Monday, 25 June 2018

Villages may be denied superfast broadband due to council mistake

TWO villages could miss out on superfast broadband because of an error by Oxfordshire County Council.

TWO villages could miss out on superfast broadband because of an error by Oxfordshire County Council.

The internet connections in Bix and Middle Assendon were due to be upgraded this year under the joint Better Broadband for Oxfordshire scheme with BT.

But the work has now been postponed for up to two-and-a-half years and might never happen after an IT expert pointed out a flaw.

Lee Wallis, who lives in Bix, discovered there were not enough improvements planned for the infrastructure serving the villages, so the upgrade would have had no effect on connection speeds.

The current connection speed sometimes fall below 2Mbps while superfast broadband usually provides a speed of at least 24Mbps, allowing people to watch films online or have video conversations using Skype.

An exchange cabinet at the top of Fair Mile in Henley was due to be connected to a high-speed fibre-optic internet cable, which would have been linked to individual households by their telephone lines, which are slower as they are older and made of copper.

This method can be used in urban areas as there is only a short distance between each property and the exchange.

But because Bix and Middle Assendon are a mile away, the signal would have weakened with distance and been no faster than before.

Mr Wallis, who works from home, said the only way to increase the speed would be to extend the fibre-optic supply into the area.

The villages were supposed to be upgraded in March and Mr Wallis made enquiries when this did not happen. When he learned of the intended approach the following month, he wrote to the council warning it would not work. Craig Bower, the council’s Better Broadband programme manager, confirmed that Mr Wallis was correct.

He said: “The main issue you have correctly identified is that of distance. As you say, even when [the Fair Mile exchange] is connected to fibre, most — if not all — of Bix will not benefit.

“Our map is not smart enough to properly distinguish between premises that are close enough to cabinets to receive superfast broadband... and those where it is unlikely that any benefit will be achieved. It simply provides a view of postcodes which are in areas fed by a cabinet that is scheduled to be fibre–enabled.”

The village is now being considered for inclusion in a second wave of upgrades which will finish by December 2017. However, it may not make the list as the budget is limited.

Mr Wallis said: “We only made the running for future funding at the last minute and would have slipped through completely if I hadn’t spotted it. We were very lucky to get on board when we did.

“It’s crazy that we’re so close to Henley and Nettlebed, which both have superfast broadband, yet we don’t have access to the service. Checkendon and Stoke Row also have it and the former has a smaller population than our parish. I need two connections from separate providers to run my business and I know someone who pays £80 a month for a satellite connection.

“With our copper cables, no service provider would agree to sell us a broadband package even if we tried to set one up. You’d need a fibre-optic supply to every house, or at least every street. I was hoping they’d run a new cable along the A4130 when they refurbished it last year.”

Bix and Assendon Parish Council chairwoman Lisbeth Thiesen said: “People in the village are very upset because we were told we were going to get an upgrade in March. We feel like we’ve been fobbed off.”

The county council said Mr Bower was no longer working on Better Broadband for Oxfordshire.

New programme manager Pete Stanton said the Fair Mile cabinet would be connected by December, giving “more than half” of the 225 houses in Bix and Middle Assendon a faster connection.

He added: “An alternative solution will be sought for the small number of premises that will not benefit from this upgrade.”

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