Work on Brentor’s new broadband network about to start

West Blackdown homes will be connected to a new fibre broadband network by June, thanks to the Universal Service Obligation (USO) scheme.  They will benefit from the latest high speed ‘fibre to the premises’ technology.

Others in part of the village centre can also get free connection but only if enough properties register for it! If 25 homes in the north side of the village centre JUST REGISTER INTEREST in the USO scheme, a cluster of 31 properties will be offered FREE CONNECTION to the new network……….. and more could follow.

The government-funded USO scheme allows Openreach to claim a grant of £3,400 for each of 70% of eligible properties, whether they register or not. That’s 22 of the 31 in the cluster, leaving a shortfall of £8,358 to be raised locally.  BUT THERE IS AN EASY WAY TO GET FREE CONNECTION – 25 people in the cluster just actually need to register interest in the USO scheme! The extra USO grant (3 x £3,400) will cover the £8,358 shortfall and EVERYONE IN THE CLUSTER WILL BE OFFERED FREE CONNECTION.  BT confirms that if you register interest there is ABSOLUTELY NO COMMITMENT to sign up later for a fibre connection.

SO PLEASE REGISTER!  We’ve been moaning about our poor broadband service for years and here’s a chance to do something about it free of charge and with no financial commitment!  So far only about 18 properties have registered – WHERE ARE THE REST OF YOU?  The number to call to register is 0800 783 0223.

It doesn’t help that BT won’t tell us which properties are in the cluster of 31.  The USO help desk says that it doesn’t know how many properties have signed up so far!  We just have to trust BT and Openreach to tell us when we get to the required number – not  a very satisfactory situation for a government-funded scheme that’s supposed to benefit our community.

But it does help that a number of residents in the cluster of 31 who are currently connected to Airband are now being offered Universal Service Obligation funding, despite the rule that only houses with less than 10mbps are eligible for it.  They have been told that their connection is deemed not sufficiently reliable to count as being over 10mbps.  If you already have an Airband connection but are unhappy with its speed and stability, it will be worth contacting the USO help desk to see if you can register for the USO scheme.  The telephone number is 0800 783 0223.

BT’s Crowdfunding scheme

Registering for the USO seems to be the best chance for most of our village to get a free fibre network.  Until we were told about the possibility of free connection by registering 25 properties, the large sums quoted by BT for a fibre broadband connection seemed to make connection impossible.  BT has been criticised by Ofcom for the way it has asked individual properties to pay the full excess connection cost for an entire cluster. So, to spread the cost of connection, BT’s response has been to pilot a crowdfunding scheme in our village to encourage Brentor villagers to band together to raise the funding required. The company has engaged the spacehive.com website to enable everyone to get together to pledge the funding needed.  This is a pilot rollout of BT’s crowdfunding scheme, which, if successful, could be implemented nationwide.

Letters like the one here have been landing on residents’ doormats since the beginning of February in the cluster of 31 properties from the War Memorial to Hammer Park, in Church Lane and Station Road.  The ‘someone’ mentioned is, in reality, BT!  We might be forgiven for feeling that the crowdfunding initiative is rather a diversion from getting free connection by simply registering. You can make up your own mind whether or not you contribute. The shortfall of £8,358 to build the network is really not a lot of money – in fact so little that it seems incredible that a £multi-billion company like BT/Openreach couldn’t find it without paying a crowdfunding company to help!  Bearing in mind that Openreach will own the network, and will automatically receive over £70,000 in government funding, they will be getting a bargain even if they pay the excess cost.  BT will be making money from their broadband ISP charges, so it’s a winning situation for BT and Openreach.

But what about the rest of Brentor parish?

Another ‘cluster’ in Brentor comprises 13 properties in the Darke Lane area, who have been quoted £36,871 to be connected – that’s over £2,800 per property. This cluster is currently not part of the pilot crowdfunding initiative. We should question why it costs so much more to connect these properties compared to others in the middle of the village – some will be very much nearer to the new fibre cable than houses in the cluster of 31.  However, once the cluster of 31 is connected, BT suggest that residents in the 13 cluster should re-apply for connection through the USO scheme and may receive a much more favourable quotation!  A pity that they can’t do this straight away to give us all some hope and encouragement!

The Liddaton and Lydford Station areas of Brentor Parish are even more disadvantaged regarding their broadband connection and are served from the Chillaton and Lydford telephone exchanges. Residents in these areas are working hard to find other ways of connecting to a fibre network.

BT and Openreach have managed to turn what should have been a positive and beneficial project for Brentor into a complex and frustrating experience for residents.  It is unfair and divisive to split a small village community into arbitrary ‘clusters’ with vastly different installation costs. Openreach needs to explain clearly why the costs vary so widely.  But really it’s about time that they get their act together and get our network built within the generous funding parameters of the USO scheme.  If they can do it free of charge for the spread-out West Blackdown community they should be able to do it for the rest of our village.

It’s not easy to understand the facts about the Universal Service Obligation scheme.  If you want to contribute to the information in this article please contact the website editor at brentorvillage@btinternet.com.

For more information about how this issue has evolved in Brentor click here

You can check your broadband speed by clicking here.