Two updates this week on the ongoing saga of SE16’s painfully slow broadband.
Firstly, Andrew Campling of BT has posted a detailed response to the recent blog post by Val Shawcross AM:
As you may be aware, fibre broadband is available from our Bermondsey exchange but a fair number of existing premises in the Rotherhithe area are not included with our current deployment plans as it is uneconomic to deploy service to the area. The fundamental problem is the cost of converting the very large number of so-called “exchange only lines” in the area in order to make it practical to provide fibre broadband to those properties. We are looking at options to address this, and your Assembly Member, Val Shawcross, has already put forward some potential solutions.
Although fibre broadband is not available to all premises in Rotherhithe, the situation is different for larger new developments, where it is often possible to provide fibre broadband during the construction phase, subject to agreement with the developers of course. So there is no reason that new developments will have a problem, however I’m afraid this will not by itself address the separate issue for the majority of the existing premises in the area.
In other parts of the UK where the market is unable to deliver fibre broadband, government funding is available to make it economically viable and we are currently investing the best part of £1bn of our own funds alongside the government to deliver faster broadband in these areas – this is on top of the £2.5bn we are investing within our commercial programme. Unfortunately state aid rules currently prevent public funding being offered in London in this way in order to benefit areas that are otherwise uneconomic for ourselves and other network providers, so this option is not currently available to address issues in areas like Rotherhithe. I know that this is an issue that Val Shawcross has raised directly with the Mayor.
Alternative options include working with larger landlords or residents associations to provide service to groups of dwellings, with joint investment by both parties. Where this takes place the subsequent network functions identically to that provided elsewhere, offers the same wide range of service provider options, ensuring residents are not tied in to a single providers and instead are able to take full advantage of any packages or other promotions that are being offered. There are no on-going obligations once the network infrastructure has been provided, with all subsequent operational aspects being undertaken by Openreach, the infrastructure business of BT Group.
In summary, whilst there is access to fibre broadband for premises connected to our Bermondsey exchange, this is not the case for all, in particular in the Rotherhithe area. I’ve outlined above some of the options that are available, notably for new sites and for larger landlords and residents groups, and we are continuing to look at options as we want to deliver fibre broadband as widely as is economically possible, so it may be that the position changes. If it does then we will update our website accordingly (www.superfast-openreach.co.uk/where-and-when/), as well as notifying key stakeholders such as Val, the local authority etc. In addition, I’ve no doubt service providers with customers in the area will be in touch directly with their customers as appropriate.
Meanwhile Simon Hughes MP has written to BT, the Mayor of London and Virgin Media.
“I have 45,000 constituents living in SE16 and it is totally unacceptable that they should be forgotten about when it comes to appropriate broadband speeds,” said Simon Hughes.
“The internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. Councils and governments require people to use the internet in order to access their services but then don’t provide them with internet fast enough to do the job.
“I have been informed that some of the businesses operating in my constituency have decided to pay huge amounts of money to BT in order to set up their own individual direct internet line. And I’m not talking about big conglomerates; I know of mid-sized companies which have had to look into such drastic measures in order to survive in this tough economy. It’s just simply not acceptable.”
David Hubber, Liberal Democrat councillor for the Surrey Docks ward, said “Residents of Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks find it hard to understand why they should be deprived of a good service while they are paying the same for a very poor service. We are in an inner city area, where the population is still growing and more people are working from home, so good broadband speeds are essential.”