Some Brentor residents in West Blackdown and Station View who currently have no access to fast broadband are likely to be getting free access to a new fibre broadband network thanks to the Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) introduced in March 2020. The new network will be FTTP, providing a fast fibre connection directly into each property. In August and September surveyors made detailed plans for the new network, visiting every property in Brentor which is deemed to be eligible for the USO funding. Some residents are now being told that the new network will be built by June 2021. There is even some activity on site, with marker posts for new poles being installed.
Getting this far has not been without its setbacks. Initially residents in West Blackdown were asked to contribute £42,457.20 each towards the cost of building the network. After complaining to BT (who are running the USO on behalf of the government), Ofcom (who regulate it), the communications ombudsman (who police it) and our MP (who is elected to represent our interests), Openreach (who build it) miraculously found that they could after all provide the network for less than the £3,400 per property that the government provides. The residents were contacted by BT and agreed to a £zero contract for the installation to their homes. Residents in Station View have also been offered free connection.
However the West Blackdown and Station View residents are not out of the woods yet, since BT are now saying that, should Openreach overspend on building the network, they will once again ask residents for a contribution towards the cost! If residents refuse to contribute apparently Openreach wouldn’t continue to build the network. Could they really stop building it and refuse connection after already spending £100,000s of government funds? All this despite lots of us having a verbal contract agreeing to a zero priced quotation. The communications ombudsman has judged BT not to be at any fault in this matter and unfortunately has no jurisdiction over Openreach, since the company does not subscribe to the ombudsman service (!) So there seems little chance of changing what seems to be a very unfair situation.
Meanwhile, nearer the village centre, another group of residents with no fast broadband are being asked to pay £8,358 each to be connected to the same network! Others in the Darke Lane area have been quoted £36,871! They of course are also contesting this through the communications ombudsman’s service, Ofcom etc. It’s very hard to see how all this aggravation is necessary and how it could be part of the government’s grand plan to provide a decent broadband service in rural communities.
An Openreach surveyor visited Brentor in August and by now must have produced a design for our new network, and in September a second engineer re- surveyed this work. This has led to notices on telephone poles that suggest some are to be replaced to make them suitable to carry the fibre cable, and the positions of these appear to be being marked , so things are actually beginning to happen on the ground. However Openreach, as policy, don’t offer any firm dates for connection. There are still plenty of Openreach engineers around the village on a daily basis repairing our antiquated copper telephone cables when residents lose the dismally slow broadband they already have!
Despite all the aggravation it is nonetheless worth applying for connection to the new fibre network through the USO scheme. It will, if built, offer very fast and reliable broadband that isn’t affected by the weather, and users will have a choice of internet service providers, potentially introducing price competition. Let’s hope that the more of us that apply, the more is the likelihood that the network will be installed at zero cost to everyone.
To get a Universal Service Obligation grant you must register interest. To do this you should call 0800 783 0223 – the USO helpdesk. The staff you will speak to are very helpful and sympathetic and will just require your name, postcode and address, email address and telephone number and will talk to you about your current broadband connection. It is free to do and there is of course no obligation to take part in the scheme, even if you go as far as asking for a firm quotation of the cost.
Local residents have produced an advice sheet to help you with the USO registration process – click here to see it.
If anyone in Brentor has further information please contact the website Editor, Colin Dawes, by email at email@example.com.
You can check your broadband speed by clicking here. (Just click the button marked ‘Start Speed Test’ below the two dials).