In January 2021 Andrew Hoad (chairman of Ashburnham and Penhurst Parish Council) made an application to get our respective telephone exchanges upgraded to universal full-fibre broadband.
This was a so-called “demand-led” application which would have taken advantage of the vouchers available from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme) and the top-up vouchers available from East Sussex County Council.
If successful, the scheme would not require individual households to make any contribution to the cost of the upgrade, we would simply need to persuade enough people within the two exchanges to commit to taking an improved service. We are told, from experience elsewhere, that it is not too hard to reach the necessary take-up threshold. In fact, following the publication of an article in the Messenger magazine, I received several responses from people asking “am I one of the 666 properties included in the application?” and saying that they would be keen to take an improved service.
The position was that the vouchers had to be claimed by 31st March 2021. Once claimed they could then be used after that date. Our applications were submitted on 26th January 2021, well in advance of 31st March. However, on 27th January it was announced that although the funds would expire on 31st March, the cut-off date for voucher allocations would be 19th February. Although we met that deadline too, BT Openreach did not produce the necessary costings in time, due to a backlog of applications, and therefore we were not allocated any vouchers under the present scheme.
In late March, DCMS announced that there would be a new voucher scheme. However, no details are available until it is officially launched on 8th April.
The other question is whether the additional ESCC top-ups, which also finish on 31st March, will be available under the new scheme. I don’t think we yet have a clear answer to this yet.
We are hopeful that our existing application will put us near the front of the queue for applications under the new scheme. We are also awaiting final costings from BT Openreach which will determine whether we have a viable scheme. We expect to get these costings any day now.
There is, obviously, no guarantee that we will be successful. However, if it is successful, it will benefit not only those who currently get really awful broadband, but also those in the middle who currently get a more or less adequate but not brilliant service – in fact everyone who isn’t already on full-fibre. Watch this space.
Andrew Wedmore 5 April 2021