Residents of a rural East Devon town have criticized its ‘diabolical internet connection’. People living in Northleigh are campaigning to boost their broadband.
Andy Cornish, a resident of the town, is one of the main activists. He said: “Like many rural communities, we suffer from a diabolical internet connection. The realities of working from home and accessing government services online are a real challenge for communities left behind.
“The issue that I think should be explored is the role of a large government semi-quargo called Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS), which has hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money at its disposal for the deployment of fiber in South West. rural communities, but the fact that they seem to continue to screw up the implementation program due to their own ineptitude.
“Would we be better off without them and empowering local communities to take the lead? CDS has been in poor shape since 2015 in a failed takeover exercise with Openreach. They had an even bigger embarrassment with their Gigaclear appointment, which ended in disaster, major delays, aborted contracts, and the company needing major corporate restructuring and refinancing.
“They have now appointed Airband to continue the work, with our community not scheduled for a fiber connection until the end of 2024. I suspect Airband is out of their league and may never be able to deliver here.”
He continued: “The interesting twist is that, between CDS being pulled from the Gigaclear contract in 2018 and Airband being appointed in early 2021, Northleigh residents took matters into their own hands and went back to Openreach and agreed to a schedule of fiber deployment under the government’s Gigabiit voucher scheme. We work directly with Openreach, cutting CDS and organizing around 12 km of new fiber in the area. It was certainly hard work, but with our local knowledge and community involvement, we were able to connect the fiber and the first 30 houses were up and running by the end of 2021.
“However, CDS appointed Airband in early 2021, without consulting our community, so we are now unable to receive further state aid to finish the project with Openreach. We have a fully planned and budgeted program with Openreach to make the last 1km connection to the other half of our village, it can deliver within six months at considerably lower cost than the CDS program, but it looks like we will now have to abandon the part of the project once again.
“Remaining residents are being asked to wait a further three years for Airband to duplicate all of Openreach’s work, when we are not convinced there is a financially viable case for Airband in East Devon. It’s just a slow-motion car accident and a waste of taxpayer money.”
Sue Woodruff from Sumerdown Farm, Northleigh added: “What I do know is that our current broadband is not only terribly slow, but for over two months last year we had no broadband and no phone service. we can make an emergency call.
“We needed an air ambulance here last summer. If my niece who lives in our little bungalow hadn’t listened to my literal cries for help, the outcome could have been very different. My niece’s husband supports his young family of three with a minimum wage. He relies on his overtime job for a week a month to survive financially. With such an unreliable broadband connection, he sleeps at the top of our driveway in his car so he can get incoming calls. This is the only place where we have mobile signal. .
“We are about to welcome a large Ukrainian family into our home. Communication with Ukraine is already difficult enough. It is quite ironic that a country that is being bombed has better internet connection than our internet speeds. So much so that I intend to travel to Poland next week to finalize the application for our family.Once they are safely here, how the Ukrainian family will keep in touch with those they have tragically left behind worries me immensely.
“Yes, it would be fun to watch The Exeter Chiefs on our TV without constant interruptions due to the signal. Yes, it would be wonderful to watch a movie without it constantly stopping. Yes, it would be wonderful not to have to sit right next to the center.” (often in the middle of the night considering the time difference) to have any chance that we see my beloved daughter’s face when we call her home in the US Yes, I would like to be able to use Paypal and banking online, but I can’t because we don’t have mobile signal. But these are luxuries.”
Laura Wallace, Coombe Farm, Northleigh said: “Trying to diversify and bring money to rural Devon is not easy in an ever-changing world. We have two Airbnb’s. We have worked incredibly hard to achieve superhost and Airbnb plus status. But we’re losing bookings numbering in the thousands of guests who require super-fast internet speeds to combine vacations and work from home. Being told this small business won’t be connected for another 3 years, at least, by CDS is crushing. They say clichés about its gigabit website as the fourth utility, but it has failed many communities in its one-size-fits-all deployment.”
A spokesperson for Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) said: “We have worked with and alongside Northleigh residents for a number of years to support enhanced broadband, including providing any remaining funds to help enable a chartered Community Fiber Association. by the Government (BDUK) and delivered by Openreach, to deliver fiber to part of the community.
“We recognize the importance of better connectivity and are listening to the Northleigh community on this issue. Removing facilities from contracts to allow an alternative publicly subsidized scheme to take place is not a simple process.
“It could, in particular, undermine the viability and economic value of the contract held by Airband, which was tendered in good faith and based on the information available at the time. The domino effect could then put delivery to other communities at risk. within the contract.
“Airband was awarded a contract in late 2020 to deliver a full fiber open access network by the end of 2024 to around 40,000 facilities in our region, including those in Northleigh not covered by the previous community scheme. Airband will begin study and design work in the community in January 2023 with construction scheduled to be completed by the end of that year.
“Once these contracts are awarded, BDUK (Government) no longer provides Gigabit Vouchers to facilities that are within the scope of the CDS contracts. CDS contracts provide good value for money, securing investment from commercial providers alongside funding from government and local authorities to bring enhanced broadband to our region.”
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