Council starts (another) broadband survey – but did you know?

Broadband - photo by charmcitygavin (licence: cc-attr)

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.

Filton and Bradley Stoke Conservatives campaigning for faster 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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  1. Judging by the position of the apostrophe in “Resident’s survey”, the council is only expecting the one response. No need for publicity. No measurable demand for better broadband. No need for council match-funding. No pressure on council tax. Job done. Not!

  2. I’ll be honest – I’ve completely given up hope that this will be sorted in the short or medium term.

    BT obviously do not want to upgrade Bradley Stoke without funding from the council – and the council obviously don’t want to fund BT. Stalemate.

    And that leaves us – the poor consumer – with the most awful, pathetic broadband that has hardly sped up in more than 10 years. At the same time, other areas have been boosted to many times faster than we have.

    Where are you, Jack Lopresti? You and your Conservative government promised you’d sort this out. You had meeting after meeting – but we’ve not seen one single piece of action.

    Unfortunately come election time you will be judged on actions – not words. Sort it.

  3. @lee, Oops, you’re right. But surely that’s a mistake by the Council? If it isn’t then it looks like we’re due a long wait for our improved broadband. Why not consult right up until the next election in May 2015?

    Oh look, they’ve also got a consultation for a street closure in Hanham on 2nd Dec 2011 and the consultation runs until 5th Sep 2012!

  4. It is end of 2012. They had a meeting discussing this, they know the people they serve want/need it, they know BT don’t want to pay, and they don’t have any spare money with the cut backs. So they sat there and worked out how they could do nothing about it for the next year.

    “I know, lets have a period of consultation until 2012, then we can look like we are doing something while actually doing sod all!”

    Load of rubbish obviously. No consultation is needed – it’s not like anybody they actually bothered to ask would say “no, I don’t want faster broadband, I like it slow and painful”. Coming 19th out of several thousand exchanges also shows is a key issue for people in this area.

  5. A council the size of SGC will have a very large phone bill.

    Surely SGC should just contact Virgin, offer to move all council phone contracts to Virgin if all populated areas in SG are full covered by cable.

    Once Virgin commit to completing to providing service to areas in Bradley Stoke, you can be sure BT will find a solution.

  6. @Simon “… and they don’t have any spare money with the cut backs.”

    Surely this makes even more of a mockery of not bidding for the BDUK cash?? South Glos Council have been nothing short of useless with this. And all I can see coming from Lopresti’s direction is a lot of hot air and no action.

    Unless, of course, any of them wish to prove me wrong.

  7. I assume by “mbps” the survey really means “Mbps”…some connection speeds are slow, but they aren’t that bad…I wonder how serious they are going to take the results if they don’t understand the question?

  8. “BT Race to Infinity” – I used to think that “infinity” referred to the potential connection speed. Now I know otherwise … it’s the length of time it will take for Bradley Stoke to get a decent broadband service.

  9. I’d be vary wary of SGC “consultations”. With the airfield, the vast majority of consultation replies said it was imperative that the airfield wasn’t allowed to become Bradley Stoke MkII and they did their own thing anyway. Consultations are an exercise in saying “we listened” without actually needing to listen.

  10. Perhaps all the councillors live in areas where they get Virgin – so they don’t really care.

    Or maybe they think the internet can be a dangerous place so the slower the traffic is the better 🙂

    Think at the next election I’ll put party politics aside and just vote for any candidate that isn’t a sitting one.

  11. This is just getting really stupid to be honest!

    We say everyone is moving here – yet slow broadband will make them move away again! (which I’m guessing we don’t want?)

  12. BT have a written policy on upgrading exchanges, they do a Return On Investment exercise first, seeing how much money they make and sell on the backbone to a ISP utility company. Clearly BT are not going to pay for Bradley Stoke exchange or for any ‘booster-boxes’ re distance from the exchange (problems with aluminium connectors). YES that Jack stood for the photographs and jollies, but let us ask him again the point of his being elected, ”what have you done for us lately Jack?”
    Why is there no fallback plan to go do a ”wireless” network covering this area, beats copper cables and all that faff ! Ohh why not, because the Conservatives wouldn’t know to think smarter by 2020 let alone this year ! I’m disgusted and will NOT be voting Conservative.

  13. I completely agree on how useless SGC appear to be on broadband, but I filled in the consultation anyway. It took less than a minute and I guess it’s good to keep Bradley Stoke postcodes high on any broadband dissatification lists.

  14. Just had yet another glossy Virgin Media brochure delivered by the Royal Mail. Sigh! They’re not prepared to invest money in completing their cable network to the remaining 4,000 homes in Bradley Stoke, but are happy to waste money repeatedly sending leaflets to those very same properties!

  15. Oh look, a note about the SGC broadband consultation has appeared today on the Bradley Stoke Town Council website. A coincidence, or do they find out more in The Journal than they do directly from SGC?

  16. Any chance the Journal can get a statement from BT as to why they are consistently ignoring Almondsbury – or pressure Jack L to find out…

    One assumes there must be a reason. Is it because half of B/S has Virgin and they don’t think ROI will be enough?

  17. Interestingly if you look at the map which Simon posted earlier the vast majority of South Gloucestershire is missing out. In the case of some of the rural exchanges you can see justifiable reasons why – but we’re a dense housing estate/town on the edge of the city. Surely there’s no reason here to turn down Almonsbury…

    … unless BT hasn’t been telling us the full story.

    Come on Jack – earn your money, man!

  18. For what it’s worth I completed the survey.

    However, I must say I’m becoming rather disillusioned with both BT and Virgin’s stance on this matter. The demand was proven with “the Race to Infinity” but subsequent rollout plans seem to indicate that it was little more than a marketing ploy – for Bradley Stoke it’s more “a Gentle Stroll to Infinty”.

  19. Todate, BT have announced 1452 exchnages for FTTC/FTTH upgrades.

    BT has 5,500 exchanges, broken down into:
    – 1,539 market 3 exchanges, covering 77% population
    – 660 market 2 exchanges covering 10% population
    – 3,388 market 1 exchanges covering 12% population

    This implies BT has only 87 more Market 3 exchanges, and Almondsbury is one of them. What are the chances we will be in the next batch?

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