back to article Virgin Media mauls for pumping millions into BT

Virgin Media's monopolistic cable network is closed to competition - unlike BT's - but that hasn't stopped the telco from grumbling about government subsidies being dished out to its rival. VM's chief operating officer Andrew Barron has penned a letter, published in the Guardian last night, ahead of a Lord's committee hearing …


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  1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Much as it pains me

    Im with BT on this one. For all their slurping in the trough they actually are willing to entertain new areas.

    When was the last big roll out (to potential new areas) from VM.

    1. I think so I am?
      Thumb Up

      Re: Much as it pains me

      I'm with Gordon 10 on this.

      However much I want to hate BT - their the only company that can an will spend money on massive infrastructure investment (even if lots of it comes from the government)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Much as it pains me

        BT only has to run cable to their existing cabinets. They have all the last mile covered with twisted pair that can probably be upgraded easily too.

        Virgin has to lay both fibre, install cabinets, dig up the roads to do all of this. Plus then they have to install boxes on houses when people want the service at a cost (although they often waive this).

        BT have it easy for so many reasons, they offer a wholesale product to other operators meaning they get a lot of business. BT charge line rental too.

        BT are as bad as Sky IMHO. Dominant and doing a good job at destroying any chance of competition. (Oh and don't forget PHORM).

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Much as it pains me

          So? A local cable firm - smallworld - piggybacked their work on a major gas main rehaul. All areas were having gas mains redug and replaced. they laid fibre at the same time. Virgin could have done the same but couldnt be arsed.

    2. PC Paul

      Re: Much as it pains me

      Last I heard they weren't even laying cables to newly built houses in areas that *are* Virgin cable areas already.

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons
        Thumb Up

        Re: Much as it pains me

        I can confirm that (at least in so far as my own experince). I live in the final phase of a development (some 200+ properties), surrounded by the preceding phases (cabled by VM) and an older, pre-existing estate (also cabled).

        In response to my query to them, apparently the infill of this location was not economically viable. Obviously wouldn't pay for a new balloon for the Bearded One.

        Not all bad, BT are soon to upgrade the exchange for FTTC - so screw VM - a potential lump of customers lost.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Much as it pains me

          another agree, my estate has all the ducting in place, but will anyone bother to run cables through the ducts? no!

      2. launcap Silver badge

        Re: Much as it pains me

        And they certainly are not replacing the old analogue cabling in areas where they have borged the old incumbent cable companies..

        Doesn't stop then sending out lots of compost-heap brown material for their shiny 'superfast' networks to us though.

    3. Steve Evans

      Re: Much as it pains me

      <aol>Me too!</aol>

      At least BT bothered to cable the entire country. I'm sick and tired about VM going on about their speeds on TV and radio announcements when as far as I know they (or the companies they bought out) haven't cabled a new area in over a decade.

      1. MrZoolook

        Re: Much as it pains me

        Quote: At least BT bothered to cable the entire country.

        Way back when there was BT or ... well, nothing. It was back then certainly worth them cabling the entire country. If the underlying cabling was being laid for the first time NOW, we would POSSIBLY end up with a situation like the rail service is now. One area served exclusively by BT, another by Virgin, and another by TalkTalk, all laying cable in a few areas and expanding from that as and when it could be paid for. But at the time, there was only BT, so every home connected to the phone network was running through BT. By being the only company laying the cable, they guaranteed massive proffits. That isn't true now, and in fact, the infrastructure is wholly looked after by a subsidiary of BT.

        Quote: I'm sick and tired about VM going on about their speeds on TV and radio announcements when as far as I know they (or the companies they bought out) haven't cabled a new area in over a decade.

        But you just said there were no areas left to cable... On a slightly less argumentative note, they are rolling out Fibre-Optic, rather then just talking about it, which from my talking to some of their various subscribers is what BT do... Just talk about it!

        Personally, I would have given the cash to BT-Openworld (the cabling side of BT) on the provision that areas (still) without a broadband service faster then 512k were improved first. If BT (the service providing side) want a cash injection, they can bloody well improve their service and get more subscribers... the same as any business would have to do.

  2. Seamaster
    Thumb Up

    Buzby FTW, Beardy FTB.

  3. John70


    Has Virgin Media laid "any" cables?

    Isn't everything they own were aquired with mergers and take overs of Telewest and NTL?

    1. Annihilator

      Re: Cables

      Haven't laid any that I'm aware of. Far as I know they acquired the cable infrastructure, but none of tr crippling debt that came with actually installing the infrastructure.

      You could argue that Virgin Media got a largely subsidised infrastructure like BT did, but none of the obligation to supply to anyone who asks at fixed cost. Say what you like about BT, but if I build a brand new house, BT are obliged to cable it for £130 (or less) regardless of the actual cost. Virgin will just continue to send you junk mail proclaiming you are in an enabled area, but won't actually hook you up.

      1. Chris007

        Re: Cables

        "Say what you like about BT, but if I build a brand new house, BT are obliged to cable it for £130 (or less) regardless of the actual cost"

        Are you sure about this - I was under the impression that BT only had to do this if the costs were not "excessive" and they get to determine what excessive is.

        Few years ago a couple asked BT for a phone line and were told that the cost would be about £15,000 (middle of nowhere, many 10's of poles would be required) - When they brought up the max charge BT said yes but not if excessive and we say £15k is excessive

    2. Allan 1

      Re: Cables

      Virgin Media is a company resulting from the takeover of other cable companies, however, they were originally NTL, that was just a namechange not a takeover and NTL did lay cables.

      So yes, VirginMedia has laid cables prior to their namechange.

      1. Annihilator

        Re: Cables

        @Allan 1 - and was that before or after NTL and Telewest defaulted on their debt? They restructured by swapping debt for shares, effectively diluting the existing shares by spreading that debt across their shareholders and lowering the value of the companies. This was done to prevent bankruptcy on both companies - they subsequently merged.

        Virgin Mobile "merged" (aka bought out) NTL/Telewest and then rebranded as Virgin Media - it certainly wasn't a simple renaming. At the point of the Virgin takeover there was very little debt, just a substantially weakened company with a very low share price and a lot of disgruntled shareholders.

        1. LinkOfHyrule

          Re: Cables

          I think the only cables they lay these days are in the staff toilets!

        2. davefb

          Re: Cables


          not that hard to read wiki, or remember tbh..

          the merged ntl/telewest brought vm mobile, aggressively, they had to pay more than they (and mr branson) wanted.. They then joined everything up and have licensed the virgin brand and branson himself.. Of course richard owns part of the new company and 'his' investment company also owns a lot.. But it's just a rented name.

          Iirc from when the cabling issue has been raised locally, one problem is that the initial tv companys (which predate the opening of phones in some areas) initially had deals to allow them to cheaply cable, its now more expensive ( ie the council charges them more) , they also initially had local monopoly protection..

      2. Da Weezil

        Re: Cables

        Virgin? didnt lay an inch in Sutton, nor did NTL.. it was United Artists then, so thats one example... not sure if they have the old Ninex operation around Epsom....

        NTL would be the company that took over Maxwell comms in West Wales, invested nothing in what was a 30 year old Rediffusion network, then closed the network when people were deserting in droves because they were expected to pay for 8 fuzzy channels that often just went "off line" what Sky were charging for over 20.

        No Sympathy for them.

        BT are just as bad.. hanging on for public money while large areas remain on 8 meg, and when the investment is made for them they will still charge their normal rate despite not having made all of the investment.

        My heart bleeds.....

    3. Michael Hutchinson

      Re: Cables

      Virgin Media laid half a mile of cable in York just last month. I know this because I'm now connected to it.

    4. Peter Stone

      Re: Cables

      From what I can recall, a large amount of the original cabling, was done by Southwestern Bell

  4. Anomynous Coward


    Virgin Media may be the only operators of their type but what is there that prevents a rival from entering the market?

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Monopolistic?

      There used to be several, but they all went to the wall from the expense of installing the cables and battling with local council bullsh*t. VM just came along and bought them and their cables.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Barriers to entry...

      The cost of laying Fibre is astronomically high, hence why VM haven't bothered where it isn't economically viable for them. How would a competitor make it economically viable...?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Barriers to entry...

        A big dollop of taxpayer cash might help them fund digging up some roads?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Barriers to entry...

          Agreed, and then having to open up the network a la BT...

  5. Elmer Phud

    LLU !

    It's always narked me that Virgin did O.K. from LLU but refuse to do the same with thier green boxes.

    I can't get any more than 37meg as I'm FTTC with a bit of OH chucked in but there is a nice green pipe that goes just outside my house with an outlet next to the wall . . .

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re Gordon 10 - say what?

    BT "entertain new areas"? What? There's already BT infrastructure in all these areas already...Hardly the same for anyone else now is it?

    PS Read the letter - they claim they're adding 150,000 a year - I make that 750,000 since they became Virgin, all of which done with their own money and in entirely "Virgin" (pls excuse the pun) territory. Small fry perhaps but given it almost bankrupt their predecessors I kinda understand why.

    PPS And the argument about opening up Virgin is laughable. They're not a monoploy. I doubt there's more than a handful of homes anywhere in the UK that can ONLY get Virgin for broadband.

  7. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Just not cricket

    "a Lord's committee hearing on the future of broadband"

    I think you mean "Lords", possibly with an apostrophe after the "s".

  8. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    It doesn't pain me at all to tell VM to fuck right orf. BT won those contracts because they were the best bidder. VM was free to bid for them if it wanted to. Pathetic sour grapes in this case.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    omnomnom, lovely new subsidies...

    i'm sure BT will use them in much the same way as they use most of their subsidies - to improve inner-city speeds, whine about low uptake rates (since people dont want to pay £20 a month to upgrade from 20meg to 40meg, or whatever it is), and then screw over any other small telcos that dare try to start up in an area*.

    *just to explain that, BT have a bit of a habit of watching for any small companies trying to install decent broadband to a local area, then once they've invested a bunch in the infrastructure, BT waltz in and use all of their nice subsidies (that the small company couldnt bid for on account of being too small, essentially) to massively undercut and outcompete the small company. (BT obviously lose money doing this, but are happy to take the hit on that as the price for taking another potential future rival out of the business.).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: omnomnom, lovely new subsidies...

      What subsidies are they then? The article says that BT has only been successful in two areas so far and I doubt those are even started yet. Nothing else is subsidised.

  10. GaryJK

    I live about 50 yards from a Virgin Media street cabinet and get frequent mail shots telling me of the 100mb broadband available in my area. But as I live in a property that was built after the cable network was initially laid and Virgin didn't bother connecting my estate when it was being built I can't get their service. So I'm in agreement with most commenters here that Virgin don't deserve any help until they prove they will invest!

  11. Justin 9

    Epic Fail

    F**k them both

    Cannot get Virgin on my estate and cannot get inifinity. And both exists in my Town over the road in fact on the other estate.

    as i Already said F**k them both.

    1. Chris 211

      Re: Epic Fail

      Aww poor you. MOVE! Could anyone or any company care less about you as an individual, no, unless you represent a group were costs make sense to lay new cable.

      1. Justin 9
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Epic Fail

        Chris 211 rename your account to naive 211

        That fact is that my whole estate of nearly 600 plots are at the mercy of BT wholesale, LLU and SKY. Just to MOVE! may not be an option. How clear cut your world must be.

        Why paris because Chris 211 has no where near the brain capacity of her.

  12. Chris 211

    The point is...

    Why should the taxpayers/government favour one private company over another. The money should be for ducting/poles infrastructure only. Not a cheap way BT can profit. Or an infrastructure company (3rd party) which organises (wow what a concept) ducting, road digging. pole installing and either says "come on then stick your fiber in" or "puts its own fibers in" and leases. That would encourage any other competitors. Otherwise it is what it sounds like, a back hander to Lords with BT shares, interests...

  13. TaffiaCapoDeTuttiCapo

    MoD Sites?

    Well so much for improving broadband. Those families of serving soldiers living on UK MoD bases are not being upgraded to anything resembling acceptable speeds.

    Most service families get 2Mbps tops!

    BT has stated that it doesn't plan to upgrade the cabinets, even though the exchange is 21CN ready.

    There are 2 bases in large towns close to London that don't even have reasonable broadband services, yet still they fork out the £35 pm that BT request.

  14. teapot9999

    Always hated BT, just got BT Infinity

    Virgin Media cable stops at the end of my road, they didn't bother installing on my new estate of 1000 houses. BT just rolled out Infinity 3, I now have 67meg download - happy days.

    1. Big_Ted

      Re: Always hated BT, just got BT Infinity

      I'm sorry but VM are not the ones you should blame.

      The company building the estate could have laid the cable or asked VM to do so before putting down the tarmac etc at the same time as water pipes etc were being installed.

      Too many people blame VM for not being willing to spent thousands laying a cable to their house, why should I as a VM customer have to substidise your install ? Get on to the company who built your house for not providing you wth what you must concider a service that you have a right to.....

      1. Pypes

        Re: Always hated BT, just got BT Infinity

        Estate builders do ask virgin if they would like to cable new build estates adjacent to their existing infrastructure, VM flatly refuse every time. If they weren't asked it's because construction firms have gotten the hint and stopped bothering.

        VM are interested in only one thing, milking their existing coax network for all it's worth, when their docsis 3 kits tops out (which wont be too long considering how they like to push headline speeds) and someone starts offering half decent FTTP they are going to be dead in the water.

    2. launcap Silver badge

      Re: Always hated BT, just got BT Infinity

      >BT just rolled out Infinity 3, I now have 67meg download - happy days.

      You don't *have* to buy it from BT y'know. There are plenty of proper ISPs (IDNet being one) that will sell you an FTTC connection using the BT Infinity network..

  15. john loader

    Hooray for Fujitsu

    BT Openreach has perforemed well by NOT investing in local network. In this part of N Yorkshire we have 2 bits of damp string to link to the cabinet. Fujitsu is suggesting a wireless option for us in rural areas and even as a BT shareholder I congratulate them Openreach cares notr a toss for the broadband user unless they are bribed by the Government and even then FTTC won't solve the problem of aluminium cable or 0.5mm copper on long lines

  16. Big_Ted


    BT are a monopoly in the vast majority of the country, where they are not, ie VM areas they are still everywhere wit the poles etc almost all of which were payed for by the taxpayer....the copper it etc not the new fiber etc

    Until now BT has refused to allow anyone else to use their cable ducts and poles unless they pay a ridiculous amount of money. Ofcom have stopped that and fairer if not totaly fair pricing is now on the way.

    VM have for two years run a test to Woolhampton using BT poles to provide 50Meg BB, TV and phone very successfully; with this "filling in" areas would be simple as no road digging needed. The same system could have rolled out BB to whole swaves of the country.

    Now BT who already has a network of copper paid for by the taxpayer wants access to VM fiber as well as getting paid to upgrade their network by the taxpayer.....

    So as far as I am concerned Fujitsu should have got the lot if they could deliver what they wanted and BT could like VM access another companies network and so provide compitision.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WTF

      How was it paid for by the taxpayer? If anything the GPO subsidised taxpayers, the government certainly took the majority of the profit they made. Regardless, it was sold by the government. Anything produced by British Leyland was subsidised by the government, it doesn't give you a valid claim of part ownership on your neighbours Morris Ital.

  17. Nosher

    It's amusing (in a deeply ironic, depressing way) to read people grumbling about "only getting 37mbps" or "only managing 8mbps". Living in rural Suffolk, the maximum where I am is 2.5mbps, but I'm actually still on 1mbps - yes, *one* - simply because it's an old Demon uncontested circuit and the throughput is way better than that from the 2.5mbps circuit (it was probably poor DSLAM profiling when I briefly switched to ADSL "Max", but I could never persuade Demon to investigate it). Still, 1mbps is just enough to stream from LoveFilm...

    VM have no credibility in these arguments when their closed network reaches less than 50% of the population, and they're doing nothing to extend their reach (and most likely never will).

    Try living in /my/ world, high-speed townie whingers!! :-)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    VM invested as much in their infrastructure as they do in telling me I could get their 100MBit broadband they could get closer to BT's coverage. Its a bit rich of them to moan about unfair competition when they won't allow other providers to use their network

  19. cs94njw
    Thumb Up

    Sorry, I'm pro-VM.

    Shall we count the number of Register articles where BT has tried everything to avoid the responsibility of a decent service for their customers?

    Or the company that went straight to fibre, offers broadband with excellent speeds, a TV service with Tivo, and free phone calls way before BT offered it. Sure, the customer service has a bad reputation, but once it's working... it works.

    So you have old "reliable" BT, if you don't it to blow up your skirt.

    Or you have forward moving VM which gives a supreme service, with breakneck speeds.

    I can't see either of them willing to install a cabinet/telephone pole in the middle of nowhere. That is sad, but it can't be efficient for either of them.

    And don't forget, these are the kinds of properties you see with great big fat green barrels outside their front door - where even the gas company can't be bothered to lay pipes.

    The guys in the middle (Hull doesn't count) - there are competitors to BT (*cough* BE *cough*)...

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Or the company that went straight to fibre, offers broadband with excellent speeds, a TV service with Tivo, and free phone calls way before BT offered it. Sure, the customer service has a bad reputation, but once it's working... it works.

      Do you, by any chance, work in marketing? That was very markety-speak and I'm beginning to come out in hives.

      Or you have forward moving VM which gives a supreme service, with breakneck speeds.

      Unless, as you've already stated, you need their customer service. Which is, after all, part of the service you're paying for.

      Go with whatever Telco suits your needs best at the end of the day. There are those who are on TalkTalk because they just want it to be cheap, there are those on more expensive providers because they want the low contention ratios. But please, for the sake of my health, don't use marketing droid speak!

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