cost of the service compare with other providers?
It is difficult to do a like-for-like comparison, as very few of the top internet providers supply FTTH. The table below gives a price comparison with 3 main internet providers who supply FTTC using their highest speed service. Comparisons have been made across four packages ranging from broadband-only to the deluxe version of broadband, phone and TV but also including movie and sports channels.
All broadband packages are unlimited download and all information below is accurate as of the 3rd April 2017.
If an entry is blank in the table it is because that particular service/aspect is not offered. For example, neither BT nor Sky offer a broadband-only package.
Many providers will automatically tie you in for a period of 12 to 24 months when taking up a service; they do not always offer a 30 day rolling contract. Having said that, the best offers do come with a tie in period.
It is worth noting that the maximum speeds shown in the table for Sky, BT and TalkTalk, which are FTTC, assume that you live within 200m of the cabinet. Any further than this and your speed will be affected as in the graph below.
What is the process?
If you are interested in the service, but haven’t yet registered, then do so on Cable My Street regardless of whether you are in the Phase 1 build or not. As mentioned earlier, this project is demand-driven, so your village will not receive it if you have not demonstrated demand for it.
The Phase 1 virtual town met its 1200 registration target in December 2016. The next stage of the process is for the virtual town to meet its sign-up target of 1000 homes. Virgin Media need to overcome a few more hurdles, such as commercial and legal aspects, before they will be able to offer sign-ups, but this is anticipated to be in early May. When they open there will be a window of opportunity to meet the 1000 sign-up target which will be in the region of two months. If we manage to meet the target the build is guaranteed.
Assuming we meet the sign-up target, there will be a one month consultation process between Virgin Media and the build engineers before the build starts. If all goes well, the build will start in September 2017.
When can I have it?
The build will not be sequential – multiple areas will be built at the same time. The exact sequence of build is not known as it depends on many factors such as permissions from highways being granted. The build will take approximately one year from the first spade in the ground to the final home being ‘lit’. When you sign up you will be given an indication of when the build will start in your area.
What happens when I Sign Up?
You will be asked to enter into a contract and make the first of the twelve monthly Community Contribution payments (or all of it, if you choose to pay up front). You will then pay monthly after this. It is important to note that this may mean you will have paid all of your Community Contribution before you are able to get the service if you are one of the villages to come online towards the end of the build.
As mentioned before, only homes in the Phase 1 build will be able to sign up making it impossible to sign up, start paying your Community Contribution and later find out that you cannot receive the service.
We will know by the end of July 2017 if we have met the 1000 sign-up target. If it hasn’t then your money will, of course, be refunded in full. This means that if you have opted to pay by monthly installments you will pay no more than three of the twelve installments of the Community Contribution before getting your money back.