Our story in a nutshell:
The GU8 Superfast Community Project is run by a small team of people living in rural Surrey just 3 miles from Godalming. Our community has always been poorly served by broadband services – a sub-2MBps service was normal, however we had always been led to believe the superfast broadband was coming and it was only a matter of time before we would benefit from upgrades to the BT fibre infrastructure and then we’d get over 20MBps, like the majority of the UK already had.
We were deceived. BT Openreach had stated that our local cabinet no. 26 was scheduled for upgrade to fibre within 18 months. Likewise we had seen the assurances from Surrey County Council that they were to infill those areas that weren’t included in BT’s commercial rollout of fibre. Surrey CC, under the banner of Superfast Surrey planned to spend £35m and had a stated aim to make Surrey the first county in the UK to have 100% of residents connected to BT’s fibre infrastructure. It was a mistake for any of us to rely on either of these statements.
I had investigated the apparent delay of upgrade to my local cabinet. Each time the upgrade date was put back by 6 months I asked for clarification, and was fobbed off with assurances that we were still in the commercial rollout. I asked Superfast Surrey if we were included in their infill projects – they responded that we were not because we were part of BT’s commercial rollout.
“Your postcode does not come up on the Superfast Surrey website because you are part of the BT Openreach Programme and according to their records you will have access by the end of September 2013. So no, you are not part of the in fill area.” Superfast Surrey March 2013
After 18 months of postponements I called BT’s bluff and demanded to know when our cabinet would be upgraded. The answer was that it would not be upgraded because it was not commercially viable to be upgraded at BT’s expense. We had also missed out in being included in Surrey CC’s infill because we were technically still in BT’s commercial rollout. Nothing would be done to cabinet 26. Catch 22.
It was at this time that I, by chance, met up with local residents Howard Green and Julie Llewelyn who had come to similar conclusions. We decided that this situation needed co-ordinated action and that together we should fight to get superfast broadband to our community. The first step was to ask Openreach what it would take for them to get fibre services to us. £6,400 from us was their answer – and then they would upgrade our nearest cabinet. After a lot of discussion and some timely pressure from our friend Peter Martin of Surrey County Council we were able to get a commitment from Openreach to upgrade our cabinet – without cost to the residents of Enton, Rake and Hydestile.
This was a success for community action and within 9 months the cabinet was upgraded and those in Enton, within 2km, were seeing superfast broadband speeds of 30MBps and above. However, there was a catch – reach.
Openreach’s cabinets have a technical limit to the reach of Superfast services – residents
beyond 2km of a fibre cabinet would be unable to receive fibre services. They would always be excluded.
That message had never been included in Superfast Surrey’s publicity and that limit afflicted our hamlets of Hydestile, Feathercombe, and Hydon Heath. It also affected the outlying areas of Hambledon (already upgraded by Superfast Surrey’s infill projects). This story was repeated throughout Surrey – anyone beyond 2km from a cabinet would not get fibre services.
Surrey County Council used the “homes passed” measure for their 100% headline.
Homes passed definition: The number of “Homes Passed” is the potential number of premises to which an operator has capability to connect in a service area, but the premises may or may not be connected to the network.
So with all homes beyond 1.8km not able to get fibre that made Superfast Surrey’s 100% claim disingenuous at best. The real figure is undisclosed but probably nearer 65%. See news item.
Phase 2 towards a Superfast future
This galvanised our campaign into phase 2 – a search for a solution to bring superfast to the hamlets beyond the reach of fibre services. This covered two cabinets – PCP26 and PCP48. In total we counted 150 homes isolated from those two fibre cabinets.
Our campaign team re-opened a dialogue with Openreach to formulate a solution. We also explored a number of alternatives for our community – satellite, 4G, community wireless, Fibre to the Premises, B4RN. After a lot of delay from Openreach and a number of solutions that were discarded as technically unviable, we plumped for a technical solution proposed by Openreach that appeared to offer the most efficient solution for connecting the greatest number of homes, whilst balancing the need to supply the highest broadband speeds for the majority. In short – it required 2 new cabinets to be built, individually connected to the UK Fibre network by new fibre cable in existing underground ducts or overhead poles, and tied into our existing copper cables to the homes. It was a technically convoluted plan, and it came at a substantial cost. As a Gap Funded project, the cost of the majority of the scheme would have to borne by the community – Surrey County Council would not be permitted to contribute (we were told by Lucie Gelnday of Superfast Surrey that they can only support specific ring-fenced exchanges within their intervention arera). Openreach only had a tiny pre-set figure they could contribute – hence the “Gap” that we’d have to fund.
The next step was to talk to the community and formulate a plan to raise this money. This was a monumental challenge – we would need to raise a huge amount of money from a catchment of just 120 homes and a handful of small businesses. These premises were not in a single cluster, but spread across quite a wide area in seven clusters. Our team came up with a fund raising plan to offer a fair way for everyone to contribute. We selected Cluster Champions who would assist in rallying people together in their respective communities – they were invaluable and would host our roadshow presentations. Within 4-5 weeks we had raised all the money – over 90% of residents put their hands in their pockets to make the scheme happen. That high number of contributors eased the burden, and made the project viable – a mighty community achievement.
It has been a positive process in many ways. As a project team we have diverse and complimentary skills – but in taking the project out to the wider community we have brought in other expertise from residents – experts in mobile telecoms, contracts, accountancy, charities, technology procurement and not forgetting our cluster champions. At our roadshows we saw a positive reception to our ambitions, and overwhelming support of the project.
365 days after we first met BT, we signed the contract and the first instalment cheque to commit to the Openreach project – “Project XY”.
The next challenge was to keep Openreach to their promise to deliver the scheme by February 2016.
Update June 15th 2016.
Our scheme went live about 5 weeks late and as of today we have 76% of residents on superfast speeds from 26Mbps to 80Mbps. The speed and stabilty of the network has exceeded projections. Significantly we have seen house sales in the village of homes that had been on the market for some time. We would regard the project as a success.
Cabinet 26 and GU8 Superfast Community Project Co-Leader
Since this GU8 website went live I have been contacted by many individuals and resident groups who are motivated to privately fund their community solution – from across Surrey, and others from around the UK. They call seeking advice and to learn more about our experience of looking for a solution, alternatives to fibre and of engaging with Openreach. The fact that so many communities are being left out by the roll out of BDUK/Local Authority initiatives indicates just how poorly served we are – despite the PR headlines of a comprehensive upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure. The divide still exists and we are far from a Superfast connected UK.
A list of some of the campaign groups is on the home page on the right margin.
An alternative view of our story in 3 chapters:
There were times when our ambition to get decent broadband looked doomed – with every option closed off to us. These 3 funny videos, discovered on YouTube, seem to sum up the frustration very well.
After a long campaign, the residents are reviewing the progress:
The truth behind video 1:
- BT Openreach stated: “cabinet 26 will be upgraded May 2013“
- Lucie Glenday, Chief Digital Officer for Surrey County Council quote: “99.7% of Surrey residents will be able to get Superfast by December 2014“
- Neither of those statements were correct.
- 3G and 4G are not viable alternatives to home broadband.
- Surrey CC stated: “we are working with our provider partners to develop alternative technologies for those residents unable to access Superfast” – No viable alternatives were proposed.
- BT were unable to fix widespread network faults reported by residents on 2 different cabinets.
and the sequel! The residents discover exactly what 100% means:
The truth behind video 2:
- Surrey County Council’s statement: “99.7% of Surrey residents will be able to get Superfast” is misrepreseantation. If you are too far from a cabinet for Superfast you are still counted as being in that 99.7% because your cabinet is enabled even though you are not.
- The 2km limit of Superfast is not mentioned in Surrey County Council publicity.
and the 3rd chapter in the story. A solution is found and Superfast seems ever closer… but at a cost!
The truth behind video 3:
- Throughout Surrey there are residents groups forming to pay for infill Superfast coverage where they have been left out by Openreach and the Country Council. Residents are having to pay substantial sums for the Openreach infrastructure to be extended to include homes beyond the 2km limit.
- Openreach took 5 months to come up with a price for extending their network to serve our outlying community.
- Openreach would not breakdown their costings to justify the price.
- Openreach are dealing with over 70 privately funded projects throughout the UK but have under allocated resources to deal with them.
- VAT was charged on our scheme but subsequently HMRC ruled it is not chargeable.