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Open Access

CEO Greg Mesch Recounts How CityFibre, UK’s Third Major Telecom Provider, Grew With Wholesale Network



September 22, 2020 — Open access and wholesale networks have been slow in coming to the United States. Yet in the United Kingdom a network utilizing a wholesale model, CityFibre Networks, is taking the country by storm.

CityFibre, led by CEO Greg Mesch, is simultaneously improving internet reliability and accessibility for users, while simultaneously allowing existing internet service providers to extend their reach. With £4 billion in investment, it is building fiber networks to eight million premises, or 30 percent of the UK market.

Fiber buildouts in the United Kingdom were lagging

UK’s fiber coverage ranked 35th in the world in 2010UK. The country’s advanced broadband market was dominated by two major players: British Telecom’s Openreach and Virgin Mobile.

Consumers had limited options, poor service, and high prices.

“When the opportunity to build a fiber network arose, we decided that instead of building it vertically-integrated, we would do it all open-access, or all wholesale,” Mesch said during the Digital Infrastructure Investment event at the Broadband Communities Summit.

“Why put a fiber network in that’s just only used by one ISP,” he questioned. He called for operators to “open it up to everyone” and attempt to “attract all ISPs to the network.”

CityFibre is nowhere near Mesch’s first fiber endeavor, as he worked with a variety of fiber and other telecom ventures in Europe before founding the UK company.

While CityFibre designs, builds, operates and owns the network, it allows existing internet service providers to operate on the platform, making no effort to compete with them.

In order to break ground on the project, Mesch raised £1.6 billion and completed multiple fiber acquisitions.

Vodafone and Goldman Sachs partners join in with CityFibre

CityFibre’s last-mile deployments began in late 2018, supported by Vodafone, a UK-based internet service provider and a substantial investment from individuals associated with Goldman Sachs.

Since the latter end of 2019, the broadband provider has embarked on aggressive plans to roll fiber out across the UK, seeing itself as the leading independent supplier of fiber networks after BT and Virgin Mobile.

The networks initial two-phase plan was to spend £2.5bn to deploy a 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) fiber-to-the-home network to 20 percent of the current UK broadband market.

Phase One aimed to extend the network to a minimum of one million homes and businesses across 12 cities by the end of 2021. Phase Two promised to reach 5 million premises in 37 cities by 2025.

Current construction plans for CityFibre

Mesch updated Digital Infrastructure Investment attendees on CityFibre’s current construction plans: Above and beyond the prior Phase Two goal, the company is aiming to utilize a £4 billion investment to extend their fiber network to 8 million premises, 30 percent of the UK market.

Mesch detailed critical steps the company made in deploying the full fiber network and what it took to attract existing service providers to use the system. He said CityFibre had been able to attract some of the UK’s best-known telecom brands as clients.

To get its start, the company developed a strategic partnership with the biggest mobile operator in the UK in 2017, Vodafone. The company then moved to acquire TalkTalk, another fiber operator, which it bought from FiberNation. With the purchase, the company nearly double in size, effectively becoming the UK’s third largest national digital infrastructure platform.

Mesch said that key to attracting incumbent providers to use the network was providing 1 Gbps speeds and pricing the product less than existing operators.

In an attempt to advise up-and-coming entrepreneurs, Mesch said it is crucial to “aggregate demand across cities” and then build a wholesale, open unit.

“Once you have scale, incumbent providers will use you,” he detailed.

From publicly-traded to privately-held company

Attorney and Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark asked Mesch whether he preferred operating under a publicly-traded or a privately-traded company model. Mesch replied with a laugh, saying he loved both models and hated both models.

Ultimately, Mesch said that he personally believes “the best place for fiber ownership is in private hands.”

While CityFibre was initially a public company, it moved to become classified as a private infrastructure class ownership structure in 2018.

“We think it’s a perfect time to shift from public ownership and public scrutiny to private long-term patient capital while we go through this mass period of construction,” Mesch said in a 2018 interview with Reuters.

In order to amass scale, it is crucial that fiber assets remain in private hands, urging that while “one city isn’t scale, 50 cities is,” he said.

“It’s much easier for a big operator to consume from us,” than from cities, Mesch argued, claiming it is impossible for incumbents “to deal with 25 or 50 different municipalities.”

“We’re building across 100 cities in the UK,” said Mesch, and “being in private hands allows for the standardization of access rules and terms of service and is altogether easier to finance.”

“All pension funds have started to classify fiber as an investible asset,” he noted, “therefore, if you’re a pure fiber asset you’re deemed investible by an infrastructure fund,” while municipalities are not.

Mesch concluded saying “it behooves a city to help a private company build, but I don’t think a city should do it on their own.”

The United Kingdom’s push for full fiber buildout by 2025

Stakeholders in the UK are on the same page when it comes to the importance of deploying an accessible fiber network to all.

Last election, both the Labor Party and the Conservative Party, the two dominant parties in the country, campaigned on plans to deploy “full fiber” networks across the UK, within 5 years.

Mesch said that Britain’s need for a world-class digital infrastructure has never been greater, which is why he stands firmly behind the government’s plan for nationwide coverage by 2025.

“Essential to making an economy work and compete across the world today, is a world class infrastructure. Full fiber will play a critical role in levelling-up the UK and so today we are accelerating our plans to bring full fiber to more towns and cities, even faster,” he said.

The government and the people’s push for an accessible, reliable nationwide fiber network has benefited the company enormously. “The government is attracted to the model, which allows us to build at scale” with limited obstructions, said Mesch.

Mesch reported that when planning the network, the company uses a city-centric model, which accounts for public sector buildings, businesses, 5G, and consumers.

CityFibre believes that, underpinned by a full fiber infrastructure platform, these towns and cities will spur economic growth, helping to further develop the UK and make the country more competitive as a whole.

Can the wholesale model work in the U.S.?

During the event, Mesch mentioned that he would love to see what a wholesale model could do to expand fiber throughout the United States.

“I think a city fiber model could work in every city across the U.S.” said Mesch, although he noted the scale of the project would be “huge to do.”

While there is talk of what a CityFibre model could do across the U.S., how the model would operate over such a vast market remains unknown.

In an attempt to advise anyone interested in taking a stab at the pitched project, Mesch said “the first move would be to consolidate all wholesale, open access providers across the U.S., city-by-city,” noting that “as soon as you get scale, the bigger providers will use you.”

Displaying his interest in potentially trying to replicate Mesch’s model across the U.S., Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks, a North American open-access operator, joined to comment and ask questions of Mesch.

Bawtree-Jobson asked Mesch what the biggest obstacles were in constructing CityFibre Networks.

Mesch replied saying “today it’s the construction, but five years ago is was getting people to believe the model.”

Visit Digital Infrastructure Investment for complete information and summaries of the sessions from the Broadband Breakfast mini-conference, which is being re-broadcast at Broadband Communities Virtual Summit.

Open Access

Lewis County Public Utility District Pushes Forward with Open Access Fiber Plan

‘Getting broadband out to all rural areas and all residents of Lewis County,’ Washington.



Photo of Lewis Count Manager Erik Martin from 2016 by Justyna Tomtas from the Chronicle in Centralia, Washington

Lewis County, Washington and the Lewis County Public Utility District are making progress with their plan to deploy an open access fiber network that should dramatically boost broadband competition—and lower prices—county wide by 2026.

In November 2019, Lewis County PUD received a $50,000 grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to study the county’s broadband shortcomings and determine whether taking direct action to address them made sense. In early 2020, the PUD formed the Lewis County Broadband Action Team to further study community needs.

Those inquiries found what most U.S. communities know too well: concentrated monopolization had left county residents overpaying for substandard, expensive, and spotty broadband access unsuitable for modern living.

In response, the Lewis County PUD announced in 2021 it would be building an 134-mile-long fiber backbone and open access fiber network for around $104 million. Around $23.5 million of that total will be paid for by a recently awarded grant by the Washington State Department of Commerce, itself made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lewis County PUD fiber map

In December of 2021, Lewis County PUD public affairs manager Willie Painter was a guest on our Community Broadband Bits podcast in which he discussed the PUD’s vision of deploying fiber across the county’s 2,450 square miles, which is home to about 75,000 Washingtonians, or about 30,000 households. Painter noted then how the PUD’s “shovel ready designs and estimates” is what “empowered our utility to be very competitive in going after state and federal grant dollars to help fund these construction deployments.”

The latest development to have emerged since we last reported on Lewis County PUD, is who the PUD selected as a partner to build the network. The network will be built as part of a 25-year public-private partnership with ToledoTel. While ToledoTel will install, supply and maintain a new fiber optic network connecting more than 2,300 homes and businesses in the Winlock area, Lewis County will ultimately own the final build.

ToledoTel is currently in the engineering and design phase of the project, and has stated it will provide an additional $2.35 million in matching funds for the project, which is slated to be finished before 2026.

Details of the arrangement were finalized in January, and county leaders state that ToledoTel will have exclusive access to the infrastructure for up to three years. After that, ToledoTel will be required to open the network to competitors at a wholesale rate, boosting competition and driving down costs in a residential broadband market largely dominated by Comcast.

Lewis County PUD building

Photo of Lewis County PUD building courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“There’s the convenience, there’s business purposes; all those are really vital and becoming more and more a part of everyday life, and we want to provide those services to everyone in Lewis County that we can,” Lewis County Manager Erik Martin told The Chronicle. “This project is really the beginning, in terms of getting service out to folks, and we want to focus on getting broadband out to all rural areas and all residents of Lewis County.”

2021 survey by the WA Department of Commerce found that 64 percent of state households reported download speeds slower than the base FCC definition of broadband, currently a paltry 25 megabit per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. The state is currently considering raising the base definition of broadband to 100 Mbps downstream, 20 Mbps upstream.

A local survey by Lewis County PUD found that more than 77 percent of survey respondents had broadband speeds well below the acceptable federal definition of broadband, despite nearly 98 percent of county survey participants considering broadband access an essential utility.

Lewis County is one of many PUDs in Washington State taking full advantage of a flood of new grants — and recently-eliminated Washington State restrictions on community broadband — to belatedly expand access to affordable fiber across the state.

This article by Karl Bode originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks project on March 13, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

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Open Access

Financing Mechanisms for Community Broadband, Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 3 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.



Video from Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Kim McKinley, Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber, Jeff Christensen, President & CEO, EntryPoint Networks, Jane Coffin, Chief Community Officer, Connect Humanity, Robert Wack, former Westminster Common Council President and leader of the Open Access Citywide Fiber Network Initiative, and moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

For a free article summarizing the event, see Communities Need Governance Seat on Broadband Builds, Conference Hears: Communities need to be involved in decision-making when it comes to broadband builds, Broadband Breakfast, November 17, 2022


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Open Access

In Video Session, Christopher Mitchell Digs Into Community Ownership and Open Access Networks

The conversation dealt with open access networks, and whether cities are well-suited to play a role in developing them.



Screenshot of Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

September 29, 2022 – Community-owned, open access networks protect communities against irresponsible network operators and stimulate innovation, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, at a Broadband.Money Ask Me Anything! event Friday.

“AT&T, Frontier, these companies have a history of failing to meet community needs,” said Mitchell. “If I had a choice between open broadband fixed wireless and fiber from AT&T, I’d be really, you know, checking it out.”

“[AT&T] is a company that will sell your data at the first opportunity, it’s a company that will raise your bill every chance it gets,” Mitchell added.

ILSR’s director said that in communities in which local ownership isn’t possible, such as in a town with a deeply corrupt government, there still exist contractual provisions that can maximize local control.

A right of first refusal, for instance, gives communities the option to purchase their local network if the original provider chooses to sell. Mitchell also suggested communities write performance-based contracts that institute penalties for network partners who fail to meet clearly outlined performance benchmarks.

Conversation entered realm of open access discussion

The wide-ranging conversation also dealt with the issues of open access networks, and whether cities are well-suited to play a role in developing them.

 “The cities are the custodians of their rights of way – they need to be, they must be,” said Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast. Because of the cities inherent role as custodians of their rights of way, Clark said that open-access networks provide cities with the opportunity to own the infrastructure portion of their broadband networks, while still offering private companies the ability to serve as network operators or application service providers.

Mitchell agreed that open access networks can be critical to broadband innovation. “We need to have millions – ideally tens of million – of Americans in thriving areas that have open access to kind of see what we can do with networks,” he said.

“Maybe a lot of those ideas won’t work out, but I think we don’t want to foreclose that path.”

In addition to overseeing digital infrastructure projects, communities can promote digital equity by utilizing established, trusted community-based institutions – such as food pantries or faith groups – to boost digital literacy and distribute devices, Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that these efforts must be ongoing: “This is more about building connections now.”

Broadband.Money is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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