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Culture minister’s constituents campaign for BDUK inclusion

Wednesday, May 14th 2014 by Hannah Langston

Residents of an Oxfordshire village in the constituency of Culture Minister Ed Vaizey are campaigning for better broadband after being told there is no plan to bring superfast broadband to the area.

Mr Vaizey is the minister responsible for the Broadband Delivery UK programme, but his own constituents in Fernham receive average broadband speeds of just 2 to 3Mbps. Locals have also complained of frequent outages, speed drops and crossed lines in the area.

“The problem is not just the speed, but the quality of the line,” said Fernham resident Paul Phillipson. “People are finding it near impossible to work from home, and children can’t do their homework because their connections are so unreliable.”

BT is currently rolling out superfast broadband to 90% of Oxfordshire as part of the £25 million Better Broadband for Oxfordshire project. Mr Phillipson met with BT in February to discuss the problems but was told that, as there are only 100 houses in the village, it wouldn’t be commercially viable for BT to install fibre broadband.

“The infrastructure needs upgrading but that doesn't seem to be part of BT's plan,” said Mr Phillipson, who is also a telecoms consultant.

When asked about the broadband situation in Fernham, Communications Minister Ed Vaizey told Cable.co.uk: "The Better Broadband For Oxfordshire project is progressing very well and already around 3,500 homes and businesses are benefiting from access to superfast speeds as a result of the Government’s rollout.

"We’ve recently announced additional funding for Oxfordshire which, when matched by the project, is planned to move Oxfordshire closer to 95% superfast coverage."

"But we haven’t forgotten about places like Fernham, which is why we recently announced an additional £10m fund to test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach remaining areas of the UK.

"The pilot projects will explore how to reach these areas, and we’ll use learning from the pilots to inform future government investment decisions,” he added.

The Vale of White Horse District Council, which covers Fernham and surrounding areas, announced on 12 May that it would contribute £250,000 to Better Broadband for Oxfordshire to extend coverage to 96% of the district.

Oxfordshire County Council is currently undertaking an open market review and public consultation to determine which areas will be covered by the additional funding.

However, a county council spokesperson said in an email to Mr Phillipson: “Our current information is showing that the above postcodes (for Fernham) are unlikely to fall within this additional scope, but we anticipate being in a position to provide you with further information by the end of August.”

Fernham residents are in contact with the district and county councils to get their village added to the rollout plan before August.

They are also open to alternative ways of getting faster broadband: “One option, perhaps the cheapest, is a fibre extension from a nearby village that already has superfast broadband. If they’re using an alternative provider to BT, they may be able to cover our area too,” said Mr Phillipson.

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