By Campbell de Burgh, Adam Hallmark and Sarah Wharmby, March 2022.
Campbell de Burgh writes:
The Initial Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme (RGVS) to improve Broadband provision in the Parish ended on 31 March 2021. It was promoted by Dorset County Council at the Parish Council meeting held before Christmas 2020 and with experience of FTTC broadband provision I agreed to find out the degree of interest in the Parish that would lead to a better broadband service than we had with FTTC. Two registered suppliers to the Scheme to provide FTTP were advised as working in the area: BT Openreach and Wessex Internet.
Wessex Internet are independent of the Telephone Exchange network and deliver a one to one, end to end service, constrained only by the limits of their own largely underground network. Openreach deliver a community solution utilizing existing poles and ducts. They require a single contract with a “legal entity” and are constrained by the location of their Fibre Nodes, in our case located in the Telephone exchanges.
With Affpuddle identified by the County Council as an area likely to benefit most and spatially would seem to be the easiest to build a FTTP network, Adam Hallmark came forward from Affpuddle to deal with that part of the parish, leaving me to work with the rest of the parish. I did this in the knowledge that other parts of the parish out of reasonable reach of FTTC had either already engaged with an FTTP supplier or had recognized that likely low take up meant that the personal cost would probably be prohibitive and were finding other solutions. This left only the need for leaflet drops of Affpuddle and Briantspuddle properties. As a result of those drops residents indicating an interest registered individually with Wessex Internet and Adam and I registered them collectively with BT Openreach.
For greater understanding I found a local small community already embarked on a project with BT Openreach and this helped to clarify the Openreach approach. Apart from some troublesome communication difficulties they found the Openreach requirement for a “legal entity” deeply uncomfortable with only half a dozen properties involved. One person signing on behalf of this small community and responsible for any outlay over voucher provision was a major hurdle, but with no alternative they pressed on and were delivered a pole to pole solution at considerable personal expense.
Taking each area in turn from the two principal Exchanges that serve the parish.
Bere Regis Exchange
In 2018 Throop/Turnerspuddle/Brockhill were quoted £190,000 by Openreach covering 47 properties several of which could not be identified. This came to about £4,000 per property without voucher provision if all 47 signed up. With voucher provision there remained a significant personal outlay against the expected take up. Unsurprisingly the Openreach offer was not accepted. Some are now signed up to use Wifi/4G. Currently Wessex Internet is re-approaching them to build a full fibre network within fresh voucher provision.
Rogers Hill said that their discussion with Openreach was short – the company were simply not interested. Some are now signed up with Wessex Internet.
Despite submitting interest from only 26 properties Briantspuddle were quoted £379,142 by Openreach covering 174 properties. Without being asked Openreach had included all the Parish properties on the exchange! Of the 174 only 120 properties were included in the leaflet drop to reveal interest of 26. The Openreach quote came to £2,178 per property if all 174 signed up and was within voucher provision and some to spare to help cover the inevitable increase in the final quote. However, some properties were already on FTTP and many others were not interested being relatively content with their FTTC service. Openreach offer a choice of ISPs which was preferred by many and with the low take up it was felt that the personal cost to change was too much to bear. No-one was willing to take on the responsibility of the BT “legal entity” to set up and run the financial end of a contract on behalf of those who had signed up and the offer was therefore dropped. There was insufficient Wessex Internet interest at the time but they were asked to see if some of the outlying properties could be included in any progress with the Affpuddle project, which they promised to do. They are currently pressing for more Briantspuddle signup and to increase their presence in the outlying properties, villages and hamlets with now some success.
Affpuddle were quoted £93,534 by Openreach covering 37 properties. This came to £2,527 per property if all 37 signed up and was just over the current voucher provision. The leaflet drop covered all 37 properties drawing interest from 26 bringing the actual cost per property well beyond voucher provision. Together with unwillingness to entertain the BT “legal entity” management requirement this led Affpuddle to dismiss the quote and concentrate on Wessex Internet for whom they had 18 signed up enabling a viable build now complete.
Waddock and Pallington Heath did not approach Openreach through bad previous experience but sufficient signed with Wessex Internet for the build now complete and covered by voucher provision.
Clearly the area of success from the endeavour in hand was, as anticipated, Affpuddle and their story written from the personal perspective of residents Adam and Sarah follows:
Adam Hallmark (Affpuddle) writes:
“One day in October 2020 I received a phone call from Campbell de Burgh of Briantspuddle, asking if I was happy with my current broadband performance, and would I be interested in the prospect of having a full fibre broadband connection to the premises (FTTP). As an Infrastructure and Server Engineer I was only too aware of the poor performance we were getting through our existing connection with Sky/BT, which was about 7mbps on a good day. That speed would often drop to less than 1mbps, making it all but impossible to work from home, meaning I would have to pack the dog and laptop into the car and head over to my dad’s place in Osmington, not ideal!
So, when Campbell told me about a government initiative called the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme (RGVS) being pressed by Dorset County Council and the Parish Council he got my attention immediately. The RGVS is a scheme whereby the government will give each household or business a voucher, which goes towards the cost of having fibre installed in rural communities. I knew that this would be our best chance of getting a decent internet connection and proceeded to leaflet drop Affpuddle in order to gauge local interest.
Imagine my surprise when I returned home after leafletting the village to find that a leaflet had also been posted through my own door, and it wasn’t one of mine! This opportunity had been realized by another Affpuddlian, Sarah Wharmby, who had also had enough of poor internet connection speeds, Netflix ‘spinning wheel’ and assorted outages. We knew that two heads would be better than one, and so joined forces and proceeded to conquer the world and share the spoils. The general feedback from the villagers in Affpuddle was very positive, ‘yes our internet connection is rubbish’, and ‘yes I would like something better’. Not too much to ask in this day and age is it? Or so we thought.
Enter stage left – the ISP, or, Internet Service Provider. After some initial investigations it seemed that we had two ISP’s available to us who would consider laying fiber in our area, BT and Wessex Internet. After a couple of meetings with each, and for several reasons already identified by Campbell we decided to throw our lot in with Wessex Internet (WI). Our contact at WI was called Minna, and she was to be our Community Engagement Manager (CEM). Minna explained that we needed an uptake of 40% of the properties within the village, and once this was achieved, WI would then apply to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for the vouchers and begin the planning of our network.
The required uptake was quickly attained with households from Affpuddle and the adjoining hamlet of Southover, and in February 2021 WI applied to DCMS for the vouchers and started planning the network; where it would come in from, and how it would traverse the village underground and mostly through the fields. I had hoped to see the physical installation by September, but it was December when I first saw the WI hardware in the village. By this time I found it difficult to contain my excitement, and work suffered as a result, as I was often running out the back to the top of the garden to see how far along the fibre laying tractor was getting.
From getting the fibre cable into the ground to fitting the terminal and some happy people
After about 2 or 3 weeks the infrastructure was in place WI having obtained all the necessary landowner’s permissions and in early January 2022 they made an appointment to come round and proceed with the next phase – running the connection in to the house. We had very little disruption to the garden as they managed to access us from the side of the property, and then in via the front. The team involved in this was very efficient and friendly and took great care to minimize disruption and mess. They then provided and configured the fibre terminal and my router and added a separate access point to alleviate any ‘dead spots’. The service has so far been very reliable and I am extremely pleased with it. As you can see from the snip below, gone are the days of 7mbps! There were some properties that were not able to be connected at the same time as most of the rest of us due to the position of the churchyard and river, for my part this took the shine off the project just a little, but I understand that these connections have been completed now too.
Shortly after we were connected, Minna and her team came out to see Sarah and I, with a view to using us as a case study for the WI website, as the Affpuddle project had gone exceptionally smoothly. Normally, they said, there would be only ‘one community champion’ per village or project, and they were interested in our thoughts and how we perceived the process given there were two of us working together. For me, being able to share the workload with Sarah was invaluable, as I do not get a lot of free time due to work commitments, and often at the end of the day I can be a bit ‘short’ with email responses. Sarah is a great communicator and organizer, (she says she is not technical at all, although I do not believe this for one minute) and so between us we did what needed to be done without too much difficulty, and WI were always on hand to answer any questions that we did not know the answer to, the most common one being ‘when is my internet coming?’
Compared to BT Openreach, WI were a pleasure to deal with, both with the organization of our project and the implementation, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.”
Work is still going on with Wessex Internet attempting landowner permission to reach all the residents of Throop who want FTTP. This leaves a few properties on the south side of Briantspuddle without sensible access to FTTC or FTTP. It is understood that some have invested in 4G access as an interim measure.
The remaining challenge comes when Ofcom produces a plan to convert everyone to FTTP and the problem of a means of back up due to lack of copper landline provision for use in an emergency. The following extract for Ofcom press release in March 2021 is relevant:
“Closing the copper network
As it lays new fibre to replace ageing copper lines, Openreach should not have the unnecessary costs of running two parallel networks. So when Openreach has rolled out full fibre in a particular area, we will progressively remove regulation on its copper products over a number of years.
This will improve the business case for Openreach to invest, by removing the need for it to maintain two networks, while promoting the take-up of faster fibre services.
Customers will be protected during this transition to ensure they can continue to access their services – particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.
Duct and pole access
We have already levelled the playing field by making it significantly cheaper, quicker and easier for BT’s rivals to build their networks, by giving them better access to Openreach’s underground ducts and telegraph poles. This can halve the upfront costs of connecting a home.
Order volumes last year to use this infrastructure covered over 23,000km of duct and over 140,000 poles, up from 2,500km and 12,000 respectively the previous year.”
If you receive broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps you could be entitled to help from Ofcom’s Universal Service Obligation (USO), run by BT. Unlike the Voucher Scheme this is not a group option.
The USO offers a solution to people who receive less than 10Mbps and in most cases the solution offered would be a Home 4G Hub (this can get you speeds in the region of 30Mbps). When a 4G Hub solution is not suitable the USO can offer a subsidy towards full fibre installation.
Portable – can be taken anywhere as long as there is a plug
Can be a much faster option over broadband (depending on the package)
More flexible plans available – 1 month through to 24 months
Ideal if you struggle to get fixed line broadband
4G can end up costing more overall than regular broadband
Most plans carry download limits
4G broadband can be patchy in areas making it less reliable
For more information on the USO go to www.bt.com/broadband/USO
and if you are stuck with poor performance then there are things that can be checked: