The main purpose of the meeting was for Spectrum Internet to describe their proposal to install a high speed fibre network in Penallt. Spectrum is well-known to many in the village through their 2012/13 project to improve broadband speeds in the cabinet 20 area and some 80 or so residents are still customers.

After an introduction which focused on the benefits of full fibre and how Spectrum are already involved in its installation, the main part of the evening was devoted to a Q & A session with Giles Phelps, the MD of Spectrum.

It was noted that the Openreach proposal to install full fibre to the cabinet 20 area remains on the table until a final decision is made.

Spectrum Internet have set up a page on their project here.

[March 18th 2019: new FAQs added below]

Q. How is Spectrum’s project different from that of Openreach?

A. Openreach is restricted to the cabinet 20 area whereas Spectrum plan to go outside and possibly reach premises not currently served by the Tregagle or Birches FTTP (fibre to the premises)

The Openreach network will be cheaper to install as (a) they can hang fibre from existing poles, and (b) they are using less advanced technology. Spectrum will dig their cables into the ground (a more secure method) and plan better specified fibre too.

Q. How is the project funded?

A. Partly via investment from Spectrum themselves and partly from vouchers funded by the DCMS, similar to those already issued for the Openreach scheme. Unlike the Openreach scheme, Spectrum will arrange the issue of vouchers on an individual by individual basis, and when the fibre network has been installed and not before.

There will be no upfront cost to each voucher holder at all until a service is supplied when the cost will be the usual broadband monthly charge. This means no connection fee either as this is included as part of the fibre installation.

Q. What’s the catch?

A. The terms and conditions for the vouchers will be the same as for the Openreach scheme. In particular, you would have to commit to taking a 100 Mbps download service for the first 12 months.

A home user could satisfy this condition by taking out Spectrum’s “BASIC” package (100 down/30 up) at £22 pm for the first 6 months and £29 pm thereafter. The costs for business users start at £39 rising to £59, but note that those with business vouchers can opt for a home package if they wish to.

Q. What happens to my Openreach voucher?

A. Assuming we decide to go with the Spectrum proposal, then we will not sign any contract with Openreach and their fibre will not be installed. The vouchers then cannot be used and effectively become worthless.

In the meantime, please hang on to the Openreach voucher issued by the DCMS as it will be needed if we do sign with Openreach. Its lifetime is 12 months from the point of issue.

Q. What’s the timescale?

A. Customers would be connected progressively, with the first few potentially by July this year, the remainder coming online within a further three months, subject to there being no unexpected hitches due to wayleave issues etc.

Q. Is there a connection fee if I subscribe to a Spectrum full fibre package?

A. No, Spectrum has decided to waive this fee (normally £99) for any Penallt customer who registers an interest in the scheme at this stage. This applies whether or not you are an existing Spectrum customer.

Q. What should I do if the contract with my current provider expires sometime next year, potentially well after Spectrum‘s infrastructure is installed?

A. You should still express an interest now in becoming a fibre customer with Spectrum (see link at bottom of this page), mentioning your contract situation at the same time. In due course, you will apply for and be issued with a voucher, just as in the Openreach scheme.

This voucher is valid for 12 months from the time of issue so should still be valid when your current contract expires. You can start your Spectrum contract at that point.

Existing Spectrum customers will be able to move to a Spectrum fibre service at any time.

Q. Can I choose any internet provider?

A. No. At present, the only service you would get would be Spectrum’s own broadband service. This is exactly as it is for Penallt’s existing Spectrum customers who have been very happy with the service overall.

It’s possible that other ISPs might become available at some future stage.

Q. In that case, what happens to my email address(es)? Can I still use them?

A. If yours is a non ISP-specific address such as gmail, then of course there will be no difference. If yours has been provided by your present ISP, e.g. BTinternet, Sky, etc, then the answer depends on who the ISP is. If it’s Sky, then it seems that they will continue to support emails for the foreseeable future. If it’s BTinternet, then they support it for 6 months, after which there’s a £7.50 pm charge to maintain it!

If possible, the advice would be to change to a non ISP-specific address to avoid any such problems in the future. This can be painful to do as you’ll need to get your contacts to update their own address books, but is worth it in the long run!

Q. What about the phone deal I currently have?

A. People’s phone needs these days are so varied that Spectrum deal with them on an individual basis. Some want to keep their landline and have the chance of using their phone this way through Spectrum or with other providers too. In this case, there would be an extra charge for the service.

However, it’s expected that many will ditch their (copper) landline completely and use the internet as the carrier of phone signals instead, using a protocol called VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). You would have to buy a VoIP phone and, it seems, with certain phones you will be able to keep your landline phone number too. Phone calls are either free or are much cheaper than conventional calls and there would be no extra broadband charge either. A useful article on this is here.

Q. Will everyone who wants to be connected actually get a connection?

A. Spectrum say “we will strive to connect every property we can but we will let you know those that we can’t and the reasons why. They suspect most if not all will be “matters beyond our reasonable control” i.e. wayleaves”.

Spectrum also said that they weren’t restricted to covering the cabinet 20 area and that they may be able to connect premises elsewhere in Penallt in the right circumstances.

Q. What happens next?

A. Spectrum will be gathering expressions of interest from as many Penallt residents as possible. You may be approached directly if you are an existing customer or you “signed up” at the meeting, or you may be approached by one of the “community team” (David May, Steve Davis, Rachael Geddes, Lance Rowell) who will ask your permission to approach Spectrum on your behalf.

Spectrum is looking to perform a detailed survey within the next three to four weeks. During this time they will start to approach landowners for wayleaves. Up until this point they will ask for expressions of interest as above. Once they have these they will start asking residents and businesses for their orders. By this time they will also know approximate build dates.

You can register your interest with Spectrum here.

Summary of the two projects, Openreach and Spectrum Internet:-

Openreach Spectrum
FTTP to 120 properties in cabinet 20 area FTTP to 136 properties in and near cab 20 area
Ready within 12 months of contract Ready by end summer 2019
Gigabit capable Gigabit capable – more advanced and robust network technology
Fibre buried and hung from poles Fibre buried
ISP choice limited to 3 or 4, including BTInternet and Spectrum ISP choice limited to Spectrum
Funded by vouchers; the community to fund any shortfall Funded jointly by Spectrum investment and by vouchers; the community is not liable for any shortfall
Large organisation with proven record –not always easy to deal with Small organisation with (in Penallt at least) a proven record – easy to deal with
BTInternet customers retain benefits of e.g. phone, mobile and TV deals plus use of WiFi hotspots The deal is high speed broadband only
Monthly broadband costs will almost certainly be higher than at present Broadband likely to be significantly cheaper via Spectrum’s own fibre than via Openreach’s. Existing Spectrum customers will pay much as at present.