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Report from Cllr S Marthews on Broadband Provision for the village:
Note to Sutton St. Edmund Parish Council
Existing Provision and the Problem.
BT has for a number of years provided residents in Sutton St Edmund parish and many other rural areas with a comprehensive telephone network. This provided slow dial-up access to the internet and more recently has been configured to carry broadband but only where there was proven demand from residents. This is not high speed broadband, which most define as a speed of at least 10Mb/s, and the level of access to broadband services is very variable and sometimes intermittent.
The parish of Sutton St Edmund is served by two exchanges through substations. The north of the village is served by the Holbeach exchange which delivers........... for download and .......for upload In the south. The village and Throckenholt are served by the Wisbech (01945) exchange for most of the south this exchange provides an average download speed of 3.88 Mb/s and an upload speed of 0.321 Mb/s. Throckenholt, the part of the parish closest to the Parson Drove sub-station, has a better service with an average speed of 5.83 Mb/s for download and 0.33Mb/s for upload. The speeds delivered at the exchange slow dramatically as the distance from the exchange increases.
BT knows these broadband speeds are inadequate and far short of government targets or international standards. However, the parish council understands that there is no simple or economic way by which BT can boost the speed of broadband along its copper wire network.
If high speed broadband is to delivered through a landline network, the only solution is to replace the existing copper cable network with fibre-optic cabling, which is immensely costly. This is only an economic proposition for BT or any other provider such as Virgin Media in urban areas where there is a large customer base and distances between exchanges, substations and properties are short.
Residents are now well aware of the considerable difference between dial-up broadband and high speed broadband in terms of access to the internet and the ability to quickly download data. Broadband is coming to be considered a further essential utility for every household along with water, electricity, sewage, waste collection and recycling. Its' lack not only reduces the quality of life in the parish but also hinders the commercial viability of local farms and rural businesses whilst starting to adversely influence both house prices and rentals.
Without high speed broadband, new businesses will not choose a rural area in Lincolnshire to set up its business and generate employment.
As comments made at the Annual Parish Meetings show, there is frustration and some annoyance at what is seen as undue delays.
The Coalition Government is aware of the problem and is responding. The government's website advises:
"We are committed to delivering the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015, and to do this the Government has allocated £530 million during the current spending review period to stimulate commercial investment to roll out high speed broadband in rural communities. The government will invest £150 million in super connected cities in the UK for consumers and businesses that live and work in areas where coverage is poor.
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is responsible for managing the Governments broadband funding. Individual projects are the responsibility of local authorities and the Devolved Administrations as set out in BDUK's delivery model.
Our ambition is to provide superfast broadband to at least 90 per cent of premises in the UK and to provide universal access to standard broadband with a speed of at least 20Mb/s." Nevertheless, the government's target has now met criticism from the EU Commission who are looking for an average speed throughout the EU of 30 Mb/s.
The responsible officer at South Holland District Council advises that the UK roll out is moving forward, but the target date may have slipped back to 2017.
Local Broadband Plans (LBP)
To implement its plans the Government has asked all principal authorities to create a Local Broadband Plan (LBP) categorising each county community according to existing broadband provision and showing how high-speed broadband will be delivered to each community, within a defined time frame and demonstrating how allocated funding from central government (BDUK), matched with principal authority and private financing will deliver the plan.
Present position and future provision
To create this plan and put it into effect Lincolnshire County Council have been granted £14,310,000 for its LBP. Time is an important consideration. It estimated that with no further hold-ups or political obstacles, procurement and supply will take about three years from the date the plan is signed off. While slow progress is being made at county level, can the parish afford to wait?
The City of Lincoln, because of its high density of population, already has a fibre-optic network to which residents can connect. Spalding and Holbeach have networks in place and the remaining five towns and Donnington will be equipped in the next two years. However, there is no information as yet about the date by when, if at all, major villages will have a fibre-optic network and, as the Parish Council has feared, smaller parishes such as Sutton St Edmund will be at the end of the queue.
Alternatives to Government Plans
- If the parish Council considers it appropriate to be pro-active and organise broadband in its parish, it can negotiate directly with BT or use the good offices of the Rural Broadband Partnership (www.ruralbroadband.com) or a commercial company. If successful BT would provide BT Infinity to a chosen location in the parish - the church, or the village hall.
This broadband feed would then be transmitted using a radio transmitter to reach all properties in the parish. Each householder would meet the cost of their receiver and access to the transmissions, but the cost of the feed would have to met by the parish council. Whether the cost of this would fall entirely on the precept or would be largely off-set by a charge to residents taking the service depends on parish council policy. This arrangement is in place elsewhere and could generate a net income for the parish. This may well be a suitable subject for participatory budgeting.
Alternatively, the Parish Council could contract for a broadband feed with a satellite provider, and having received that signal, transmit it on a similar basis throughout the parish.
- If the Parish Council does not wish to be proactive in the provision of broadband, perhaps it considers this is an issue best left to individual residents to choose what supply best suits the resident's needs
The resident has two alternatives
- The resident can negotiate a direct satellite link contract and pay for the equipment and a suitable broadband receiver.
- The resident can decide not to rely on a satellite link, but instead use the rapidly developing mobile phone technology.
3G mobile phone technology is available, and the cost varies according to the package offered by the Mobile Company. Television can be received this way along with telephone and data download. At present the speeds lower than a landline network are the major disadvantage and even existing broadband from BT along its network is comparable. Satellite link is faster and fibre-optic where available is much quicker.
However, SHDC advise that the government have given the go ahead for the roll out of 4G signals and as soon as this is available, speeds equivalent to fibre-optic broadband are promised. This could make mobile phone provision the preferred choice, particularly as the resident can receive the service on the move and not only in their front room.
The Parish Council having assessed the alternatives should decide whether it wishes to be involved in the provision of broadband to meet residents needs or whether it would be better to await the advent of improved mobile technology. Investment now in fibre-optics or satellite link could result in much expensive equipment being made obsolete if the 4G mobile technology fulfils its promise.
Lincolnshire County Council has started a new website known as "On Lincolnshire".This allows residents and businesses to register their interest. However, No note on the Lincolnshire County Council website
Based on the number of registrations per parish LCC will decide which areas to prioritise when the time comes to instruct chosen contractors to begin the necessary works to install Fibre Optic Cabling
Advised that the Government have provided £10 million to LCC to provide a network of hi-speed broadband across Lincolnshire. District by district It is suggested that the parish council should assume that BT, even with extra funding from government will not roll out what is called "BT Infinity" to rural areas any time soon.
Unlikely that fibre-optic cabling will be provided to all houses in Lincolnshire
More likely that there will be a network of hi-speed fibre optic lines to all main villages Sutton St Edmund need to be included in this list
In South Holland District Council, the responsible officer is Nigel Birch and at the end of April he was emailed and asked
• Is South Holland LBP approved
• in production or
• not started?
Experience in other parishes suggests that if it is not yet approved the provision of broadband in these rural communities will take at least 18 months. Can residents wait this long/
We need to decide if our community can wait this long
While such efforts are welcome, a centralised approach will set priorities, and these will almost certainly leave rural villages and the needs of their residents at the end of the queue.
High speed broadband is rapidly coming to be seen as a normal utility for a home, alongside, water, sewage and electricity, but opinion is divided between those that consider that this further utility should be provided as a matter of course, by the council, and those who consider that this is a matter of personal choice for each resident and the parish council should stay away both from direct provision itself or through a contractor, or even facilitating the choice by each resident; providing advice with regard to alternatives and making recommendations.
This is the first decision that the parish council has to make - whether to be a provider or facilitator or stand back and allow consumers to use the market place to provide what the resident needs.
Sutton St Edmund is a small village that lies in the South of the County in the midst of the Lincolnshire Fens.