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Muswell Hillbillies force BT to move broadband boxes

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BT has been ordered to move 20 of the bulkier new streetside cabinets planned to power its trial of faster broadband, after they offended aesthetic sensibilities in leafy Muswell Hill, north London.

The local council, Haringey, is also arranging for all the boxes to be repainted black rather than their current green, to "blend slightly better with some of the existing street furniture".

The enforced changes follow talks between the BT and the council.

Prompted by complaints from residents of a conservation area in Muswell Hill, in August planning officials told the firm to halt expansion of its fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) trial, which offers downstream speeds of up to 40Mbit/s.

New sites - some less prominent, some outside the conservation area of six streets around Queen's Avenue - have now been found for about three-quarters of the cabinets, a spokeswoman for Haringey Council told The Register.

Despite the apparent progress, Haringey Council was critical of BT.

"It is most regrettable that the cabinets were designed to be much higher and wider than the smaller telephone cabinets which are typically found on street corners - the newer cabinets are 1.6 metres high whereas the older-style cabinets are 0.9 metres high and not so wide as the new ones," the spokeswoman said.

When it was first ordered to halt the rollout, BT said its new boxes had to be larger to accommodate the extra electronics, backup batteries and cooling required by FTTC technology.

Haringey Council today acknowledged that more equipment was required, but said BT should have tried harder to reduce its aesthetic impact.

"It would have been better if BT had sought advice on a better design before the boxes were installed," it said.

BT broke planning laws by installing some of the bulky new cabinets in the streets around Queen's Avenue without permission, the council said. Planning permission was required in the conservation area, but not in the rest of Muswell Hill, where the FTTC trial is up and running.

The illegal cabinets will be ripped out and among those moved elsewhere, the spokeswoman said.

"It would appear that some residents of Muswell Hill consider that the benefits of a faster broadband service do not outweigh the harm to the conservation area caused by the intrusiveness of the boxes," she added.

Responding to claims it acted illegally, BT said: "As certain areas of Muswell Hill are designated as a conservation area, the planning process is far more complex; a small number of cabinets were installed in error without the specific level of planning consent needed for installations in these areas.

"We are working through this issue with Haringey council, and are making good progress in finding alternative locations for a number of cabinets which were refused planning permission, to ensure that the maximum number of residents can benefit from access to super-fast broadband service."

BT said the new cabinets were "slightly" larger to accommodate the extra equipment.

"As Muswell Hill is a pilot area, and Next Generation Access is a new technology we are still learning lessons from the deployment of these cabinets, and are constantly evolving their design and specification, in co-operation with local authorities," it said.

"However, it is important to note that thanks to the deployment of this technology, residents of Muswell Hill will be amongst the first in the country to benefit from access to super-fast fibre broadband services."

Muswell Hill was selected by BT last year as one of two trial locations for its FTTC rollout. The rollout is scheduled to cover 40 per cent of premises nationwide by 2012. ®

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