Manx Telecom Warn of FTTP Broadband Build Delay Over Pole Objections

Broadband ISP Manx Telecom (MT), which serves premises on the Isle of Man (a British Crown Dependency) in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, has warned that its ongoing work to deploy a new full fibre (FTTP) network across the island could be delayed due to issues with getting planning approval for new poles.

In case anybody has forgotten. Back in 2020 the Isle of Man Government agreed (here) to invest £10m with MT in order to help them extend the coverage of their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network from 25% (10,000) of local premises to 99% (41,000+) by around the end of 2025 (MT’s commercial investment of £50m would have only got them to 75%).

As part of the fibre deployment, MT has had to complete civil works which have involved the installation of new duct work, poles, and short-term road closures. But the operator’s CTO, Hugo Von Zylwork, has now warned that their work on the state aid supported side of this roll-out could be at risk of missing its target due to delays in getting planning approvals, particularly for new poles.

According to the BBC News, a total of 12 planning applications for poles have already been submitted – 9 of which are still awaiting a decision, while 2 have been approved and 1 rejected. During a recent planning committee hearing, planning committee member Matthew Warren said he felt “more problems” would arise from “putting up poles for everything“.

However, Hugo Von Zylwork warned that it was often “not practically possible” to build underground ducts across all of the remaining areas, which is partly due to the risk of disrupting gas pipes, water mains, and a cost that would be up to five times more expensive than poles. Hence, why such areas have previously not been considered commercially viable to upgrade.

Much as we’ve seen elsewhere around the UK, not everybody is a fan of poles and a growing number of people in related areas have often voiced objections, particularly when they’ve been rolled out into a location that hasn’t previously had them before. Residents typically find the new erections ugly, obstructive, and often complain about the lack of effective prior consultation. But economically viable alternatives for FTTP are hard to find.

On the flip side, the Isle of Man has stricter rules around approvals for new poles, and it would be incredibly difficult for the UK to achieve its own coverage targets for gigabit-capable broadband if our country was similarly slow and restrictive with granting permissions on a national scale (poles are considered Permitted Development in the UK and do not require planning permission).

Balancing both viewpoints remains a key challenge for operators and politicians, even outside the UK.

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