Virgin Media to connect the unconnected, if the price is right

Virgin Media has announced it will roll out its broadband offering to 12 villages in the Test and Dun Valley area, as it sets its sights on tackling the rural connectivity challenge, just as long as it’s not too risky.

The move will come as a bit of a concern for Openreach which has largely enjoyed a competition-free environment in the countryside due to the expensive job of delivering connectivity. Whether the introduction of an alternative service will force Openreach to actually start spending on its network remains to be seen, but it would not be a surprise to see a Virgin Media push elsewhere in the future.

“We are extremely excited about our ultrafast broadband expansion in the Test and Dun Valleys – this is a new way of delivering our gigabit-ready network,” said Rob Evans, Managing Director of the Virgin Media Lightning Programme. “This has been a brilliant example of us working hand in hand with the local community to deliver a solution which works for us both.  We look forward to doing more of these in the future.”

The last couple of months have seen small steps towards closing the digital divide, not only from Virgin Media but also Vodafone. Vodafone has committed to rolling out fibre networks in 12 cities and larger towns which are deemed as being underserved as another challenge to the Openreach cartel, though you have to give credit to Virgin Media for tackling less commercially attractive areas. But not too much credit though.

While Vodafone has committed to rolling out full-fibre networks in these 12 cities irrelevant of pre-determined demand, Virgin Media is taking the less risky approach. No work will take place until the telco can guarantee the countryside dwellers will swell its bank accounts. It might be trying to paint the picture of the hero coming to the rescue, but this hero’s work does not come for free.

For Virgin Media to even think about bothering with the famers there would have to be registered interest from 30% of the residents. But this interest is only table stakes, for any work to actually happen there would have to be a financial commitment. In this example, 1,000 residents across the Test and Dun Valley area had to fully-commit to becoming a Virgin Media customer.

This should of course not be seen as an unusual business practise, it is trying to minimize risk which is sensible, but don’t take the hero image too seriously. The grand plan should also be taken with a pinch of salt.

Virgin Media notes that the area did not initially meet usual commercial requirements for expansion, due to the rural environment and a lack of significant broadband infrastructure already being in place. This might well turn out to be the exceptional rather than the rule, an exercise for the PR department to get a few nice photos and headlines, as Virgin Media seemingly searches for the regions where the upgrade work wouldn’t be that difficult.

So if you live in an area where there are slow connection speeds, broadband infrastructure already in place and it isn’t too rural, Virgin Media might be coming to your rescue before too long. You’ll also have to round-up some support to offer the telco a guaranteed payment, otherwise there might not be any interest.

The whole image looks a bit less like an Arthurian night riding into the sunset to tackle the evil dragon and more like a wild-west bounty hunter on the search for the next payday. Not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t get fooled by the philanthropic messaging.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies

One comment

  1. Avatar [email protected] 13/03/2018 @ 1:56 pm

    It’s good that you pointed out the ‘PR department’ angle to this. When you consider that the horsey villages of the Test and Dun valley house a number of the Virgin current and former executives, then it looks even more disappointing. Meanwhile in suburbia, we are still at the mercy of the BT network.

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