Recently a website, ‘Airbad.co.uk’, appeared, critical of the Airband provision across Dartmoor, but it for reasons outside their website editor’s control it mysteriously ceased to exist for a day or so. However, it is now back on line and can be seen at Airbad.co.uk.
The Airband.co.uk website still exists and can be accessed by clicking here.
The news carried on this website about Airband provision in Brentor has attracted attention across the moor – apparently other parishes are also having a hard time accessing its services.
The Parish Clerk from Harford Parish Meeting near Ivybridge wrote:
Matt Barrow from Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) and Simon Palmer from Airband were present at the meeting hosted by Brentor Parish Council.The following were the main points that came to light from the discussions at the meeting:-
- Brentor is the last parish on Dartmoor where the Airband installation is still being completed.
- The transmitter on Christchurch tower is still not live because the agreement between Airband and the owners of the Bearwood Farm site (which was to have relayed the signal to the church) broke down when Airband asked to erect an additional relay dish to serve the church tower. The Christchurch transmitter cannot now go live until a different relay site is found. The audience questioned why the contract with suppliers of relay sites was not more robust and why a radio relay dish had not been installed when the Bearwood mast went up. Cash flow for Airband appeared to be an issue, so such equipment is not pre-installed.
- Airband are urgently surveying for another relay site and Mr Palmer said that they are looking at the possibility of relaying from a different existing transmitter, from a new roadside pole or from a temporary mobile mast on a trailer. He said that Airband now has ‘Code Powers’ that allow them to erect poles up to 20m high without planning permission.
- It is hoped that the Christchurch transmitter will now go live at the end of October (which is 18 months later than originally promised at the broadband meeting in Mary Tavy in November 2015).
- Because the transmitter mast on Christchurch is below the level of the four pinnacles of the Church Tower these will obstruct the signal, and quite a few properties, even those near to the Church, will not be able to access a direct Airband service. Therefore such properties will have to get their signal via relay transmitters on houses already subscribing to Airband who can directly see the Christchurch mast. Matt Barrow said that Airband users who allow their properties to be used for this purpose are compensated.
- Mr Palmer said that Airband will actively tell Brentor residents by email whether or not they should get an Airband signal by the time that the Christchurch transmitter becomes operational. A postcode search on the CDS website will also provide this information from the end of September 2017. (It should be noted that some residents in Brentor have already gone through the experience of being told that they can get Airband, only to be told after a local survey that it is not available after all due to trees, buildings etc in the line of sight). Matt Barrow said that all of this will be contingent on the contracts of the other landowners of Airband transmitter sites not breaking down in a similar way to the Bearwood contract. He also suggested to Mr Palmer that Airband should come to the village for a couple of days and provide a free surveying service to encourage potential users to take up the Airband service.
- For properties in Brentor that do not have line of sight to any existing Airband transmitter (such as most of West Blackdown) CDS and Airband are looking into alternative technologies to provide superfast broadband, including the new ‘Whitespace’ technology. (This uses the unused band frequencies of the TV channels between those used for Freeview TV channels to provide a sort of ‘long-range WiFi’ that can pass through trees and buildings and does not need line of sight). There is no funding for this technology to be provided in the current CDS contracts.
- Many residents at the meeting felt that it would be better to try to get Openreach to provide a fibre broadband cable across the moor from Mary Tavy, which would increase competition from other ISPs, provide a more reliable telephone service and offer the potential for ultrafast broadband in the future.
- There will be money from ‘Gainshare’ available to CDS to make further improvements to the Broadband network on Dartmoor. This will be under active review from the end of September 2017. (‘Gainshare’ is money refunded to CDS from the public funds provided for the Openreach fibre network on Dartmoor where take up of the service (and therefore income from it) exceeds the original estimates). We were told by Matt Barrow that CDS has an ongoing dialogue with Openreach and BT.
- Questions about the reliability of the Airband service were asked. An existing Airband customer said that he was getting a consistent broadband service of over 30Mbs, although this is interrupted by very heavy rain. Mr Palmer said that all the Airband transmitters have back up power sources so that they do not cease to function in power cuts. He also said that the broadband speed provided by Airband was ‘throttled back’ to about 30Mbs to make it more reliable in adverse weather.
- Parts of Brentor not in the National Park and without superfast broadband, such as Liddaton, will be looked at in the next phase of CDS’s work programme.
- CDS is looking at reintroducing the ‘voucher’ system and this can be used to install an interim solution such as 4G where other broadband is not available. It was pointed out that 4G is an expensive option for everyday internet provision.
- CDS were questioned as to why they have allowed Airband to currently have a monopoly on the provision of not only the infrastructure for superfast broadband but also as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). In November 2015 we were told that the Airband system could be used by any ISP (such as Virgin, TalkTalk etc) but in reality Airband is the only one available. Apparently in reality the big ISPs are unwilling to use such a small network as Airband. We were told that the Airband contracts have a limitation on how much Airband can charge as an ISP, to prevent them from dramatically increasing their charges. Airband have also changed their ordering procedure so that prospective clients do not have to provide details of their bank accounts before being surveyed by Airband. Matt Barrow said that he understood that Airband would be reducing their prices quite considerably in the near future.
- Concerns over the cost of Airband were expressed at the meeting. There is a need for clarity over the cost of VOIP telephone provision. Many Airband users without mobile phone signals will probably opt to keep their copper cable telephone lines to provide a reliable telephone provision.
- Once the Christchurch transmitter is operational CDS will be arranging training sessions for residents on how to get the most out of superfast broadband.
It was impossible for the meeting to provide all the answers to the concerns about broadband provision for Brentor. However it has clarified the likely timetable for the Christchurch transmitter to become live. The question about the provision of a reliable fibre connection between Brentor and the Mary Tavy digital exchange still remains and it would be useful if a similar meeting could be arranged where Brentor residents could talk to representatives from Openreach and BT.
Colin Dawes, Editor