Broadband areas left out in the cold

Jamie and Holly Mead trying to do their homework in Drayton
Jamie and Holly Mead trying to do their homework in Drayton

Thousands of homes in the district excluded from access to superfast broadband are campaigning to get their parishes hooked up.

Last week, Leicestershire County Council announced the first 10,000 premises to get superfast fibre broadband as part of its £18.6million Superfast Leicestershire project being delivered by BT.

But an estimated 3,800 properties in south-east Leicestershire are being left out of County Hall’s plans because the local authority says it is too expensive to reach these rural areas. These omitted parishes have joined forces to create the Welland Valley Broadband Group.

Villagers say they are experiencing agonisingly slow internet speeds which takes a particularly hard toll on small businesses and children trying to complete homework.

Average download speeds are about 3Mbps, but for many residents they are as low as 0.5Mbps and speeds vary markedly according to the time of the day and even the weather.

The Welland Valley group’s aim is to establish as large a group of people as possible to lobby the powers-that-be for action. In particular, it wants Leicestershire County Council to recognise that the effectively monopoly status enjoyed by BT will not deliver a superfast service to their area.

Northamptonshire County Council appears to have recognised this and is looking to third parties, and many other councils across the country have recognised where BT cannot deliver and are providing alternative solutions.

Martin Griffin, chairman of the group, said: “Trying to run a business in Horninghold from home with current broadband speeds is impossible. Leicestershire County Council has informed us we can expect some improvement in 2016 – a two-year delay at best is unacceptable.

“As councils now compete for business investment and increased jobs, the situation in rural Harborough is bleak as jobs and investment will be exported to other areas offering very high-speed broadband.”

Sian To, who lives in Slawston and runs her business from home, said: “It’s not good enough that residents find through a web search that their area is not in rollout plans or that provision is subject to extra funding.

“It is causing unnecessary stress and not at all helpful or encouraging for those who work from home.”

Pam Posnett, the Leicestershire County Council cabinet member for broadband, said: “Due to the challenges of bringing [fibre] technology to rural areas and limited funding, there are some communities that are outside of our rollout plan.

“We expect to be able to extend the fibre broadband network to Hallaton and Medbourne as a starting point and we are working hard to secure additional investment through the Government’s Superfast Extension Programme and the Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership to ensure we can increase coverage.

“We will be meeting the Welland Valley Broadband Group next week to discuss the deployment and potential solutions available.”

A spokesman for Harborough Council, which put £500,000 into the scheme, said it will be meeting with the group next week.

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “The Superfast Northamptonshire project is helping to secure broadband solutions in those parts of the county where there are no commercial plans; these are the areas which would not get superfast broadband unless public sector funding is invested to help deliver it.”

Who is left off the list?

The Welland Valley Broadband Group includes Drayton, Horninghold, Blaston, Stockerston, Slawston, Welham, Glooston, Stonton Wyville, Cranoe, Goadby, East Norton, Welham, Tur Langton, Thorpe Langton and Shangton in Leicestershire and Stoke Albany, Dingley, Brampton Ash, Sutton Bassett, Weston by Welland and Ashley in Northants which have the quirk of being in Northants but having a Harborough postcode.