Could Virgin Media expand to my area?
"VIRGIN Media isn't available at my house - could they extend their cable coverage to allow me to take one of their broadband deals?"
Unlike BT's fibre network, which is now available to more than three quarters of households, and is expected to be almost nationwide by 2017, the Virgin Media cable network is a much more exclusive offering.
Until the past year or so it hasn't really been subject to large scale expansion.
But then, in September 2014 Virgin Media announced they were connecting more than 105,000 homes in London and the north-east of England, and in February 2015 they revealed a £3 billion plan to connect four million more premises by 2020.
The ISP are also starting to connect smaller communities - towns and clusters of villages - if they're close to the existing network, with 40 such areas having been named at the time of this update.
Where this expansion project differs from previous schemes, Virgin have been emphasising the role of their Cable My Street service in finding out where they need to focus their efforts.
To find out more we spoke to Virgin Media's Cable My Street team, and in this guide, we look at what they do and how best to approach them.
But why would we bother?
Why should Virgin Media cable my street?
Put simply, Virgin Media offer the fastest widely available broadband connections in the country.
Since October last year, the speed of their top package has been up to 200Mb, and they frequently offer speed boosts to their existing customers on slower packages as well.
When they launched Vivid 200, as the top tier service is now called, they also started to offer free speed boosts of up to 70Mb and 150Mb to customers with their slower deals, with the boost depending on their existing package.
People seem increasingly appreciative of the chance to connect at a higher speed too - Virgin say around half of their customers are now taking packages with at least a 100Mb connection, compared to just over a quarter in 2014.
With that super- and ultrafast broadband, they also offer a wide ranging TV service, reviewed in full here - and, aware of the competition they face, they also run some good introductory offers for new customers.
What is Cable My Street?
The Cable My Street team act as a single point of contact for individuals looking to find out whether their home or business is part of Virgin Media's current or future expansion plans.
Before Project Lightning, as this five-year expansion project is called, they'd invested more than £13 billion in building up the network over the years, adding about 60,000 homes every year.
When we spoke to them in 2014, Virgin Media told us they were expanding the network in more than 1,400 separate locations across the UK.
The focus at the time was on building more capacity in new housing estates, in partnership with builders and developers. Under certain circumstances they were also willing to extend the network in already built or partly built streets and estates.
Project Lightning has a much broader remit, looking to "fill the gaps" in otherwise connected cities and their surroundings - from whole areas to the odd few streets that have missed out in the past for various reasons.
Particularly with the launch of the smaller communities phase of the project, they've been keen to emphasise the role Cable My Street has in deciding where they go next.
Making the best case to Cable My Street
Cable My Street receive thousands of requests each month through their webpage.
Here's how to make the best case to the team.
What to send
Anyone contacting Cable My Street needs to send them their full postal address, including postcode.
It's also essential to include as much information as possible on network availability in the surrounding area - the team tend to look more favourably on requests closer to the existing network.
For example, think about the answers to these questions:
- Can people living nearby get Virgin Cable? If so, specify how close: the same street? A block away?
- If no one nearby can get cable, how about in the town or village in general?
- Are you moving to, or thinking of moving to, a home in a new build estate?
When Virgin Media look at extending their network for one property they'll also look at the other uncabled properties nearby.
They may want to canvass demand in the area - i.e. ask the neighbours whether they'd also like a Virgin Media connection - and they may ask someone who has made a request to do that on their behalf.
It's one way to get to know the neighbours.
The local authorities
In each of the big Project Lightning schemes they've announced so far, there's been high public demand - but Virgin have also drawn attention to the role local authorities have played in supporting those bids.
The ISP have spoken of councils helping to "overcome barriers to rollout" and "cutting the red tape" as being crucial to each of the areas in question being included.
As well as getting the neighbours on board then, it's worth going further up - get in touch with the local councillors to see if they'd be interested in helping out.
Mention the benefits to the local economy of connecting local and small businesses to the Virgin Media network, and present proof of the high public demand to help get them on side.
Until this past year there was a good chance that an application to Cable My Street would be rejected - and while it depends in part on how strong a case we can make, there's another, much more practical reason for some rejections.
The cost of expanding the Virgin Media network to just a few homes far outweighs the revenue they stand to make from the connection. Every request is subject to a cost-benefit analysis to assess whether it will be possible to provide cabled services to the property or area.
Even when there are numerous properties asking to be connected, other factors can make it too expensive to provide cable to certain areas - and Virgin wouldn't be able to offer an affordable service.
There is one other way to tip the balance, however: paying to get a connection.
Paying to have Virgin Media connected
Cable My Street are quick to stress they definitely do not actively seek contributions from customers.
However, when people specifically request to pay to have cable installed, there can sometimes be options available.
Virgin Media wouldn't tell us how much it would cost for installation ("each instance is unique and there are no hard and fast rules on this," they said). But as BT's (currently stalled) fibre on demand service costs anywhere from £1,100 to £2,500, we think that a couple of thousand pounds would be a fair guess.
In addition, customers who have paid for cable to be installed are in a very small minority: fewer than one in 200 new property connections have been paid for by customers.