South Gloucestershire Council wants local residents and businesses to complete an online survey to demonstrate the demand for a better broadband service in Bradley Stoke and other parts of the district but seems to have forgotten to tell anybody about it!
A consultation entitled “Improved broadband for South Gloucestershire – Resident’s survey” began on Monday 28th November and runs until 31st December but, ten days in to the 33 day consultation period, the Council has not yet given the survey any credible publicity. [Ed: I’ve assumed the end date of 31st Dec 2012 should read 31st Dec 2011 – see comments below]
Whilst many residents of Bradley Stoke will question why the survey is needed, having already demonstrated a massive local demand through BT’s Race to Infinity competition a whole twelve months ago, the Council says the exercise is necessary in order to secure Government funding for broadband improvements in areas deemed unviable by commercial suppliers such as BT and Virgin Media.
A partnership formed of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire Council’s was assigned £1.4m for broadband infrastructure improvements by the Government in August and the Councils have been asked to submit a ‘local broadband plan’ as the first stage in the process of securing the cash. The Government money, which must be match-funded by the Councils, will be used to pay telecommunications companies to install superfast broadband in commercially unviable areas.
The current survey is being undertaken in order to gather evidence that (hopefully) proves there will be enough demand to generate sufficient revenue for the telecommunications providers once the equipment has been installed.
South Gloucestershire Council was recently criticsed by Government Minister Steve Webb, the MP for Thornbury and Yate, for “lagging behind” neighbouring counties that have already had their broadband improvement plans approved by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the Government body responsible for handing out the cash.
Since the Government’s broadband strategy was launched in December 2010, South Gloucestershire Council has missed opportunities to work with neighbouring Gloucestershire (awarded a pilot scheme in January 2011) and Wiltshire (£4m plan approved in May 2011). The Council failed to submit a bid for the second phase of BDUK funding in April 2011 and has now been handed what looks like an inadequate sum (£26 for each subscriber in ‘poor broadband’ areas) by impatient Whitehall officials worried that the Government’s promise of superfast broadband for 90% of the UK by May 2015 might be in jeopardy.
Writing in his Autumn newsletter to constituents [PDF, 2MB], Mr Webb says in an article headlined “Get Us Out Of The Slow Lane!”:
“Although the Government has set aside £1.4m for broadband in South Glos and Bristol, South Glos Council has been particularly slow on this issue and has not yet even submitted a plan.”
“High speed broadband will be ever more crucial to our economy in future. People who run small businesses and want to work from home, simply can’t, because of our poor connections. People who want to study or just enjoy the latest home entertainment increasingly rely nowadays on high speed broadband.”
“The Council needs to take this issue seriously and move our broadband services into the 21st Century.”
Approximately 5,000 of the 9,000 homes in Bradley Stoke are able to receive Virgin Media’s cable broadband, which delivers speeds well above the national average of 7.5Mbps. The remaining 4,000 properties are reliant on ADSL broadband provided over BT wires from either the Almondsbury (01454) or Filton (0117) telephone exchanges. Due to the distance from these exchanges, many subscribers experience connection speeds that are well below the Government’s 2Mbps definition of ‘standard’ (basic) broadband.
In last year’s BT Race to Infinity competition, a massive 11.24% of the subscribers on the Almondsbury exchange voted for it to be upgraded to superfast broadband (ranking it 19th out of 2,495 eligible exchanges in the UK) but BT has so far failed to schedule it for upgrade, suggesting that it is in the “final third” of exchanges that are commercially unviable.
The Filton exchange, which polled 2.1% in the Race to Infinity, has since been scheduled for upgrade sometime in 2012, although we have heard rumours that some subscribers in Bradley Stoke have been told they will not be able to receive the improved service because they are too far from a street cabinet.
Photo: Filton and Bradley Stoke Conservatives campaigning for faster broadband in December 2010.
Related link: Better Broadband Campaign (The Journal)
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