Local MP Jack Lopresti has been asked to investigate why hundreds of people in Bradley Stoke are still unable to order superfast broadband despite claims by South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) that its rollout programme has been completed, with all cabinets “live and ready for service”.
The upgrade work across South Gloucestershire, which is due to be completed by 31st March, has been carried out by BT, with the aid of a £2 million subsidy from SGC and a further £710,000 from central government.
Investigations by The Journal, aided by data provided by readers, has shown that two of the eleven fibre-enabled cabinets installed under SGC’s upgrade project (nos. 22 and 34, both on Brook Way) have been returning an “out of capacity” status in BT’s availability checker since before Christmas. At the beginning of February, the checker was predicting that capacity at cabinet no. 34 would be restored by 11th February, but when that day came, it slipped another month to 11th March. Similarly, cabinet no. 22 was predicted to have capacity restored by 18th February, but that date has now disappeared from the checker result, leaving no mention of when capacity might be restored.
One Journal reader, Mike of Kemperleye Way commented:
“The cabinet 34 saga goes on and on. I find it difficult to believe that BT Openreach can upgrade a cabinet then discover a short while afterwards that it’s run out of capacity. The cabinet has been out of capacity since last August or September, shortly after the upgrade. Surely this lack of capacity should have been known and accounted for in the plan as BT Openreach owns the infrastructure, and as Bradley Stoke was so poorly served by broadband they should not have been surprised that it was snapped up so quickly.”
“I think BT needs to explain why it is continuing to delay capacity upgrade dates when they own the network and should already understand the problems they are likely to encounter. Problems always happen when you modify systems and equipment, but even I would have thought most people would think that over a six months delay is unacceptable.”
“Could it be that as BT has the monopoly on the infrastructure (no Virgin Media in this part of Bradley Stoke), they do not have any urgency to rectify the situation? I would hope that whilst SGC has stated that the capacity problem is BT’s, we, the taxpayers, funded this upgrade and BT should be held to account for not completing the task by adding capacity so that we all can benefit from it.”
Asked to clarify the contractual situation regarding residents’ ability to order, an SGC spokesperson said:
“As part of their regulatory commitments, the fibre network is built and managed by BT Openreach. BT owns the broadband infrastructure and is responsible for managing and maintaining capacity for the street cabinets, not the council.”
The spokesperson refused to provide relevant extracts from the council’s contract with BT, saying this was subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
Alerted to the issues over cabinet capacity, Bradley Stoke Town Council agreed to write to Jack Lopresti MP, asking him to “contact BT on behalf of his constituents in Bradley Stoke to ask BT to explain about the delay in the cabinet capacity upgrades and to ask them to sort the problem as soon as possible.”
Mr Lopresti later told The Journal:
“I have been contacted by constituents of mine about capacity issues in two separate cabinets. I have raised this with SGC, who have told me that it is a matter for BT. I have been in touch with BT to put pressure on them to take action over this by increasing the capacity at these locations as soon as possible. I have brought the issue of the lack of capacity at newly upgraded broadband cabinets to the attention of the Secretary of State.”
A statement from BT, provided via SGC, stated:
“Capacity in all fibre cabinets is reviewed monthly. The process to trigger a capacity increase begins when trends show the cabinet will be nearing capacity in 90 days’ time. In most circumstances this allows sufficient time for capacity upgrades to be installed before a cabinet becomes full. Cabinet no. 34 went live in July 2014. Since then uptake has been at an unprecedented level with the result that the cabinet is currently full with more than 500 customers connected to it. Because of the speed of take-up, the normal process of reviewing capacity did not happen in time to avoid this situation. The cabinet is scheduled to have additional capacity added and this should be completed by April.”
A third cabinet within Bradley Stoke, no. 44 (Baileys Court Road) is also currently out of capacity, with a projected restoration date of 18th March. This cabinet was upgraded in December 2013 as part of BT’s commercial rollout, i.e. it does not fall under the SGC project. It has been periodically out of capacity ever since.
The Editor comments
A recent press release from South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) boasted that the rollout of superfast fibre broadband in the district is on track to reach 1,000 more premises than had originally been planned, raising the anticipated number of premises “served” by the time the project is completed on 31st March 2015 to 16,000.
The reality “on the ground” is somewhat different, however, with hundreds of homes in Bradley Stoke unable to order the new superfast service because street cabinets are “out of capacity”.
SGC, which is contributing £2 million to the local state-aided upgrade project, says capacity issues are a matter for BT, not itself. But is it seriously telling us that it agreed a contract with BT that includes no guarantee of service availability to end users? Unfortunately, there is no way of verifying this, as the whole contract is allegedly subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
BT’s excuse that it has been caught out by “unprecedented” demand rings rather hollow, knowing that the one relevant cabinet in our town that it deigned to upgrade without state subsidy has regularly been “out of capacity” for over a year.
With local councillors proving completely ineffective in dealing with the issue, it is now down to our local MP to ask some serious questions in high places.
This article (and Editor’s comment) originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine, delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
Postscript #1: On 3rd March, three days after the above article was published in our magazine, Mike of Kemperleye Way contacted us again, saying:
“Many thanks for your help as today fibre suddenly became available on cabinet no. 34, which I have now ordered. Seems strange that until companies get bad publicity nothing seems to happen.”
“Keep up the good work as The Journal seems to be able to get the job done. It is a shame that BT do not listen to their customers and why I have now gone to Sky for my fibre.”
Postscript #2: On checking today (6th March), it is now possible to order again on cabinet no. 44; however, cabinet no. 22 remains “out of capacity” with no projected restoration date.
Please help us keep our Superfast Broadband Upgrade Status page up-to-date. If you live within the SGC project intervention area and still can’t order fibre broadband, please leave a comment on this story, including your street name and cabinet number (the latter can be found using the BT Broadband Availability Checker; see instructions on the Superfast Broadband Upgrade Status page).
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