Everleigh’s Communications Network

A copy of a letter to Everleigh resident’s from Kim Wheeler-Mallows, Everleigh Parish Council on the subject of The Everleigh Communications Network (or lack of it!)

 

We choose to live in Everleigh, and we therefore accept its limited resources, facilities, and infrastructure.  You will know from ‘The Courier’, parish notices and word of mouth that for some time Everleigh Parish Council (EPC) has worked to improve things, for example the bus service, but often the outcome is beyond our control.  We are fortunate that electrical distribution has seemingly improved over the past few years, and we suffer fewer power cuts than previously.  We have made progress with improvements to the roads infrastructure, and Wiltshire Council assures us that more resurfacing is scheduled on the A342 near St Peter’s church and Lower Everleigh.  However, the telephone service remains inadequate and extremely vulnerable, and this was most evident on Saturday, 11th January when the lines were cut on Chick’s Lane, until they were restored on Tuesday, 14th January.

 

Whether you are a householder or business user, or someone who dislikes or embraces technology, in Everleigh virtually every one of us[1] depends on the telephone service delivered from the exchange in Collingbourne Ducis.  It is nearly five miles away, it is a 100-pair line (theoretically enough for 100 telephones) and it is mostly underground to the telephone cabinets on Marlborough Road, opposite the Manor East Gates.  There are approximately 90 households here, but some have three or more telephone lines for personal, business, security, safety or dedicated internet use.  If you have a land-line, regardless of whether you are a BT customer or with another ‘communications provider’ (CP) e.g. Plus Net, then it is delivered to you by Openreach (or BT Wholesale).  Openreach are a BT company, responsible for providing the copper wires connecting homes and businesses to the local telephone exchange.  However, BT is under remit only to provide a telephone service – they are not contracted to provide phone services and broadband or data access.

 

This is where Everleigh’s problem lies.  Because every one of the hundred lines is used, there is insufficient capacity and no inherent redundancy.  When a telephone line breaks or fails, caused perhaps by swinging overhead cabling, with an ingress of water, then Openreach cannot pick up a redundant spare pair (line) and use that instead.  That is why a large proportion[2] of residents are on shared or party lines (some, probably without knowing it) and this precludes them from receiving broadband internet.  Others, especially in Lower Everleigh, cannot receive a mobile signal at all, and there are no alternatives, such as cable or fibre-optic, and satellite is weather-dependent.

 

Everleigh is unique – it depends on a device called a ‘concentrator’ – which sits in the cabinet on Marlborough Road.  This device is necessary to convert analogue signal into a digital one, necessary for broadband.  It is an antiquated piece of technology, and there are reputed to be fewer than three in existence in England and Scotland!  BT has pledged to get rid of them all, but not yet ours.  Add to that, those households that are connected to a device known as DACS (Digital Access Carrier System), necessary for party lines, and it becomes impossible for those on party lines to receive broadband.

 

So, what of the future?  As if it’s readily available to everyone, we all tire of hearing about superfast broadband.  In Everleigh we don’t even have a reliable telephone service, and not everyone can receive broadband.  In the twenty-first century this is unacceptable – not only is online shopping important to some, but children cannot complete their homework and others cannot submit mandatory forms, such as tax returns.  The government has made an undertaking to provide 95% of the population with superfast broadband by 2017[3].  Everleigh falls into the category of the minority (the rural forgotten) who should receive ‘basic fast broadband’[4] in the same timeframe.  To complicate matters, there is no financial benefit or incentive to replace our decrepit telephone infrastructure, nor any competition from providers other than BT / Openreach.

 

Following a High Level Complaint (their terminology) to Olivia Garfield, the Chief Executive of Openreach, I have been given an assurance from BT (the CP) that Openreach are preparing to replace the underground cabling from the exchange to Everleigh.  If this happens, it is fair to assume that it will improve the connectivity, whilst increasing the number of available lines.  Without similar investment in the exchange there is no certainty that it will make much difference to the download speeds or availability of broadband internet.  Replacement of the relatively short-distance overhead lines in Everleigh itself, and at comparatively little cost, would at least provide all the necessary dedicated individual lines, and do away with party or shared lines.  However, BT are stating that this also depends on negotiation for access and permission to dig (the granting of wayleaves) from Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) (formerly Defence Estates (DE)) for the MOD training area.  They acknowledge tacit agreement with DIO, but on 28th October 2013 I was told by BT, “…….They’ve agreed this in principle and we are now discussing with them the finer points of the agreement.  Once this is reached, we can progress the work within the planning teams and implement our solution.  I should however stress that this is complex work and is likely to take several months to complete.”  Separately, DIO gave me an assurance that they had no objection in principle to Openreach crossing the MOD land.  Whilst I remain optimistic that this will happen, we were in a similar position a few years ago when DE dithered, and Openreach spent the money allocated to Everleigh’s task elsewhere!

 

You will appreciate that this is not a simple problem, and EPC has been on the case for more than two years.  Former Royal Signals officer, Tom Crapper, previously worked hard on it, and County Councillor Charles Howard has given his complete support to finding a solution, within the Wiltshire county framework as decided by local government, in line with the aims and spending of central government.  We have engaged with our MP, Claire Perry; the Prime Minister (subsequently referred to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport); the BBC (various); Ed Vaisey MP (minister, tasked with future provision of broadband); ‘The Times’ newspaper; Openreach and BT.  Chairman of EPC, Sally Matton, has even appeared in front of the camera on the BBC ‘South Today’ programme.

 

Having explained the situation to you, the best way forward is with the combined effort and support of all Everleigh householders.  On behalf of EPC, I encourage everyone to persist by complaining (and recording) all details[5] of any failure to deliver the service for-which you pay.  I am happy to receive such information in order to collate it centrally[6].  Also, it is important to continue pursuing any contact who might bring pressure to bear on our case for improved telephony and broadband.

 

If anyone needs it, I am quite willing to offer opinion or advice, and share with you some of the content or contact details of those with whom I have engaged.  I don’t pretend to know much about technology, but like it or loath it, we cannot live without it.  The argument is not so much about those who have[7], but those who do not – and we deserve better.



[1] Some Everleigh residents are known to have given up land-lines in favour of mobile or satellite alternatives

[2] Previously estimated as up to 50%

[3] Subsequently amended to 99% by 2018.  Originally set as by 2015.

[4] Superfast is defined as 24Mbps; Fast is defined as better than 2.0Mbps – both on fixed, not mobile communications

[5] As an example, on 25th September last year there were five Openreach vans in Everleigh at the same time.  Not one was looking at the loss of a line in Lower Everleigh, which had been off for nine days, after Openreach denied the phone line even existed when they had visited the house!

[6] It would not be shared without the explicit permission of the telephone account holder

[7] Typically, download speeds in Everleigh are as low as 0.3Mbps

 

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