Broadband campaigners in Ewhurt and Surrey Hills are angry at what appears to be a change to a funding decision by the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) to help enable the area for high speed broadband. At present, many residents get sub-2Mbps speeds, with long lines in Surrey Hills being worst affected.
In a letter dated 1 March 2010 sent to the campaigners, Openreach said that "there are no plans for any investment in the network in the area centred around the village of Ewhurst" although at the time it did indicate its intention to bid for the funding which was expected to be raised from the '50 pence a month' levy on copper phone lines, a policy of the previous government which has since been rescinded.
The group worked with Vtesse Networks to put together a proposal which would enable the area to receive super-fast broadband with £150,000 funding by SEEDA. However, the group alleges that a short time before the contract was due to be signed in February 2011, SEEDA pulled back suggesting that an announcement was expected in the next few days which may affect the outcome. Several members of the group believe that BT will this week be announcing that infrastructure in Ewhurst will be upgraded support to fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC).
"In theory, this is good news for both Cranleigh and Ewhurst because public money need not be spent on the project. However, BT has a history of saying that it will upgrade areas as soon as local groups show signs of doing the work themselves, thus blocking projects - and then BT not doing or postponing the work.
A particular challenge for Ewhurst results from the long lines from the cabinet to the homes of those living in the Surrey Hills, which BT acknowledge are of poor broadband quality. They will experience an extremely slow broadband speed even with FTTC. To meet this challenge, the Ewhurst group wanted to use the promised enabling grant for a fully flexible enhanced solution from its chosen contractor, Vtesse Networks Limited to achieve its aims. These include techniques to improve the very poor lines and the installation of some fibre to the premises. By contrast, the BT cabinets will have no such facilities, thus condemning the outlying homes irrevocably to exclusion for generations to come.
Should the grant not be forthcoming to Ewhurst then Surrey must be obliged to ensure that BT provide a full facility universal service throughout the Ewhurst area within a reasonable time-scale and without the slippages that have occurred in other areas such as Haslemere and Brookwood."Spokesman for Ewhurst and Surrey Hills Broadband
"We will not be going down this route again. I have wasted a lot of time and effort on this, and if all that happens is BT pops up at the last moment, then there is no upside, and I have better things to do. The losers, are, I am afraid, the residents, but there is not much I can do about it."Aidan Paul, CEO, Vtesse Networks
This is not the first time that alternative broadband infrastructure providers have expressed concerns about BT's 'change of mind' once they have either gathered sufficient support from the community to begin rolling out a network, or soon after they start doing so.
A BT spokesman said they are expecting to announce further FTTC rollout soon, but could not comment on any specific exchanges at this time.