Broadband scheme ‘preventing Devon village connections’ – Northleigh

A scheme to provide decent broadband in rural Devon is actually preventing a village from getting it, residents say.

Northleigh broadband sign

Northleigh residents said they “took matters into their own hands” to get better broadband

Villagers in Northleigh, near Colyton, went directly to infrastructure provider Openreach to get connected.

But they said rural broadband arranger Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) had taken over and was using another provider, which would take years longer.

CDS said the village was due to be connected by the end of 2023.

‘A village divided’

About 30 homes in the village have been plugged in via the Openreach work since December 2021, but 90 homes were still without good connections, residents said.

Andy Cornish, who has a high-speed connection, said residents “took matters into their own hands” to get Openreach involved under the government’s gigabit voucher scheme, which gave it £82,000 in 2020.

He said “gatekeeper” CDS appointed provider Airband in 2021 to finish the work “without consulting our community, and so we are now precluded from receiving any further state aid to finish the project with Openreach”.

Mr Cornish said he understood it now meant his whole community would not get fibre connection “until the end of 2024” because of other work already scheduled ahead of Northleigh.

“We are now a village divided by a hill and 21st Century internet,” he added.

Northleigh sign

About 90 homes in Northleigh are still without good broadband connections

Andrea Wood, one villager waiting for full broadband, said the change “just doesn’t make sense” as it would be “duplicating the [Openreach] fibre that is already going right the way around our village”.

CDS is a taxpayer-subsidised programme, supplying rural areas not seen as cost-effective for commercial providers.

It said if it made changes it could undermine the viability and economic value of the contract with Airband, “which was tendered for in good faith”, and could “put at risk broadband delivery to other communities”.

The government-led partnership said Airband was awarded the contract at the end of 2020 “to deliver a full fibre open access network by the end of 2024 to around 40,000 premises in our region, including those in Northleigh not covered by the previous community scheme”.

It said: “Airband will begin design and survey work in the community in January 2023 and build is scheduled to be completed by the end of that year.”

It added that it had put in almost £5,000 to help Northleigh finish Openreach’s initial work and that it had delivered superfast broadband to more than 315,000 homes and businesses across England.