Plug pulled on Bournemouth sewer broadband plans


The i3 Group, the company behind Fibrecity Bournemouth the ambitious plan to run 100Mbps fibre broadband cable through the city's sewer system has slammed utility company Wessex Water for its "short-sighted" decision to back out of the scheme.

Having initially agreed to provide Fibrecity with access to Bournemouth's sewers to lay its fibre network, Wessex Water this week said it was pulling out of the deal, citing contractual and methodology problems.

However, the i3 Group has responded angrily, accusing the water company of greed and dismissing its concerns over the technical challenges in laying fibre pipes through the sewer system as without merit.

"It is our opinion that Wessex Water has been short sighted in putting commercial demands above the opportunity to provide a low-cost fibre optic network that will deliver superfast broadband to their own customers," Elfed Thomas, chief executive of i3 Group, said in a statement sent to sister site PC Pro.

Thomas brushed aside concerns that placing pipes in the sewer system could lead to blockages, saying any such concerns had already been addressed. "Citing technical issues as a reason is misleading in respect to the viability of the i3 Group's FS System of laying fibre in ready made ducts including sewer pipes," Thomas argued.

"When we announced Fibrecity Bournemouth, it was with the permission of Wessex Water to utilise the pipes where appropriate, therefore keeping disruption to residents and businesses to a minimum."

The Fibrecity project aims to provide fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband to selected cities, offering the potential of super-fast 100Mbps connections. Bournemouth was chosen to be the first UK Fibrecity, while a separate project is also underway in Dundee in Scotland.

Indeed, Thomas pointed to the i3 Group's success in working with water companies in Scotland, where Scottish Water has confirmed that plans to develop the Fibrecity network are moving forward rapidly.

"Progress has seen us move away from the proof-of-concept phase and to active commercial deployment of the technology," a Scottish Water spokesperson said. "Using the sewers, micro-trenching and other innovative techniques means minimal disruption to roads and the network and the approach also creates another revenue stream for Scottish Water."

The i3 Group has confirmed that plans to develop Fibrecity Bournemouth will continue despite Wessex Water's withdrawal, with the company now aiming to deliver the service via cables laid just below street level.