Will it ever arrive at my property?
Updated 05 July 2020: Universal Service Offering
We have in the past reported on the progress of the roll-out of infrastructure to enable properties to be connected to the internet to achieve “Superfast” status ie download speeds in excess of 24 Mega Bits Per Second (Mbps). The much anticipated ‘Contract 3’ awarded by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to BT Openreach in early 2018 was supposed to have largely connected all those remaining properties that do not currently have Superfast broadband and to have been finished by March 2020. In reality this project ran aground quite early on with BT Openreach and ESCC going around in circles to the point where the contract had to be renegotiated. In its latest revision, the number of properties in scope reduced from 7200 homes to 5600 homes and the completion time line to December 2021. It will leave many properties uncovered even by this extended date. If you check your address with the “Postcode checker” on the https://www.esussex.org/Home/ website and get the message that you are in the so called Final Few then it means there is currently no plan to service your property in the foreseeable future i.e. at least 2022.
These are the existing Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) scheme and the more recently announced Universal Service Offering (USO). Both are a means to get better connected by accessing alternative pots of funding (outside of Contract 3).
The CFP entails groups of properties that are generally situated close together clubbing together their subsidy vouchers (valued between £1500 to £3500) available via the Rural Gigabit Scheme. Specific details can be found at https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk . A bespoke infrastructure has then to be requested, quoted, accepted by all concerned and then physically created. It all takes time. The scheme works best where the collective value of vouchers contributed from participating properties is near or equal to the cost of the work to be done. In the case of the CFP being implemented for residents in Brigden Hill the value of the clubbed vouchers exactly equalled the £48,000 bill for the work.
The second option available to you now is the USO. This relates to a policy formalised by Ofcom on 20 March of this year. What the USO says is that every property (not person) in the country should have cost effective access to internet connectivity of 10 Mega Bits Per Second (Mbps) or more. The reason for the threshold being set at 10 Mbps or more is that this is considered to be enough to support the basic needs of a typical family.
You are eligible for support to upgrade your internet connection via the USO route if your property meet the following criteria;
- it does not have 10 Mbps today and have no prospect of 10 Mbps within the next 12 months via any other publicly funded scheme
- it does have 10 Mbps today but you pay more than £46 per month for the privilege
- access to the internet via a 4G mobile network connection is not viable
Assuming that you believe that you meet the criteria listed above then the steps of the process are;
- Use the postcode checker at https://www.bt.com/broadband/USO to see if your current speed is below the 10 Mbps threshold.
- Make a request for upgrade of your internet connection by calling 0800 7830223.
- BT will then make an initial desktop study of the likely cost to upgrade your connection. This should be done within 30 days. The granularity of this first assessment is to the nearest £1000 (or two!), not down to pounds and pence. It is a first ‘go/no-go’ gate.
- If the estimated cost of upgrade is less than £3400 (ex VAT), then the physical work will automatically proceed.
- If the estimate is more than £3,400 (ex VAT) following a full physical survey a detailed final quote made. This can take 60 days. If you are happy to pay any additional costs quoted, they will then only start planning the actual implementation work once they have received your upfront payment.
- Completion of the work is intended to be within 12 months but could extend to 24 months.
Could this be the route to super fast broadband that some of us have been waiting for? Probably not! You will not be surprised to know that there are some hidden hurdles to get over.
First, you may find that the BT postcode checker says that you have 10 Mbps already, even though you perhaps don’t. However, in such scenario it is worth to call the BT number above and talk through your situation, they do make corrections / exceptions to the 10 Mbps criteria. Secondly, the £3400 (ex VAT) threshold may sound generous but it will soon be eaten up if fibre cables are going to be needed for distances of 100’s of metres or cabinets need reconfiguring.
One resident has launched USO request in Penhurst and will be somewhat of a test case. We shall report on progress in the coming months.
Previous update: As you will no doubt have read, at County level the rollout of broadband has progressed steadily from 3% coverage in 2012 to just over 95% today. This is in line with Government targets. Unfortunately our Parish is in the 5% of homes that remain un-served, where broadband coverage may not be available until 2020.
You may well ask “How does all this work?” or simply, “Will it ever work!?”.
In summary, our central Government gives funds for broadband infrastructure rollout to BDUK, a governing body that in turn distributes this money to the various local councils across the country, including East Sussex County Council (ESCC). ESCC is then responsible for the tendering and selection of contractors to build the broadband infrastructure that we need specifically in our county using the money it has been given. Thus far BT Openreach (incidentally, a separate company from BT) has been awarded 2 contracts by ESCC and they have been a monopoly supplier.
Contract 2 will run until the end of 2018 and should result in East Sussex as a whole reaching 96% broadband coverage. This is all very well, but we expect that it will still leave our Parish largely in the 4% segment uncovered.
Recently ESCC signed a third contract with BT Openreach valued at over £4m which is intended to connect a further 7,000+ homes.
Given the importance of Contract 3 to our Parish, Councillor Andrew Hoad has teamed up with Councillor Andrew Wedmore (Chair of Brightling Parish Council) to raise awareness within ESCC of the urgent need to make progress in our respective rural Parishes. Recently Councillors Hoad and Wedmore met with the Chief Executive of ESCC (Becky Shaw) to present the concerns of our parishioners, these being primarily :
- Slow rate of progress to reach 100% coverage of rural properties.
- Constant difficulties experienced by individuals to obtain a clear plan that shows when broadband will actually be available at their property.
- The Broadband “Postcode Checker” on ESCC website is cumbersome and not user friendly.
- Updates on the eSussex.org website are confusing.
From this meeting we learned that Contract 3 has one important difference to earlier contracts. It will require the supplier to survey upfront all premises that are as yet unable to access superfast broadband, well in advance of build. This means that after the surveys it should be possible to have a stable broadband implementation plan that can be published and relied upon by all of us. This is the good news.
The not so good news is that the surveys were due to be finished by the end of 2018 and physical implementation work starting in 2019. In reality the surveys were not finished by BT Openreach until late 2019 and then ESCC were apparently not completely happy with the quality of the information that they received back. There has then ensued a further period of dialogue between ESCC and BT Openreach with an expectation of the final plan being published by mid 2020! In the meantime, there has been some limited piece meal roll-out of high speed broadband to several more post codes, the lucky postcodes are published on the eSussex.org website. Unfortunately there has been limited impact on our parishes. Whilst staying with the not so good news, it is fair to say that there remains a real possibility that even when Contract 3 is finally completed, there may be some properties left unconnected.
Given the long time remaining for some of us to get terrestrial broadband to our properties, your attention is drawn to the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme – see eSussex.org website for more information. This scheme is a means by which groups of property owners can get together to claim a subsidy from the Government to fund a bespoke solution to get high speed broadband to a cluster of properties that are situated relatively close to each other. The subsidies available may not cover all of the associated costs but can go a long way to reduce them.
For individual properties without high speed broadband, the only realistic near term alternatives to get connected ahead of the ground based infrastructure being rolled out by ESCC / BT Openreach are as follows:
- Satellite system– has coverage across the county, speeds of up to 25 Mbp/s are achievable but suffers from time lag when browsing and data costs are high. A large satellite dish (approx 1 metre diameter) needs to be installed within 10 metres of your home.
- 3G/4G Mobile Router– uses mobile telephone network but only where minimum 3G exists and preferably using 4G. Speeds up to 25 Mbp/s are achievable but generally tend to be much less (circa 10 Mbps) due to obstacles such as trees blocking signal. A remote antenna can be used but needs a high vantage point.
Please be assured that your Parish Council will continue to keep a close watching brief on the progress of Contract 3 and any other work that could help expedite the rollout of broadband in our Parish. We will continue to lobby wherever we can to this end.
Should you have any questions please feel free to direct these to Councillor Andrew Hoad.