A criminal gang has taken recent protests against MS3’s deployment of telecoms poles in parts of Hull (East Yorkshire), which are being used to carry the operator’s new full fibre broadband ISP network, to a disgusting new level over the weekend by using chainsaws to cut down several of the erections.
Poles used to carry overhead cables are a common sight across the UK (e.g. Openreach has 4 million of them), which is in no small part because they’re quick and cost-effective to build, can be deployed in areas where there may be no space or access agreement to safely put new underground cables, are less disruptive (avoiding the noise, access restrictions and damage to pavements of major street works) and can be built under Permitted Development (PD) rights with only minimal prior notice.
NOTE: The lower cost impact of poles can often mean the difference between building competitive gigabit broadband into an area or skipping it entirely.
However, not everybody is a fan of poles, which is an issue that is cropping up more and more as network operators expand their FTTP broadband coverage (examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Complaints often focus on their negative visual appearance, concerns about exposure to damage from major storms (example), the lack of effective prior consultation and engineers that fail to follow safety rules while building.
Gripes like the ones above are particularly common in areas that haven’t previously had poles before, as well as in areas of outstanding natural beauty, or where operators decide it’s a good idea to force deployment of a pole into small private gardens (most operators are sensible enough to know to avoid that).
MS3’s deployment around parts of East Yorkshire (e.g. Hedon) has similarly been in the news a few times (e.g. here, here and here), with residents in several areas becoming reasonably successful at attracting support for their campaign. The East Riding Council even ended up suspending MS3’s build in the area over “allegations of unsafe work activity”, but they secured the green light last week to resume work after making commitments to improve safety standards and communication.
When absolute muppets attack
Unfortunately the recent protests in parts of Hull appear to have just taken a darker and much more sinister turn over the weekend, which came after we started receiving reports, from various sources, about a gang using a chainsaw to cut down MS3’s poles in part of Hull, such as on Waveney Road in Longhill. MS3 has confirmed that they met with local police this morning to discuss the attack against their infrastructure.
The activity is also depicted in a grainy video on social media and some pictures, although we’re unsure about the legality of reposting that video and don’t currently have copyright permission to share the private images we’ve seen (it’s unclear who took them). Officially, two MS3 poles are known to have been cut down in this way.
An MS3 Spokesperson told ISPreview:
“Two of MS3’s newly installed telegraph poles were subject to criminal damage this weekend, with a video of the illegal activity posted online. Whilst the police investigation is underway, we cannot comment on the act itself however we are extremely disappointed with the actions of members of local protest groups condoning this behaviour online.
Telegraph poles weigh hundreds of kilograms and there is very real danger of loss of life from deliberately damaging them. MS3’s number one priority is the health and safety of our workers and members of the public.
We hope to see all parties involved condemning these actions and reflecting on the narrative used up to this point. We believe the day-to-day harassment our contractors face when lawfully installing new equipment, as well as the misinformation posted online, has ultimately led to a small group of individuals deciding to commit a serious offence that may have endangered lives.”
Just to be clear, protesting – both fairly and legally – against the deployment of new broadband and mobile infrastructure is one thing and many support that, but taking this to the level of causing deliberate criminal damage to a UK communications network is an extremely serious offence and one that can rightly result in convictions that may lead to prison. This is to say nothing of the obvious cost and safety implications of such vandalism.
Protestors in the area have, thus far, actually been fairly successful in garnering support for their cause, which makes it all the more surprising that some would now choose to go this far. Such extremism may well cause the local campaign to lose some of its hard-won support, particularly from key politicians, who will often distance themselves from radicalisation.
Local campaigners had previously been calling for a change in the law, which they’ve suggested could involve deployments of new poles – and other telecoms infrastructure – needing to go through the planning process (i.e. the bits that are normally classed as Permitted Development). But such a change could end up causing significant delays to deployments of both mobile and full fibre broadband networks and push up their build costs, which would impact coverage targets – affecting those in some of the hardest to reach locations the most.
The government are currently looking at the issue, but they’re also mindful of the fact that any new red tape would seriously damage their own targets for digital infrastructure coverage, while also ignoring the many people who are still pleading for faster broadband and better mobile connectivity. But criminal activity, like what we’re seeing above, will only make it harder to secure agreement on this front.