Village Networks in Illegal State Aid Complaint vs Aylesbury Vale Broadband - ISPreview UK
The publicly funded £1.5m Aylesbury Vale Broadband project, which is deploying a Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network across the rural Buckinghamshire (England) villages of North Marston and Granborough, is facing an official complaint from a nearby wireless ISP.

The new ultrafast broadband network, which is supported by public investment from the local New Homes Bonus Fund (a somewhat unusual source), officially began its deployment phase in August 2015 (here) and the first customers in North Marston (home to around 800 people) are expected to go live today or sometime this week.

Early subscribers can expect to pay from £30 per month for an unlimited 30Mbps service (symmetrical), which rises to £38 if you want the top 100Mbps connection (more expensive business options are also available) and the first month of service will be FREE. On top of that there’s a £150 connection fee, which offers a rather unique self-install package (here).

But since the start AVB has been dogged by unhappy grumbles from two local fixed wireless broadband ISPs, Village Networks and Rapid Rural, both of which claim to either have the area covered with superfast speeds or be planning to do so. However AVB disputes this and claims that its network will be much more future proof and capable, which is almost certainly true given the use of FTTH.

The situation has now taken another turn after the boss of Village Networks, Roger Carey, decided on Friday 13th November 2015 to lodge a formal complaint against Aylesbury Vale District Council, which among other things alleges that the local authority shunned their alternative proposals (Carey says it would have required less public funding to build).

Furthermore Village Networks alleges that they were “discouraged” from developing existing proposals to roll-out wireless broadband to the two villages by individuals that have since taken up senior position(s) in AVB. has seen a copy of the letter and we’ve pasted the key list of allegations against AVDC below.

The Village Networks Allegations

Specifically, but not exclusively, our complaint identifies that:

  1. neither the Council, nor any of its agents, undertook a market analysis of the proposed territory which proved market failure.
  2. The Council and its agents were clearly aware of the presence of at least two established, independently funded local enterprises who were willing, able and planning to deliver superfast broadband not only to the proposed pilot area, but beyond it, but engaged in no appropriate consultation to inform its decisions.
  3. Prior to launching the venture, no competitive tendering process was undertaken.
  4. Prior to announcing the venture, at least one commercial provider was discouraged from continuance of its plans to deliver superfast broadband to the communities in the pilot area. Member of the Internet Services Providers Association.
  5. The application of funds, the amount of which do or will exceed any de minimis exemptions from state aid rules, from the New Homes Bonus constitutes illegal state aid, given that it confers an economic advantage to the undertaking and distorts or threatens to distort competition, in contravention of Article 87 (1) of the EC Treaty.

AVDC has not defined the process it proposes to use to evaluate the AVB pilot project, nor defined any criteria for its success. We will use all available means to ensure that the process and criteria applied are appropriate, rigorous and able to withstand impartial scrutiny.

At this point we should note that the top package offered by Village Networks is an unlimited 30Mbps (1Mbps upload) service that costs £30 per month and £222 to install, which also includes up to 10 email addresses, 50MB of webspace and webmail access. But customers do not get an included wireless router.

The news threatens to overshadow AVB’s plan to announce its first live customers this week, which was probably the intention. On the other hand Village Networks does appear to raise some fair points in their complaint and we have already reached out to the local authority for comment (expect an update later). understands that the same complaint has also been forwarded to the Government’s largely separate Broadband Delivery UK programme, including the related Departments for Culture (DCMS) and Business (BIS). Buckinghamshire’s regional Connected Counties scheme has also received a copy of the complaint.

Mind you it wouldn’t be the first time that a local authority has shunned an alternative fixed wireless broadband scheme, with ISPs like Kijoma suffering some similar challenges (here). It’s worth pointing out that BDUK’s Phase 2 contracts have sometimes, but not always, been a bit more open to such ISPs and their future Phase 3 deployment is also piloting such services to help connect the final 5% of the UK.