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BT's giant new faster broadband boxes blocked

Too ugly for Muswell Hill

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BT has been forced to put the brakes on an ongoing pilot of faster broadband technology in north London because of protests from local residents, who say its new roadside cabinets are too big and ugly.

Haringey Council has blocked BT from installing any further equipment on the leafy streets of Muswell Hill until it rethinks the new network of 1.8 metre-tall cabinets.

Muswell Hill is the first urban area in the country to benefit from BT's £1.5bn commitment to replace the copper wiring that typically connects local exchanges to roadside cabinets with fibre optics. The new technology offers downstream broadband speeds of up to 40Mbit/s.

BT said most of the trial equipment had been installed successfully and was up and running, but it had met opposition from residents in a conservation area.

Mike Snowdon, a spokesman for Haringey Council, said: "There were objections from a number of people and organisations, including the Conservation Area Advisory Committee.

"Officers have already met BT and their agents, following the refusal of the applications, and will be meeting them again to discuss possible alternative sitings for some of the installations, to see if there is a way forward."

He added that as well as being significantly taller than the previous generation of roadside cabinets - which BT hasn't removed to make way - the new equipment was also "more bulky". In places, Snowdon said, people had complained that as well as being an eyesore they caused problems for buggies and wheelchair users.

A BT spokeswoman said the new cabinets had to be larger because they needed powered electronics to convert the light signals transmitted over fibre optics to electrical signals to be transmitted to and from homes, over copper. The current all-copper links from homes to cabinets, to local exchanges, don't require such powered conversion.

She said: "The majority of cabinets have been successfully installed in Muswell Hill and customers are already enjoying super fast broadband.

"There is an issue with a small number of cabinets in a conservation area and Openreach is in dialogue with the council on a solution."

While it works on a solution, BT said it would bring forward more pilots in either Edinburgh, Glasgow or Manchester "to provide the desired footprint as we want to learn as much as possible."

There are more details of the broader national upgrade schedule here. BT plans to deploy fibre to cabinets covering 40 per cent of premises by mid-2012. ®

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