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Half of Suffolk village will miss out on superfast broadband

Friday, May 15th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

More than half the people and businesses in a Suffolk village are likely to miss out on superfast broadband speeds, a resident has warned.

Just 44% of Stradbroke village will be able to access the first phase of Suffolk County Council’s project under the BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK) rollout, despite its 85% overall target for the county, its community centre chairman Roger Turkington told Cable.co.uk.

Mr Turkington said he and fellow residents have struggled for some time to get information on exactly which areas of Suffolk will benefit from superfast broadband speeds of 24Mbps or above.

But he said according to his calculations, just 44% of the village will benefit from the planned rollout.

Mr Turkington, who is former director of operations at Suffolk ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), which has since become part of Community Action Suffolk (CAS), said an estimated 300 premises of the 680 in the village will benefit from the one cabinet that is enabled – working out at 44%.

“That is nowhere near the 85% coverage that is their target for Suffolk,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“Although Stradbroke is small in some people’s eyes, it’s one of the community service centres in the district, there’s a primary school, a high school, a few reasonably-sized employers.

“Of the businesses we have spoken to, their number one or number two issue is communications, broadband and mobile.

'Virtually unusable'

Mr Turkington said he gets 7Mbps at the moment and is “one of the lucky ones” but still suffers problems at busy times like 5pm when children return from school.

“Go a couple of miles out of the village and obviously it drops off.

“I have got a friend who as the crow flies is only two miles away but his broadband is virtually unusable.”

He has questioned whether Phase 2 of the rollout will cover the rest of the village, but said he was told last week by the local county councillor that they will not know the rollout plan until later this year.

According to Mr Turkington, Suffolk ACRE looked into setting up a wireless network across several villages a few years ago using £250,000 funding from Defra, but were warned against it amid fears it would affect the BDUK contract with BT, so had to drop the plans.

He said a wireless network may have been “a bit flaky” but would have helped those who could not get connected, and would have provided an incentive “for BT to speed up its act”.

“That service would have gone live at the beginning of 2013 and here we are two-and-a-half years on, with the rollout not due until the end of this year, and only to half of the village.

“There’s an awful lot of people who are not going to get service.”

The situation is made worse by a lack of mobile coverage in the area, he said, with residents struggling to get 3G and even basic 2G signal, let alone 4G.

“The system will time out before you can download an email, let alone do any browsing,” he added.

Mr Turkington said they are at the “back of the queue” for the rollout of Phase 1 of the BDUK project, and remain in the dark about what Phase 2 will deliver.

'Maximising coverage'

A Suffolk County Council spokesperson said: “The Suffolk Better Broadband Programme has an agreed coverage target or 85% of premises in Suffolk by September 2015, not 85% of every town and village.

“We are designing a network to be rolled out as efficiently as possible, maximising coverage per public pound spent.”

Of around 680 premises, more than 400 will be live with superfast broadband by the end of September, the spokesperson said, by which time coverage in Suffolk will have moved from around 50% to 85%, with 100,000 premises upgraded.

“We are aware that around half of the parish will not benefit from the initial upgrades, and of course are also mindful that at a county level we will still have 15% of premises still to upgrade.”

Remaining premises in the parish will be targeted with additional upgrades under the second round of the programme, increasing the 85% coverage to at least 95% by late 2017, the spokesperson said.

The rollout plan for the second scheme is still being finalised, and will be shared in the autumn, they added.

“We always publish the best and most reliable information we have on our website, which includes information to full postcode level," the spokesperson added.

Rollout information for Phase 2 will be published later this year after detailed survey and network design work has taken place and to do so before then would mean that information given to communities could change.

Addressing Mr Turkington's comments about ACRE, a spokesperson for Suffolk County Council said it was very supportive of community broadband schemes and did not “at any time” threaten to withdraw funding from ACRE.

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