Broadband update

CLA members recently attended a broadband seminar at Adastral Park, home to BT’s global headquarters. In this guest blog Giles Ellerton, BT’s Regional Partnership Director for the East of England, looks at some of the options that farmers, landowners and rural businesses can consider if they are struggling with slow broadband speeds.

In my role, I spend time discussing regional and local issues that matter to all the communities that BT serves across the East of England. The most critical for our rural communities is the strategic investment in fibre broadband infrastructure. The arrival of fibre broadband has helped both small and established business to grow and diversify.

The UK Government has achieved its target of 95% superfast broadband coverage across the UK by the end of 2017, and BT has been a critical partner in achieving this. However, we are acutely aware there remains a key challenge to provide access to superfast broadband to the final 5% of premises in the most rural of our communities, many of which are by their nature farming businesses. With the uncertainty that Brexit is bringing to the future of farm subsidies, the sector is increasingly diversifying in its approach to driving revenue streams. Access to fibre broadband is a critical ingredient to ensure sustainable businesses can continue to survive and thrive in a digital world where the provision of good quality broadband is a basic requirement.

So what can BT and remote rural communities do together to achieve this for all? Local authorities across the East of England are already working in partnership with Openreach to deliver access to superfast broadband to remote communities which will take coverage in many cases to well in excess of 95%.

Premises that remain beyond the reach of these contract deployments have a range of options open to them. The Government is preparing legislation for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for those with speeds of less than 10 Mbps, so individual households have the right and can ask for coverage to be built to their property for at least a speed of 10Mbps, although the details of who pays for this connection (individual, tax payer, or infrastructure provider) has not yet been clarified by the Government.  Legislation is not forecast to be in place until the end of 2020.

Some mobile operators are offering increasingly competitive 4G contracts for broadband. EE (now part of the BT family) can now offer home antenna installations,  which significantly boost 4G signal and offer speeds of up to 40Mbps at commercially competitive rates for data packages.  The launch of this service began on 9th February, and details can be found here.

Openreach has already successfully contracted directly with over 400 communities across the UK in Community Fibre Partnership arrangements. Both parties co-invest in fibre infrastructure to bring superfast broadband to the community for a fixed cost within an agreed timescale, normally within 12 months of contract signature. Some farmers/landowners have collaborated further by completing some elements of self-digging trenches and installing ducts, where existing infrastructure cannot be used to connect premises. This can help to reduce the cost of deployment to cost effective solutions. Openreach has recently published a self-dig guide for andowners/farmers which explains simply the roles and responsibilities of both parties in a successful self-dig project.

Interested parties should in the first instance check to see if their premise is included in any planned upgrade, and if not, then register their interest in Community Fibre Partnerships, where Openreach can discuss self-dig options where appropriate.

Find out if you either already have access to fibre broadband or are in a plan for deployment by checking on the Openreach line checker site here.

If you wish to register interest in Community Fibre Partnership click here.