Why does Hull not have BT or Openreach infrastructure?

Telephone services and broadband in Hull are different to the rest of the country, owing to a curious historic anomaly

Tuesday, 29 September, 2020

Travel broadens the mind, and it can also reveal some intriguing anomalies.

From bilingual signage in Scotland and Wales to single-letter registration plates on Jersey, different provinces and regions have their own historic distinctions.

And so it is with the cream phone boxes in Hull and East Riding – a swathe of eastern Yorkshire extending from the Humber up to Bridlington.

These charmingly incongruous phone boxes are the most visible evidence of a schism in the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure, dating back over a century.

Post office protocols

The Telegraph Act was passed in 1899, allowing local councils outside London to develop their own telephone systems and open municipal exchanges.

Glasgow and Tunbridge Wells opened theirs in 1901, while Hull City Council received their licence in 1904 and began investing heavily in this pioneering technology.

When other councils began ceding control of their networks to the Post Office later in the decade, Hull’s elected fathers resisted.

By 1913, every other local telephone network had been transferred to the control of the Post Office, which was also responsible for installing new connections into uncabled regions.

Just before the outbreak of the First World War, Hull City Council spent the substantial sum of £192,423 acquiring nine local exchanges and 197 call offices from the Government.

With their own infrastructure effectively ringfenced from national control or interference, Hull had a telephone network separate to the rest of the UK’s services.

By 1981, when BT was formed, few people could remember anything other than a national phone network under monopoly control.

Yet for the residents of a 1,000-square mile strip of eastern England, the reverse was true, with Kingston Communications acting as a monopoly holder over telecommunications.

This continued into the internet age, first with dial-up and more recently with broadband in Hull.

More frustratingly for critics of the company now known as KCOM, it retained its monopoly even after the rest of the UK was opened up to free market forces.

You won’t find Virgin Media, Hyperoptic or Gigaclear broadband in Hull.

However, other ISPs are legally entitled to use KCOM’s broadband infrastructure, in the same way other UK residents can sign up to an ISP using an Openreach connection.

Speed thrills

While the rest of the UK struggles with a patchwork quilt of connection types and speeds, KCOM has rolled out a full fibre network across its entire catchment area.

The company developed Europe’s first fully digital network back in 1989, and has subsequently blazed a trail for services like digital TV and ADSL broadband.

Today, broadband in Hull involves speeds between 30Mbps and 900Mbps, with even the former far surpassing the 11Mbps achievable from a standard copper phone line.

It’s worth pointing out that KCOM doesn’t enjoy a particularly good reputation for customer service, but then neither do many other ISPs.

Hull and East Riding remain unique in having no BT or Openreach presence, and after a century of independence, there’s no reason to suppose they ever will.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!