Improving Cheltenham's broadband

BROADBAND IN CHELTENHAM

 

July 2016 update (19.07.2016)

 

 

This document, authored by Alex Chalk, is regularly updated to give residents in Cheltenham the latest news on Alex’s campaign to bring superfast broadband to all parts of the town, and to end ‘e-poverty’ in Cheltenham.

 

 

 

“If someone does not have superfast broadband, they do not just feel disconnected; it is almost as if they feel disfranchised…in Cheltenham we still have pockets of real broadband blight. In Old Bath Road, Grace Gardens, Tommy Taylors Lane, Tivoli and Pittville, people are living in what I have described as e-poverty... The time for action is now[1].

 

Alex Chalk MP – House of Commons 9 March 2016

 

 

 

INDEX

 

PAGE

CONTENTS

2

Overview

3-

Background

7

Recent History and Phase 1

11

Where did it all go wrong?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERVIEW

 

1.      According to official data published by OFCOM, 93% of premises in Cheltenham are connected to superfast broadband[2]. The average download speed is currently 30.8Mbps. However, that speed is a function of what products are actually purchased by end users and is currently dominated by the older ADSL services.

 

2.      Based on OFCOM data (highly unreliable, incidentally) which uses median speeds, there are around 750 postcodes which are still in ‘e-poverty’ – ie receiving 2Mbps or under. In other words, there are hundreds of homes and businesses in Cheltenham that are still struggling to get by on dial-up speeds.

 

3.      BT have provided their own data (by email dated 9 February 2016 https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/index.php?area=E14000630) In summary they claim that 96.3% of premises enjoy superfast broadband (30Mbps) and just 0.1% below 2Mbps.

 

4.      The principal areas affected by ‘e-poverty’ (based on reports to Alex Chalk’s office) are as follows:

 

 

Cabinet Number

Area

82

Redmarley Road, Oakley

209

Grace Gardens, the Reddings

196

Midwinter Estate, Pittville

151

Old Farm Drive, Up Hatherley

182

Old Bath Road, Leckhampton

129

Cirencester Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

 

Basic Broadband/ Superfast Broadband

 

5.      Basic broadband is defined by the Government as a download speed of 2Mbps[3] (2 megabytes per second). As a shorthand I have begun to refer to that as the ‘e-poverty line’, on the basis that download speeds of less than 2Mbps are effectively ‘dial-up’, and inadequate for accessing modern internet services.

 

6.      Superfast broadband is defined by the Government as representing a download speed of at least 24Mbps[4].

 

7.      It should be noted download speeds are not the same as upload speeds. For businesses the latter is often more important than the former.

 

Infrastructure

 

BT Infrastructure Overview

 

8.      BT broadband is delivered via approximately 5,500 ‘telephone exchanges’, distributed across the UK. The 5,500 exchanges are connected to approximately 90,000 ‘green cabinets’, all owned by BT.

 

9.      Until very recently most premises were connected to the BT network using copper wires running from the home to the local green cabinets[5].

 

 

10.  Copper is not a particularly good conductor of broadband. In the jargon, the broadband signal suffers ‘attenuation’ as it travels along the copper wire.  In other words, it slows down.

 

11.  Because BT’s original network was built with public money, BT was obliged to open up its network to commercial rivals (under so-called ‘open access’ provisions). Sky and TalkTalk, for example, are entitled to ‘piggy-back’ entirely on BT’s network of telephone exchanges and cabinets.

 

12.  In addition, some competitors use an alternative method of installing their own equipment (known as ‘routers’) into BT’s exchanges. This is referred to as ‘local loop unbundling’. Approximately 100 internet service providers use the BT infrastructure under the open access provisions.

 

Virgin Infrastructure

 

13.  Virgin Media Ltd operate an entirely separate infrastructure, using their own boxes and exchanges. Their ‘green boxes’ are actually grey and are known as ‘hub sites’.

 

14.  Because Virgin is a newer network, it does not use copper at all. Instead it uses fibre-optic cables, and is therefore capable of far higher broadband speeds.

 

15.  They are not an ‘open access’ provider, as they do not allow other providers to piggy back on their network.

 

Other Providers

 

16.  In addition, there are other small-scale providers, such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, Edge Networks. They operate their own infrastructure, typically only in relatively small geographical areas. Some offer fibre solutions; others offer wireless solutions.

 

What is ‘Fibre’? Does it Matter?

 

Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC)/Fibre To The Premise (FTTP)

 

17.  The maximum speed that can be supported on traditional all copper-based access networks (ie copper cabling that runs the exchange to the green cabinet and thereafter to the home) is 20Mbps. That uses a technology known as ADSL 2+.

 

18.  This is theoretically available to over 90% of UK premises. It should be emphasised, however, that the reality for many rural areas is that the actual speed is far lower. That is, principally, down to the sheer length of copper wire (see above).

 

19.  To achieve superfast broadband speeds (ie 24Mbps and above) it is usually necessary to extend fibre-optic lines within the ‘core’ telecoms network deeper into the ‘access’ part of the network i.e. closer to the home or business. That is achieved using fibre-optic lines made of silica, which allow information to be transmitted in the form of a low powered laser beam. 

 

20.  Specifically, FTTC involves the installation of new fibre to connect from the telephone exchange to the green cabinet in order to get closer to the customer. Thereafter, the connection to the home remains a copper cable.

 

21.  FTTP involves extending fibre optic cable from the exchange all the way to the customers premise. It is generally recognised that FTTP is significantly more costly[6] and would take much longer to implement  than FTTC with limited proven additional benefits for the vast majority of users. As a result FTTC is generally the deployment of choice in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RECENT HISTORY – The origins of ‘Phase 1’

 

22.  In 2008, BT decided to invest in rolling out superfast broadband fibre infrastructure across the UK.  Initially committing to £1.5bn investment to 50% of the UK, this rose to £2.5bn to cover two-thirds of UK premises on an entirely self-funded commercial basis. As noted above, this programme was based on installing fibre from the exchanges to the green boxes.

 

23.  Applying a formula based on a greater than 10-year investment return, BT calculated that it would be commercially viable to connect two thirds of UK premises[7].   

 

24.  In order to increase that proportion, the Government elected to invest around £530M, plus ‘match funding’ from local government to reach 90%. This became known as ‘Phase 1’.

 

25.  The vehicle used to disburse the £530m of public funds was named Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). BDUK is part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

 

26.  There were two publicly stated Government aims during the procurement process of Phase 1[8] (to be completed in Gloucestershire by end of 2015[9]).

 

a.      basic broadband (2Mbps) for all

b.      superfast broadband coverage to 90% of the UK.

 

27.  Basic broadband for all is sometimes referred to as BDUK’s ‘universal service commitment’ (USC).

 

Fastershire

 

28.  Fastershire is the local authority brand name for the project run in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire using funds from BDUK and the local authorities.

 

29.  Other regions use different brand names.

Phase 1 - Background

 

              Funding

 

30.  Of the £530m state funds allocated across the UK to achieve the ‘universal service commitment’, a total of £18.17m was made available to the Fastershire area as part of Phase 1. That was matched with funding from the local authorities as follows, to achieve total public funding of over £35m:

 

a.      BDUK (£18.17m)

b.      Herefordshire Council (£10.1m)

c.       Gloucestershire Council (£7.5m).

 

Open Market Review – 2011

 

31.  Before Fastershire (or indeed any local branch of BDUK) was legally able to spend public money on backfilling broadband infrastructure it was obliged to conduct an ‘open market review’ (OMR). The purpose of this process was to ensure that public money was spent in an area where the private sector (BT, Virgin etc) did not intend to invest within three years. These areas eligible for State support were referred to as ‘intervention areas’.

 

32.  An open market review was carried out in Gloucestershire, inclusive of Cheltenham in 2011. The review was carried out using postcodes rather than individual address. Of the 3,628 postcodes in Cheltenham, several[10] were classified as intervention areas, as the private sector indicated it had no plans to invest commercially.

 

33.  An important footnote in this context is that the use of postcodes appears to have been ill-advised. The scope for difficulty arises from the fact that one postcode may serve up to fifty premises. The opportunity for confusion is therefore obvious. BT, for example, may reasonably have indicated in the 2011 OMR that it intended to invest commercially in a certain postcode only to discover subsequently, as workmen visited the site and put spades in the ground, that it was only commercially viable to connect one home (owing to, say, block paving making access to utilities difficult and costly). If, say, 49 other houses remained unconnected, Fastershire would nonetheless be precluded from intervening because the parent postcode had been designated a ‘commercial area’ in the OMR.

 

34.  This appears to be an example of the laws against ‘state aid’ intervention failing to operate as they should.

 

Tender Process

 

35.  Who then was commissioned to connect up the premises in the intervention areas, at public expense under the BDUK programme?

 

36.  As might be expected, a tender process took place, and there were several private bidders. In Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, for example, a competition was held in 2012.

 

37.  In the event the ‘last man standing’ was BT. They were selected on the basis that all the other parties eventually withdrew from the competition[11]. This meant that BT were, in effect, rolling out broadband on two bases:

 

a.      first, as part of their own commercial programme using their own resources

b.      second, as part of the BDUK backfilling of intervention areas, using public money.

 

38.  In addition to the public money that had been made available via BDUK and the local authorities, BT then added £20.9m[12] of private funding towards the Fastershire rollout.

 

39.  From July 2013 Phase 1 started to be rolled out.

 

Which Intervention Areas Were Prioritised?

 

40.  As noted above, Phase 1 had two priorities – 90% superfast broadband connectivity and 100% basic broadband connectivity.

 

41.  But this begs an important question – which of these targets were  prioritised? Should BT have connected up those in ‘e-poverty’ first of all (ie focus on satisfying the universal service commitment) or was it instead entitled to concentrate ‘making the e-rich richer’ (ie providing superfast broadband to those who already enjoy serviceable broadband speeds)?

 

42.  It seems that Fastershire instructed BT to divide the intervention areas into zones known as ‘milestone areas’. Cheltenham, for example, is milestone area 3. Thereafter, however, the decision as to which target to prioritise was up to BT. In Phase 1 they did not choose to connect up the six boxes referred to in page 2 above.

 

43.  According to BT, they exercised their discretion within each milestone area on the basis of ‘value for money’. Value for money is defined as a simple ratio of the number of premises covered in return for the investment of a specific sum.

 

44.  In other words, BT are not obliged to prioritise providing the universal service commitment (ie taking every property out of ‘e-poverty’) before moving to connect superfast broadband to properties that already enjoy 2Mbps or more.

 

45.  That has led to allegations that BT have tended to prioritise making the e-rich richer, as there is a perceived commercial advantage to using public subsidies to secure these customers as a long-term revenue stream.

 

Satellite Broadband

 

46.  To try to help as many premises as possible on dial-up speeds, I submitted 129 unique responses to Fastershire, in respect of the USC, relating to c.60 premises. Those premises were subsequently issued with codes to allow them to access the satellite service, intended to provide a minimum 2Mbps.

 

47.  Satellite broadband is not universally popular. Although the download speed is up to 20Mbps and the monthly costs are not excessive, the problem is the data limits which are modest and readily exceeded.

 

 

 

 

ATTEMPT TO EXTEND THE PHASE 1 CONTRACT, TO CONNECT UP THE REMAINING 6 BOXES: WHAT WENT WRONG?

 

48.   ‘Phase 2’ connotes the second phase of the original contract that Fastershire had with BT. The stated aim of Phase 2 (announced approximately two years ago and starting from the beginning of 2016) is to provide superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017[13]. An additional pot of £330M was made available from DCMS. Fastershire, confusingly, call this Stage 3.

 

49.  In Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, a second tranche of £10m was allocated to Fastershire from BDUK (including local authority funding). It should be noted that this was provided even though the funding for Phase 1 had not been exhausted. Indeed Fastershire only spent about half of the £35m that was allocated to BT to do Phase 1. Therefore, money is not the issue here.

 

50.  The failure to get the six boxes connected seems to be attributable to a failure of BT and Fastershire to successful extend their original contract.

 

51.  As both parties agree, Fastershire approached BT in Feb/March 2015 intending to designate the boxes to be connected up, with a view to contributing towards the 95% target of Phase 2. Fastershire claim that BT failed to respond, despite having been chased repeatedly. BT dispute this, claiming that they engaged with Fastershire.

 

52.  BT also allege that Fastershire (per Clova Fyfe meeting on 5.7.16) that Fastershire “didn’t run a process and they failed to meet the State Aid deadline of 30 June 2015”. They allege that unlike 42 other authorities, Fastershire failed to submit the request to change the contract (to spend more money and add coverage) in time. As a result there was no contract to extend.

 

 

53.  Both parties have continued to dispute the claims made by either party and therefore in order to work out who is responsible for this shambles, I have in the last fortnight (19.07.2016) met with both the MD of BT Openreach and Fastershire (08.07.2016) - together with the leader of Gloucestershire County Council, who jointly oversee the Fastershire project with Herefordshire County Council - and demanded written evidence of any submissions made and letters sent by either party. It is simply unacceptable that my constituents, many of whom rely upon the internet for their livelihoods and their children's education, are left to struggle with broadband blight while two organisations squabble about who is responsible for this mess.

 

54.  Regardless of who is responsible, as a result of this delay the proposed contract extension with BT failed.

 

55.  This has caused a delay of at least 18 months. Because the Phase 1 contract ended, Fastershire started a new contract process from scratch, looking for new partners to deliver the further superfast broadband rollout within its Stage 3 (see below). That process is due to begin in the second half of July 2016 but can be expected to take many months.

 

56.  In the meantime (as of 19.07.2016), BT are in discussions with 151, 209 and 196 for the community to pay for some of the cost. This is unacceptable in my view.

 

NEXT STEPS

 

57.  What options exist for next steps? The following options exist:

 

1)      Extension to the existing BT contract – this option has been delayed by at least 18 months due to the previous failure to meet the required state aid deadlines and therefore no longer seems like a viable avenue to progress down.

2)      Virgin Media network expansion - it is worth noting that Virgin have recently committed around £2-3bn towards further broadband rollout in the UK under its so-called Project Lightning initiative. Areas of Cheltenham which in the past may not have been commercially viable are now being reconsidered (using data collected by myself and my office) and this approach has already produced some success, with hitherto ‘e-poor’ parts of Leckhampton, Up Hatherley, Springbank and Oakley all benefiting from Virgin Media network expansions in recent months. Read more about how this solution could benefit each affected area below.

3)      Bespoke broadband solutions – I have met in Parliament with a number of small ISPs who provide bespoke solutions to bandwidth blight in those areas where the traditional (and more established) commercial providers have proved unwilling to assist. One such example is the Midwinter Estate in Pittville, where I am working closely with a local ISP and residents to propose a bespoke solution (read more about this below).

4)      Satellite broadband vouchers – The Government is funding broadband vouchers for all those households yet to gain access to basic broadband (sub 2mbps) with the voucher used to cover the installation costs (up to £300) of a stand-alone broadband solution to bring these households above the key basic broadband threshold. However the most widely available option open to residents hoping to capitalise upon these vouchers is a satellite one, which is often viewed unfavourably by residents. I am therefore working with Fastershire and other ISPs to see how we can better utilize these vouchers (read more below).

5)      BT Community Fibre Partnerships – This is the newest option and is an initiative BT Openreach have created following strong and prolonged pressure from myself and Fastershire. The potential benefits and next steps for each area are explored in more detail below, but this is essentially a scheme devised by BT Openreach and Fastershire to allow them to circumvent the EU state aid rules (which they argue) are currently undermining any attempts to provide a superfast broadband service in your area. I am working closely with both of the above parties to explore how we can eliminate any costs to the taxpayer associated with these upgrades, with the utilization of the Government’s broadband vouchers seeming like the most sensible way forward. The diagram below (provided by BT) gives you a visual overview of how the scheme might work.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS BY AREA

 

              Oakley (Cabinet 82)

 

·       Virgin Media have announced intention to make their services available to residents on Redmarley Road.

·       In light of these planned works, I wrote to Virgin Media requesting that they make their services available to the whole Oakley estate.

·       In order to show that this area is one of aggregated demand I wrote to every resident on the Oakley estate, asking them to email and express their interest in receiving a Virgin Media service. We then submitted that data to Virgin Media as further evidence of localised demand.

·       Virgin Media are undertaking re-assessment and have pledged to write back in due course. My office have chased the results of this re-assessment on a number of occasions, stressing the urgency of the issue - we emailed Virgin on 4 July seeking an update on (a) the promised work in Redmarley and (b) whether they can extend the works to the whole of the estate

·       I raised the issue of this cabinet and why BT Openreach failed to respond to Fastershire’s request at meeting with Cleve Selley (05.07.2016). See section above entitled ‘BOXES: WHAT WENT WRONG?’ for more information

·       At the meeting on 5 July BT had no further information on this cabinet.

·       However, BT have since proposed the ‘Community Fibre Partnership’ solution, utilizing the Government’s BDUK broadband providers, and specifically in relation to Cabinet 82 have said (in an email dated 17.07.2016) that ‘‘we’ve contacted via email and tried to call the contact here, and we’re awaiting someone from the community to come back to us to take this forward.’’

 

Grace Gardens (Cabinet 209)

 

·       Data relating to Grace Gardens was submitted to Virgin Media as part of our Cheltenham-wide broadband survey (both in Autumn 2015 and Spring 2016). Virgin Media have pledged to re-assess viability before reporting back in due course. Virgin were last chased on 4 July

·       Following a meeting with Edge Networks, they pledged to go away and assess the viability of a line of sight solution in this area. They wanted to put a mast by Manor by the Lake, but they determined that MbtL had a leaseline so less attractive. Ben chased Edge Networks to find out state of play, but Edge Networks are a small firm and their focus primarily has been proposing a solution for residents on the Midwinter Estate (see below).

·       Raised this cabinet with BT on 5 July. BT stated the only solution they would offer was a community-funded scheme.

·       However, BT have since proposed the ‘Community Fibre Partnership’ solution, utilizing the Government’s BDUK broadband providers, and specifically in relation to Cabinet 209 have said (in an email dated 17.07.2016) that they are ‘‘actively working with the community to apply for the BDUK Voucher scheme to assist them with raising funds, following the revised proposal recently received. We’ve been working with this community for some time now’’.

 

Midwinter Estate (Cabinet 196)

 

·       Data relating to Midwinter estate was submitted to Virgin Media as part of our Cheltenham-wide broadband survey (both in Autumn 2015 and Spring 2016). Virgin Media have pledged to re-assess viability before reporting back in due course.

·       Following a meeting hosted at our office, Edge Networks are exploring the viability of a line of sight solution for residents living on the estate. I set up and hosted a meeting onsite on July 14 with Cheltenham Borough Council’s planning officer, Edge Networks and resident representative to discuss logistics. It was agreed that Edge Networks would go away to draw up a detailed plan for the estate, while also working with residents to identify the level of demand (which will partly determine the scale of the proposed solution) and taking steps to become a BDUK ‘approved supplier’, meaning residents could feasibly utilise the Government’s broadband vouchers in order to cover the installation costs of any eventual solution.

·       Raised this cabinet with BT on 5 July. BT stated the only solution they would consider was a community-funded scheme.

·       However, BT have since proposed the ‘Community Fibre Partnership’ solution, utilizing the Government’s BDUK broadband providers, and specifically in relation to Cabinet 196 have said (in an email dated 17.07.2016) that ‘‘We’ve had recent contact from a couple of members of a community off this cabinet, they are currently collecting interest and addresses and we’ll then take that into our modelling in order to come up with a solution for them.’’

 

 

Old Farm Drive (Cabinet 151)

 

·       Data relating to Old Farm Drive was submitted to Virgin Media as part of our Cheltenham-wide broadband survey (both in Autumn 2015 and Spring 2016). Virgin Media pledged to re-assess viability before reporting back in due course.

·       Virgin Media then announced their intention to make their services available to a small section of Old Farm Drive/Manor Farm Drive. In light of this announcement, AC wrote to Virgin Media requesting that they make their services available to the whole estate.

·       Virgin Media undertook assessment as requested, and although initial costings appear to be too prohibitive to facilitate a realistic solution for residents, Virgin have pledged to undertake a further re-assessment before reporting back in due course. My office have chased this update on a number of occasions, most recently at the start of July 2016.

·       As an aside, it worth noting that Clark Lawson has reached a community funding agreement with Virgin Media to supply his and a small number of neighbouring homes. He has pledged to explore the possibility of sharing these soon to be upgraded services with his fellow residents.

·       Raised this cabinet with BT on 5 July. BT stated the only solution they would offer was a community-funded scheme.

·       However, BT have since proposed the ‘Community Fibre Partnership’ solution, utilizing the Government’s BDUK broadband providers, and specifically in relation to Cabinet 151 have said (in an email dated 17.07.2016) that ‘‘We’ve spoken again with the local community here who have had a proposal from us for a while now and haven’t been able to secure funds. They have been made aware of the voucher scheme and how we can help them further. We’ll continue to work with them to come to a solution for the community.’’

 

 

 

Leckhampton – c.175-250 Old Bath Road (Cabinet 182)

 

·       Following the submission of our broadband survey data in Autumn 2015, Virgin Media announced their intention to make their services available to residents living in Merlin Way. Virgin have also pledged to reassess the other affected areas of Leckhampton following the resubmission of this data in Spring 2016. My ofice chased Virgin on 4 July

·       Separately, BC has written to BT Openreach to seek clarification regarding their plans for this cabinet. Unfortunately they have no plans to upgrade at present due to a lack of ‘commercial viability’.

·       At the meeting on 5 July BT had no further information on this cabinet.

·       However, BT have since proposed the ‘Community Fibre Partnership’ solution, utilizing the Government’s BDUK broadband providers, and specifically in relation to Cabinet 151 have said (in an email dated 17.07.2016) that ‘‘As with 82 we’ve contacted the contact on our records but would be happy to understand other contacts in this community to look to take this forward.’’

 

Cirencester Road (Cabinet 129)

 

·       Following the submission of our broadband survey data in Autumn 2015, Virgin Media pledged to undertake a reassessment of the affected areas. Virgin have also pledged to reassess the other affected areas of Leckhampton following the resubmission of this data in Spring 2016. Ben chased on 4 July, but because BT do have a SFB cabinet they are less likely to invest

·       Slightly more complicated than other areas, as some of the affected residents, particularly those on a small stretch of Cirencester Road, are served by Cabinet 14, which has been upgraded to fibre but supposedly has insufficient capacity to accept new orders. Moreover, residents who do receive a fibre service from this cabinet are experiencing sub-standard speeds due to insufficient capacity

·       Raised this cabinet with BT on 5 July. BT stated they would revert to us. Following discussions with BT, it has now been agreed that extra capacity will be added to this cabinet by 16 August 2016.

 

 

MEETINGS NOTES

 

Meeting with BT on 5 July 2016

 

1.      At this meeting, I explored with Clova Fyfe and Bill what went wrong last year. As BT admitted, if Fastershire and BT had agreed to change the original Phase 1 contract, the relevant boxes could have been connected. Instead, the relationship broke down amid mutual recriminations.

 

2.      BT accept they were contacted by Fastershire in March 2015. BT claim they engaged with them. The also allege that Fastershire “didn’t run a process and they failed to meet the State Aid deadline of 30 June 2015”. They allege that unlike 42 other authorities Fastershire failed to submit the change request (a request to change the contract to spend more money and add coverage) in time. So there was no contract to extend. BT did not ignore Fastershire.

 

3.      BT say there is no money left over from Phase 1 (contract finishes at the end of 2016)

 

4.      Because the parties are now in a new contract, a brand new public procurement (to check which commercial providers will be left standing) is required. That could take up to six months (!) So nothing can be done unless communities want to pay for it. In respect of the relevant boxes, BT’s responses are as follows:

 

a.      Made an offer on 151 (co-funding) which is cheaper than Virgin

b.      Made an offer on 209 (Grace Gardens) – Pete Chadwick

c.       On 196 (Midwinter) they are considering making an offer

d.      On 82, don’t know

e.      On 182 no answer

f.        On 129 there is a capacity issue – BT will revert

N.B These answers have now largely been superseded by BT’s proposed ‘Community Fibre Partnerships’ (see more above).

 

DETAILED CHRONOLOGY

 

DATE

EVENT

COMMENT

2015

Met Grace Gardens residents to discuss potential solutions to ‘e-poverty’ in their area

 

2015

Organised and attended meeting between Cheltenham 151 campaign group, developers Newland Homes, Gloucestershire County Council and Virgin Media, to discuss issues which were holding back a solution to broadband blight for Old Farm Drive residents

 

05.05.2015

Elected as Cheltenham’s MP

 

09.07.2016

Broadband summit at the Municipal Offices with Virgin Media, Fastershire, BT Openreach and resident representatives from affected areas all in attendance

 

07.2016

Launch broadband survey following ‘summit’ to collate granular data requested by commercial providers for their own re-assessments.

 

11.11.2016

Wrote to Chancellor to demand more funding to tackle broadband blight in urban areas like Cheltenham (http://www.alexchalk.com/news/cheltenham-mp-writes-chancellor-lobby-broadband-funding)

 

 

07.01.2016

Met Edge Networks in Cheltenham to explore alternative ‘line of sight’ solution for Cheltenham

 

23.01.2016

Signed letter in Telegraph calling for break-up of Openreach

 

 

23.2.16

Met Hyperoptic and Keycom in Parliament to discuss alternative solutions

 

9.3.16

Spoke in Parliament about BT broadband failures (http://www.punchline-gloucester.com/articles/aanews/mpsfuryovercountysbroadbandblightandnotspots)

 

23.3.16

Telecon with BDUK and Fastershire. Plan devised to try to solve the problems as follows:

a.      BDUK to send me an ‘approved provider form’

b.      Hyperoptic etc to speak to Fastershire/BDUK with a view to potentially becoming approved

c.       Establish which cabinets they want to hook up

d.      Hold public meetings, with the ISP and residents, and invite residents to pool their vouchers then and there

 

Hyperoptic and Edge Networks and Keycom later told us they did not want to become approved suppliers. The BDUK process was too laborious

 

27.4.16

Spoke to Rory from Virgin. Discussed:

g.       Old Farm Drive – with the engineers at the moment. Report expected at the same time

h.      Virgin are doing some of the area anyway; this report will make clear what else they can do

i.        Oakley estate (Redmarley Road); we asked Virgin to survey the estate to see if it were viable. Ben will send through details of postcodes which have got poor speeds, and details of the scale. Virgin will do their own assessment

j.        Old Farm Drive; Ben will send through survey data

k.       In-fill sites. Ben will send through the up-to-date survey data

 

 

4.7.16

Ben chased Rory from Virgin

 

5.7.16

Meeting in Parliament with Bill Murphy and Clova Fyfe (BT)

 

8.7.16

Meeting with Head of Fastershire and Leader of Gloucestershire County Council

 

14.7.16

Organised and attended meeting with Cheltenham Borough Council’s planning team, residents and Edge Networks to discuss proposed bespoke solution in Pittville

 

 

ALEX CHALK MP

19.7.16

 

[1] BT Openreach were criticised by Alex Chalk in this speech. For BT’s response to criticism of their performance see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-33957405

[2] However the majority of these currently choose not to take up the service even though it is available

 

[3] https://www.gov.uk/broadband-delivery-uk

[4] As a point of detail, at EU level, and in Ofcom reports on coverage, the definition for Superfast is set at a minimum speed of 30Mbps

[5] Some premises however, which are connected directly to the exchange (ie missing out the green cabinet) often by miles of copper wire. Because of the length of copper wire, speeds tend to be very slow. Frustratingly, records are not usually kept to identify which properties are affected. By way of example, figures provided by Fastershire for the Cheltenham exchange confirm that there are 619 residential and 276 non-residential lines linked directly to the exchange.

 

[6] Estimates vary between £25-£30bn. Gigaclear are providing FTTP for nine premises in Cheltenham (http://www.ispreview.co.uk/broadband_cable.php)  Broadband Stakeholder Group assessment

[7] It should be noted that connecting two thirds of premises is not the same thing as connected two thirds of the green cabinets; the proportion of customers attached to green cabinets is not evenly distibuted

[8] Also known by Fastershire as ‘Stage 2’

[9] https://www.gov.uk/broadband-delivery-uk. Other parts of the country appear to have been extended

[10] Fastershire are not able to say how many

[11] Virgin did not bid as they have a policy position not to use State Aid

[12] This figure comes from BT. It is not capable of independent verification

[13] https://www.gov.uk/broadband-delivery-uk