Since the lockdown started, and we all had to find a different way of carrying on our lives, a number of people have said to me “Thank goodness we have decent broadband”, or words to that effect. People will know that for years I have been banging on and campaigning (through the Parish Council) for better broadband in Brightling. I can’t claim to have done it because I foresaw that it would be an essential service in a virus pandemic, and indeed it is impossible to know whether this campaigning made any difference to the arrival of superfast broadband in Brightling, but at any rate it is gratifying to know that one was pushing in the right direction.
However all this only makes it worse for the left-behind (or as the East Sussex broadband project insists on calling them the “Final Few”). Having spent a couple of hours poking at the e-sussex.org website, I reckon that there are about 22 addresses in Brightling that currently can’t get superfast broadband. Out of these around 7 (all of them along the B2096) are now in the plans to get superfast by the end of December 2021. These 7 appear to be the final phase of East Sussex Broadband’s project (original planned completion date March 2020), so that leaves about 15 with no access to superfast – not now and not included in any existing contracts or budgets for future upgrades.
What can you do if you are in this left-behind group? I have three suggestions.
The first is to claim a faster connection under the USO (Universal Service Obligation), which came into force in March 2020. This obligation gives you the “right to request a decent and affordable broadband connection.” There are some serious caveats, however (and by the way, am I alone in thinking that the “right to request” is a curiously evasive phrase?) The first exception is that “decent” is defined to mean 10 Mbit/s. So if you have already got 10 Mbit/s download or better (and 1.0 upload), the USO does not apply. The second exception is that you can’t claim under the USO if your broadband availability is scheduled to be upgraded in the next 12 months. The third exception is that if the cost (before VAT) exceeds £3400 you will have to pay the excess (and costs are calculated by Openreach and will probably be hard to challenge). The final exception is that you have to show that you can’t get decent broadband through a 4G hub (more on this later).
The second suggestion is to look into the Community Fibre Partnerships. This enables a group of nearby properties to club together and pay for the installation of fibre. There are two voucher schemes that can help with the cost of this: the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, and the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme. The group doesn’t have to be very large; in fact I think individual properties can apply on their own, although in this case you won’t be sharing the cost, of course. If anyone is interested in going down this route, do contact me and I can let you have a list of addresses of neighbouring properties who are in the same boat.
The third suggestion (and I would strongly recommend trying this first) is to get a 4G hub. See this article https://www.techradar.com/uk/broadband/4g-home-broadband or search for “4G broadband hub”. I ran my home on a 4G hub for several years and it was adequate (though nowhere near as solid as FTTP, which we have now). People sometimes say “that wouldn’t work: I can’t get a decent 4G signal on my phone”. That’s not a sound objection. Firstly, it depends on which network you are on, and secondly with a 4G hub you will have a roof-mounted aerial which is 100s of times more sensitive than the aerial inside your mobile phone. If you are interested in trying this route and would like more advice, do contact me. In any case you would have to look into this first if you wanted to try the USO route.