Update 23 Aug 2022
Fundamentally there have been two types of schemes to roll out fibre broadband in rural areas – the Community Fibre Partnership and a Demand Led scheme.
With the Community Fibre Partnership scheme the householders covered by the scheme got together and approached Open Reach who responded with the costings and to what extent the costs would be covered by the Rural Gigabit Voucher to which every household and business is entitled. If the numbers worked, all the householders contracted to take a broadband package for a minimum of 12 months once it became available. In this parish the Brigden Hill scheme worked successfully for some 24 properties.
With the Demand Led scheme, Open Reach defined who would be covered and the numbers were in the hundreds. And for the money to work a high proportion of the properties had to make only a moral obligation, not a contractual one, to take a package. Nevertheless, around 70% of households had to pledge their vouchers in this way. As you will know from the last post we only got about half way to this target before time ran out.
Andrew Hoad has written a more detailed account of how things now stand and you can download it here. However, this is his conclusion:
There are now 3 possible outcomes that can be imagined. They are:-
– Our remodelled scheme gets approved as a “Demand Led” scheme, we reach the pledge target, vouchers get released by DCMS in January 2023 and build is completed by December 2023.
– Our scheme does not go ahead but new builds driven from central government result in us getting upgraded by osmosis. Timeline 18-36 months.
– New technology emerges that gives a economically viable alternative to fibre broadband. Timeline – unknown.
Update 14 July 2022
Sadly the project has come to the end of the road without achieving its objective. Not enough people really wanted super fast broadband to vote for it by pledging the value of their voucher to the scheme even though there was nothing more than a non-enforceable expectation that they would take the service when it became available.
What did not help was that Open Reach set the boundary for the scheme to include large parts of Ninfield where Ashburnham & Penhurst’s writ does not run. Their parish council was luke warm at best and only at the last gasp when it was really too late.
Government has now announced a six month moratorium which they consider what to do next about broadband roll out.
The past Chairman of the parish council, Andrew Hoad, worked tirelessly with his counterpart at Brightling Parish Council and the current councillors want to express their thanks and admiration for his efforts.
Update 12 April 2022
Here’s where you go to pledge your voucher
Pledging to fund the Ultrafast Broadband project continues and we are making progress but there is still a way to go. Ninfield is showing some reluctance to pledge and in part this is due to the housing developments under way which is confusing some people who think the will benefit from them in terms of broadband. Nothing could be further from the truth! Street side banners are soon to be placed in strategic locations to build confidence.
Please get involved and encourage your friends and neighbours in the community to do the same.
Here’s the situation at 12th April 2022:
Update 1 April 2022
28 February 2022:
After a hesitation at the last fence, Openreach have launched dedicated websites for the district schemes which will bring Fibre to the Premises for up to 800 households scattered through the parishes of Ashburnham, Brightling, Catsfield, Dallington, Mountfield, Netherfield, Ninfield and Penhurst. The map shows the area covered.
If you are one of the 800 identified by Openreach you will have received a mail shot on Wednesday 2nd March or soon after giving you all the details of the scheme and the part you play in it by pledging the value of your Gigabit Voucher to the project. To pledge your voucher at the Openreach site got to www.openreach.com/connectmycommunity
You will probably have lots of questions and we have tried to anticipate them by putting together a list of Frequently Asked Questions The list will open in a new tab.
If you have questions which we haven’t answered we’d love to hear from you by emailing HighWealdSuperfastbroadband@gmail.com
18 January 2022:
What a difference a year makes . . . or does it . . . so many broken promises. Apologies in advance for what will be a rather lengthy and overdue update. If you do not want to read all of the detail, this is the bottom line. During the twelve months it took us, with the active help of Openreach, to secure all the money needed to build our broadband infrastructure, Openreach were busy changing the rules of engagement so that although we now have secured all the money Openreach is no longer willing to get on and build it for us.
Here’s the detail: To recap, in December 2020 we wrote to the CEO of Openreach asking for his support for two proposed Community Fibre Partnership schemes (CFP), one for Ashburnham/Penhurst and one for Brightling. Subsequent to our letter we engaged quickly and actively with the Openreach executive office team. We submitted our formal CFP applications on 28 January 2021. The combined number of “in-scope’ properties for Ashburnham, Penhurst, Brightling and the fringes of Netherfield / Ninfield amounted to 850. The expected time line to get from initial application to build completion was 15 months, of which 12 months was expected to be the physical build time.
We moved quickly on this because we were anxious to be an early mover to benefit from additional funds still available from East Sussex County Council and to get ahead of the closure of the governments first Rural Gigabit Voucher (RGV) scheme, which ended 31 March 2021. We were also attracted by the commitment made by Openreach that if we secured enough RGVs to fund the projects, they would automatically go ahead without any delay.
In the end it took until May 2021 for Openreach to give us final commercial offers for our projects. These offers set out the costs involved to build the necessary infrastructure and enabled us to assess whether we could realistically imagine to combine enough RGV to fund them in totality. The numbers worked and we immediately accepted both offers, being keen also to keep some momentum going after this initial delay.
Fortunately for us, a new RGV scheme was announced by the Government, which became effective in April 2021. This meant that the demise of the original RGV scheme in March 2021 was not in itself a roadblock to us. Nonetheless, we subsequently waited for over 5 months hoping to hear that Openreach had secured approval from the Department of Culture & Media Services (DCMS) for the use of our RGVs (Note: that it is DCMS that controls the allocation of RGVs). Throughout this waiting period we received a multitude of excuses from Openreach as to why the progress was so slow. This did not however deter us from doggedly sending them requests for progress reports on a regular basis.
Finally after a 5 month fruitless wait, we elected to contact our MP Huw Merriman asking for his help. He immediately approached the Minister of State at the DCMS. The minister promptly confirmed in writing that our schemes had both been approved for funding using RGVs, one on 07 and the other on 14 December 2021. It seemed that at last we had some positive news!
Armed with this very belated good news we approached Openreach once more, expecting to be able to immediately start the RGV pledging process and soon thereafter the physical build phase. Shockingly, Openreach then advised us that they had a new strategic plan and were now seeking to align any new CFP schemes with their wider build programme, the bottom line being that they are unable to provide us with any idea of a project start date.
It can not be overstated just how disappointed we are to receive such news, particularly as it is flies in the face of Openreach’s earlier commitment to proceed with the RGV pledging process and subsequent infrastructure build as soon as RGVs are released by DCMS. Openreach’s wider build programme has historically never come close to our parishes and it seems a fair assumption that it will not do so in the near future either.
Hence, more than one year after we wrote to the CEO of Openreach (and seemingly gained his support), we appear in real terms to have achieved a lot less than we thought. As mentioned above, we do not even have a provisional project start date from Openreach with which to plan around and communicate to the community. They have in essence reneged on their promise of how their CFP schemes were intended to operate.
We know that the pent up demand and frustration levels in our community both remain equally high. The on-going pandemic continues to remind us all of the criticality of good Internet connectivity as a key enabler for supporting local businesses and assisting rural communities to work from home. So, we will not give up the pursuit of better broadband for all.
We have this week written again to the CEO of Openreach urging him most strongly to give our project priority to go ahead now and to help us finish what we set out to achieve when we approached him over a year ago.
We will continue to work with our MP to avail of his help to highlight to the DCMS our experience with Openreach taking a near monopolistic position in our area. We will ask for support to find a practical and timely connectivity solution, which most likely will involve Openreach but necessarily so.
In short summary, we have received confirmation and approval from the government for the money needed to build our broadband infrastructure. Unfortunately Openreach is not yet willing to get on and build it for us anytime soon! Even if that situation changed tomorrow, we remain at least 15 months away from everybody being connected.
20 January 2021:
The Chairman of the parish council together with the Chairman of Brightling Parish Council has made a joint approach to Open Reach for the creation of a regional connectivity project covering the remaining properties in Brightling, Penhurst, Ashburnham and parts of Netherfield. They have uploaded some 660 names and addresses to a website created by Open Reach for the project. If the initial evaluation shows its viability, residents will be invited by Open Reach to pledge the value of their Gigabit Vouchers to the scheme. As news emerges it will be posted here.
Meanwhile, superfast full fibre broadband is now available to the residents of Brigden Hill (off Farthing Lane), Akehurst Field, Brownbread Street and Brays Hill. Overhead fibre has been installed and residents just need to apply to one of the numerous providers (including BT) for a connection. This is Fibre To The Premises (FTP).
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.
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.