Rural broadband still a dream for many – and will remain one

Shelve that dream of running an internet-based company in many parts of rural East Devon.

“The company awarded the publicly-subsidised contract to deliver superfast broadband to thousands of rural homes in Devon and Somerset has been given a deadline to come up with a rescue plan for the programme.

Last September, Gigaclear admitted the project was facing significant delays and was two years behind schedule.

Connecting Devon and Somerset, the organisation in charge of the whole project, stopped paying Gigaclear nine months ago.

It has told the firm it must come up with acceptable plans by the end of July to fulfill the contract.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-devon-48664146

Vouchers up to £350 available to upgrade poor broadband services in Devon

“If you currently experience broadband speeds of less than 2 Megabits per second (Mbps), the Better Broadband Voucher Scheme may be able to help you access a basic broadband service that will offer download speeds of at least 10 Mbps.

The Better Broadband Voucher Scheme, developed by the UK government, provides a voucher worth up to £350 for basic broadband installation to homes and businesses that will not benefit from superfast broadband within the next twelve months. …”

To see if you qualify, see here:

Home

Fat cat mobile phone companies want £600m from the government to cover country

Mobile phone companies make large profits. They do not want to spend their money on coverage, it goes to bonuses and dividends. They want all of us taxpayers to dig further into our pockets to provide them with bigger profits from wider coverage.

“Mobile operators want ministers to invest more than £600m to tackle poor phone signals in the countryside.

O2, Three UK, BT’s EE and Vodafone want backing for their plan to invest jointly in a single rural network that would give the four operators 95% coverage.

Only 66% of the country enjoys full coverage, so millions of people and thousands of businesses have to grapple with patchy signals or total black spots.

The mobile giants are willing to invest £533m to stamp out “partial not spots”, where one or more operators cannot provide a signal. That would bring national coverage up to 88% through a barter system, where they would share access to each other’s masts.

In return, they want the exchequer to foot the bill for 95% coverage. That includes spending about £620m over 20 years on areas with no signal, and £6m on opening up the Emergency Services Network used by police and ambulance workers.

Operators have told ministers those costs could fall by £90m if planning rules around issues such as mast heights were relaxed.”

Source: Sunday Times (pay wall)

Owl is back … refreshed … weekend catch-up

A few stories that caught Owl’s eye over the weekend:

Theresa May won as prize by Russian woman:
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/nelsons-column-red-faced-theresa-14995151

BT could be given licence to charge more for internet connections in the countryside under proposals by the regulator to encourage bolder investment in broadband.
(Sunday Times, paywall)

Bus fares massively more expensive outside London:
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/05/bus-fares-reveal-massively-unfair-gulf-between-london-and-rest-of-england

Parents resist schools being turned into academies:
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/may/05/academisation-rebellion-parents-resist-school-takeovers

Schools grossly underfunded:
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/pupils-less-five-years-ago-15002258

“Rural communities being ignored and underrated, say peers”

“Rural communities have been “ignored” and had “inappropriate” policies forced upon them, a report says.

A group of peers said a new agenda for the countryside was needed similar to the government’s industrial strategy.

Priorities included improving mobile and broadband connections, replacing lost bank and bus services and tackling social isolation, the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee said.

The government said it was committed to “rural proofing” policies.
Ministers plan to spend £3.5bn on supporting economic development in the countryside by the end of 2020 through the Rural Development Programme.
The cross-party committee of peers said policies suitable for urban and suburban areas had too often been foisted upon the countryside.

As well as improving communications, it is calling for action to address the supply and cost of housing and a lack of training for people working in rural industries.

“Successive governments have underrated the contribution rural economies can make to the nation’s prosperity and wellbeing,” it said.

“They have applied policies which are often inappropriate for rural England. This must change. With rural England at a point of major transition, a different approach is needed.”

Lord Foster, the Lib Dem peer and former MP who chairs the committee, said the “clear inequalities” between urban and rural areas could not be allowed to continue.

He called for a policy blueprint of equal ambition to the government’s industrial strategy to realise the potential of struggling and under-performing areas. …

… Only 41% of rural premises received a mobile data link of 2Mbps or higher, it found, compared with 83% in urban areas. …”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48065625

Gigaclear rural broadband project – paused probably for many months

From the blog of DCC Independent Councillor Claire Wright:

“There has been a delay now for sometime in Devon on the implementation of fibre to the home broadband. This means individual connections from the fibre cables in the road to each house.

A huge operation that was started by BT and in the past two years or so, operated by Gigaclear under the management of Connecting Devon and Somerset (Devon and Somerset County Councils).

Unfortunately, the timetable has slipped last autumn, partly due to the collapse of Carillion (Gigaclear were partners with a Carillion subsidiary engineering company) and partly due to the enormity of the Devon operation and road layouts.

One of the problems has been traditional Devon banks which have apparently been a challenge as the company usually digs up grass verges to install cables. Devon banks are also (quite rightly) protected under planning policy.

Connecting Devon and Somerset have had to apply for a funding extension from the government to allow for the extension of this work. This has been agreed in principle but won’t be endorsed nor the money received until the next comprehensive spending review later this year.

So without the firm confirmation contract extension funding and other logistical issues, there is still a delay of an unknown number of months.

This is deeply disappointing indeed and incredibly frustrating for communities such as Aylesbeare which doesn’t even have superfast broadband so residents are putting up with speeds of less than one megabit. I’m also aware that there are people living on the edges of communities who also have poor broadband service.

For residents and communities frustrated at the lack of connectivity there are other options, such as a voucher scheme to offset the cost of roof aerials for individual properties. For a bigger scheme involving whole communities, telecommunications companies can quote for a village service.

There are no easy solutions at the moment unfortunately and this is deeply frustrating for me and for many people in my ward.

Please email me if you have any questions at claire@claire-wright.org

I will update you when I know more.”

http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/fibre_to_home_broadband_delayed_for_an_unknown_number_of_months

“When Will Britain Acknowledge Our Countryside Poverty?”

“… If you live in a rural environment your chances of being successful in life are very much linked to your early years. I live in rural Worcestershire, and went to college from rural North Yorkshire. I remain the only degree educated person in my family and the reasons are clear – opportunities in rural areas are not as abundant for young people as they are in cities. As a result, our countryside has become a social mobility coldspot, with my local council of Wychavon rated 310th out of 324 councils in a recent government report. If your parents are plumbers or cleaners, bakers or builders, the chances are you will follow in their footsteps. For some, through choice, but for others, it is because options are limited.

It is easy to hide social mobility in the countryside. My town of Pershore is generally a well-off and affluent area. House prices and wages are above the national average, the town is a great place to raise children and the schools are generally good. But if you are from a working-class background and work in the service industry the average house prices of £300,000 quickly make the experience of living in the area unsustainable. And the recent revelation that house prices have been forced upwards by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, just adds to the issues people face. With housing unaffordable, people are struggling to help their children access opportunities to increase their chances in life.

Education is the key to success. Education opens doors to all, regardless of backgrounds. But in a rural area, education opportunities can be very limited. Schools have the added pressures of large catchment areas, with children travelling from a wide area. Class sizes can also be small and, in the current educational climate, unsustainable. So schools have to focus on traditional GCSE and A level subjects, limiting their students’ knowledge of other, potentially inspiring minority subjects. Similarly colleges focus on qualifications aimed at the local economy. In Pershore, our local college is an agricultural centre so, if a young person wants to study ancient history or geology, electrical engineering or photography, they must travel to neighbouring towns. This commute requires time and the money, and is also restricted further by the continued reduction of bus services in the area.

But it is an even bigger issue for the local economy if young people decide to go to university. As young men and women move into cities to study at university, they create a rural brain drain. This results in a drop in the 18-30 year old population, which further limits the opportunities of those who remain as it keeps job opportunities in traditional low paid professions. New industries rarely emerge and there are few incentives for young locals to return after graduation. With limited public transport and sluggish roll-out of high speed broadband graduates find no drive to return to their childhood homes. …

… Of course not everything is perfect in major cities, but it is clear that opportunities are more accessible and education is the driving force that helps students from more deprived environments succeed in life. Wychavon, however, is struggling to keep up with the pace, with education opportunities limited and access to transport becoming ever more a problem. Has social mobility stopped? Certainly not. But if you live in a rural area, your chances are being constrained, and maybe we need to seek alternative approaches to help our rural young people succeed.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/countryside-poverty_uk_5c7da47de4b060c5e078048c