Investigation: Why broadband in Britain's new-builds is so dreadful
By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Tuesday, April 25th 2017
The UK’s top housebuilders don’t know – or won’t say – how many new-build homes have access to decent broadband.
Only one of the country’s top 20 developers said fibre broadband was available at all of the properties built by them in the past year.
Asked what percentage of homes built in the past 12 months had access to superfast broadband at the point of completion, most didn’t respond, declined to comment or claimed they didn’t know.
Cable.co.uk receives hundreds of complaints a year from new-build residents all over the UK struggling with poor or non-existent broadband connections.
New research by Cable.co.uk has found that people moving into new-builds are twice as likely to have to wait a month or more to have broadband installed than those moving into homes with previous owners.
New-build residents are also more likely than the general population to have thought about broadband before they moved into their home – but developers aren't always forthcoming with the information homebuyers are looking for.
Only a quarter of those moving into a new-build were told the speed they were likely to get by the seller, while more than a third (37%) had to look up the speed they would get themselves, with the remainder either not thinking about it or not considering that it might be an issue.
'Why not install fibre straight away?'
Gareth Blackstaffe-Turner and Elizabeth Field have been without broadband or a phone line since moving into the Sun Park development in Farnborough on 23 December.
And the couple have been told that when broadband is installed, they are likely to be stuck with speeds of less than 2Mbps for at least the next eight months.
Mr Blackstaffe-Turner, a 30-year-old personal trainer, said: “It’s made things difficult. We have relied on our phone data and had to buy more as we have both run out.
“We had heard there were internet issues before we moved in [but] when we first started the process I thought it would all be fully functional.”
Mr Blackstaffe-Turner has had no success despite approaching a number of different providers – and has been told it will be eight months before fibre broadband is installed.
Gareth Blackstaffe-Turner has no internet more than three months after moving into a new home.
“I know Virgin are starting to work with new-builds but they aren’t coming to our site for the foreseeable future and BT/Openreach are terrible to contact and seem clueless when you get through to them,” he said.
“Sky refused to offer us internet as they say it would give us bad service and we couldn’t watch things online like Netflix, which we used to do together.”
Mr Blackstaffe-Turner said he finds it bewildering that BT still installs copper wires in brand new locations.
“It’s a new build. Why not install fibre straight away while the roads are up and nothing is built?”
Michael North, who also lives on the Sun Park estate, said he and his partner struggle to work from home.
“Our jobs allow it and it’s just not possible with the slow internet connection,” he said.
“We have no access to online media like Netflix or BBC iPlayer, which in this day and age is completely crazy.
“I personally am most annoyed that 50-75ft away from my front door is Sandy Lane, which has full access to BT fibre and Virgin Media, and no forward planning happened.”
'Openreach forgot about our street'
Cable.co.uk revealed in January 2016 that thousands of homes were being built without access to the fibre infrastructure that government ministers and business leaders have said should be in place.
But a year on, and despite fresh assurances from the government, developers and broadband providers, many residents of new-builds are struggling.
Nickayla Robertson and Daniel Hawkins were told their new-built home on the Penrose Park development in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, came with fibre broadband. But they ended up waiting more than three months for it to be installed.
“We found out from an Openreach rep it’s because they forgot about our street," said Miss Robertson, a 28-year-old health and safety coordinator.
Nickayla Robertson and Daniel Hawkins waited over three months for broadband.
Miss Robertson, who moved into her home in early December and was finally connected a couple of weeks ago, had written to her local MP, the chairman’s office at BT, the ‘new sites development team’ at Openreach and developer Martin Grant Homes in search of answers.
“The developer basically shrugged their shoulders and said it’s nothing to do with them and [wouldn't] help. After spending £330,000 on a property with them and we get this happen, I’m completely disgusted with them.”
The delay was made worse by the lack of mobile coverage in the area – something that’s common on new developments as they are often built on the edge of towns and aren’t covered by existing mobile masts.
“We can’t get any signal so when we need to make calls we have to walk up the street or even off the development," said Miss Robertson.
When asked by Cable.co.uk, most of the UK’s top 20 housebuilders, including Kier, Avant Homes, Crest Nicholson, Taylor Wimpey, Redrow and Persimmon Homes, either would not or could not say how many homes built by them in the past year had access to high speed broadband.
Only Mount Anvil, which builds luxury housing in central London, said every development it completed last year had access to superfast speeds.
It said BT fibre, offering speeds up to 250Mbps, had been installed at both the Lexicon and Eagle developments in central London, and that all schemes currently under construction would be served by Hyperoptic, giving residents access to 1Gbps broadband.
McCarthy & Stone said it doesn’t record the number of homes with access to superfast broadband, but resolved in December 2016 to request fibre-to-the-premises for all new properties registered with Openreach, at no extra cost to residents.
A spokesperson for Berkeley said: “We are providing for superfast, ultrafast or hyperfast fibre-based broadband on every phase of every new development.
“By 2020, over 18,000 of our homes will enjoy at least ultrafast broadband and every new home where we commence construction and marketing in 2017 will benefit from this level of connectivity.
“Customers have rapidly increasing levels of expectation about the digital capability of their home and we are working with Openreach and Hyperoptic to retrofit fibre-optic broadband to existing sites wherever it is viable. Our intention is to deliver connectivity from day one for all our customers.”
Cala said it aims to get superfast broadband on all of its sites but added: “Unfortunately it’s not always possible.”
A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation (HBF) said developers are committed to increasing connectivity in order to meet customer requirements.
The HBF, whose members deliver about 80% of homes built in the UK each year, struck a deal with the government and BT Openreach last February that saw fibre-based broadband offered to all new developments either for free or as part of a co-funded initiative.
'The penny will drop'
In September, Openreach said it would install full fibre (FTTP) broadband in all new developments of 30 or more homes, although CEO Clive Selley admitted to Cable.co.uk that developers still had to be educated in its advantages.
“Some of them don’t understand the concept of it so you’ve got to talk to them about it,” he told us.
“The penny will drop increasingly with the developers, they’ll realise it’s a way of adding value to the housing they’re building.”
The National Association of Estate Agents said developers should inform buyers if a new home has poor connectivity.
Property expert Henry Pryor is also confident that new homes will soon have the required level of connectivity.
“As we work to try to increase the number of homes being built for rent and for sale, the infrastructure that serves them is critical,” he said.
“Transport links, local services like schools and doctors and the ability to shop, educate, work and entertain is something that buyers won’t just pay a premium for, they are considered to be more than a luxury, they are essential.
“House builders, government, local authorities and communities are all working to ensure that tomorrow’s homes are fit for the Global Britain that the Prime Minister is planning in a post-Brexit world.”
Still no formal legislation
But the deal between the government, Openreach and the HBF doesn't include any legal requirement for developers to ensure new homes are fitted with a broadband connection.
And – as Cable.co.uk has reported – some developers openly admit they're not obliged to provide broadband to the houses they build.
A new set of standards drawn up by the National House Building Council (NHBC) came into force on 1 January 2017, that still makes no mention of broadband.
An NHBC spokesman said broadband “doesn’t particularly form part of our standards” and pointed to research concerning the importance of “future proofing” properties by including a small amount of hard wiring to support smart home technologies.
An EU directive that also came into force at the beginning of January will require all new homes to have “the necessary infrastructure to support a connection to superfast broadband”.
But it doesn’t require the connection itself to be in place and only applies to physical infrastructure inside the building, not any that may be needed within the property boundary or throughout the rest of the development.
Mark Hayward, managing director of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), said developers should inform potential buyers if a property has poor connectivity.
“There is an assumption from consumers or purchasers that all new homes will have high speed broadband there because they’ve got all the other bells and whistles,” he told Cable.co.uk.
“Certainly on pre-owned houses, National Trading Standards, who supervise the sector, have said quite categorically that if a property has poor or non-existent broadband you need to draw people’s attention to that at the earliest opportunity because it could well affect their decision to purchase.
“Everything else is connected, everything is state-of-the-art in new-builds now – kitchens, bathrooms, alarm systems – and this is something fundamental that’s obviously being overlooked, or [developers] are just ignoring it.”