Broadband

Where are we with super-fast broadband? is a question that I get asked from time to time, and it is a good one. We (Brightling) were promised our upgrade by December 2015, so the deadline is pretty close! Here is what I know.

BrightlingFibreOpticCabinet2
Openreach Fibre-optic cabinet opposite the Village Hall

Brightling has two cabinets. Cabinet 1 is at Darwell Hole crossroads, and Cabinet 2 is outside the Village Hall. Anyone in Brightling with a landline service is wired to one or the other of these cabinets.

Both cabinets are now connected back to the exchange by fibre-optic cables, but at the time of writing, a couple of weeks before Christmas 2015, only cabinet 1 has actually been turned on.

So if you are connected to cabinet 1, you may already be able to get “super-fast broadband”, or at any rate “faster broadband”. What’s the difference? “Super-fast” is defined as 24Mbps or above. But being connected to a fibre-enabled cabinet does not necessarily mean that you can get super-fast: it depends how close you are to the cabinet. If you are really close, you can get up to 80Mbps download speed. If you are a bit further away you may get something better than 24Mbps, ie super-fast. A bit further away still and you will get less than 24Mbps but more than the previous ADSL service – people in this band are described as getting “faster broadband”. A bit further away still and you will get no benefit from the fibre-enabling of the cabinet at all – you might as well stay on the ADSL service. (I should explain that ADSL is the service that uses copper wires all the way to the exchange, following the voice line; ADSL is what we were all on until the advent of fibre optics, and of course many of us – including all the Brightlingers on cabinet 2 – are still on ADSL).

By the way, don’t assume that because you live near Darwell Hole, that you are therefore connected to Cabinet 1. In fact as far as I can see, cabinet 1 serves people up Netherfield Hill and towards Woods Corner, and houses on the Penhurst side of the crossroads, but people in Riverhouses and further up Cackle Street seem to be served by Cabinet 2.

The best place to find out if you can get super-fast or faster broadband is to put your phone number into this web page: www.btwholesale.com/includes/adsl/adsl.htm If you see the magic letters “FTTC” (which stands for Fibre To The Cabinet) among the “Featured products” then hooray! you can get superfast or faster broadband, and you can see your maximum theoretical speeds. If you only see “ADSL” and “Fixed rate” then no luck yet.

Just because FTTC (delivering superfast or faster broadband) is available to you doesn’t mean that you will get it automatically; in fact you will stay on ADSL unless or until you make a specific decision to upgrade. If you do decide to upgrade, you do not have to use BT as your supplier. Even if you get your phone service from BT you are not obliged to get your broadband from them: there are other suppliers. Whoever you go with, the underlying technology is still supplied by BT Wholesale (Openreach) but the level of service from different suppliers does vary considerably – things like how helpful they are when you have a problem.

Experience in Mountfield when they got their upgrade earlier this year is that the results were very mixed. Only those people living very near to a cabinet get the full superfast experience; quite a few have seen no improvement whatsoever and there is considerable frustration about this.

I recently met with two East Sussex County Councillors to discuss the concerns following Mountfield’s experience. ESCC are responsible for implementing a project which is now supposed to deliver superfast broadband to 96% of the county by 2016. This figure is across the whole county, so the percentage in rural areas will be much less. This can be contrasted with the promise, made in an ESCC press release in December 2011, to deliver superfast broadband to “everyone in East Sussex” by the end of 2013. Two years after this deadline has passed, they now prefer to describe this as an “aspiration” – meaning that they would like to do it (of course) but there are no specific plans, budget or timescale for achieving it.

Broadband is about a lot more than downloading those cute cat videos a bit quicker. Increasingly services are delivered “digital-only” – for example we no longer get printed copies of planning applications, we have to download them over the internet, which can take a very long time indeed with the present standard of connection. More generally, high-speed broadband is crucial in attracting and retaining businesses in rural locations. Even something like a holiday cottage can be downgraded if it has poor broadband.

A couple of weeks ago I contacted our MP to request a meeting to discuss concerns about rural broadband. I got an acknowledgement that my email had been received. If I get an actual response to the meeting request, I will write about it here.

I would be very interested in hearing of people’s experience of broadband speeds, both before and after any upgrade. A good place to check you speed is at http://www.speedtest.btwholesale.com/ This site measures the actual speed of a test download on a specific computer at a specific moment in time. That is in contrast to www.btwholesale.com/includes/adsl/adsl.htm which tells you what your phone line is theoretically capable of delivering.   Your actual speed will probably never reach the theoretical maximum but if you are getting less than 75% of it then there may be something wrong with your set-up.  But this is a complex subject, and I may have over-simplified it.

Please feel free to use the comments box at the end of this post to record the results of your speed tests – before or after upgrading – and any other thoughs on this subject – it would be very interesting to try and build up a picture of different people’s experiences round the parish.

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