Updated History of Ewhurst Broadband

by Walter Willcox

Around 2004 I became aware of a number of users particularly around Pitch and Holmbury Hills that were either experiencing very poor broadband performance or who had no broadband signal. The numbers grew over time as did our experience as to where the major problem areas were. The usual BT excuse was that the line length to the exchange, which is behind the main Post Office in Cranleigh, was too far. (Note that every Ewhurst line has at least 3.25 km of additional cable length since BT removed Ewhurst’s own exchange in 1982.) It also became apparent that not all long lines were as bad which indicates that the line quality can vary significantly.

After long discussions with various BT departments including their High Level Complaints Department it became clear, at that time, that BT did not have a Fibre-To-The-Cabinet solution available. A holding operation was attempted which demonstrated that BT refused to accept additional money from the residents of Moon Hall & Peaslake Roads to replace their poor lines with new cable over a much shorter route. This has now been attempted three times including indirectly via a parliamentary question, three BBC articles (see below) and a submission to the broadband inquiry undertaken during the last Parliament. BT use the excuse that the line is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so any modifications require an underground solution costing in excess of £85,000. This is along the densely wooded lower section of Peaslake Road which contains two electricity substations, a gas regulator kiosk and a Thames Water process plant. There are also two new but totally unused telephone poles installed after the storm of a few years back.

The following BBC articles were produced to assist in the Ewhurst publicity campaign:

26 May 2009 UK broadband ‘notspots’ revealed
(we feature in the section headed Economics)

27 May 2009 Is your broadband quick enough?

28 May 2009 Fight is on for better broadband

Parliamentary Enquiry

An edited copy of the submission produced for the Parliamentary Enquiry is attached (click here for 3MB PDF). The document was not published by the select committee as it contained copyright material. The synopsis contains the text:

It appears that a nation-wide communications “rail crash” is upon us and which requires similar remedies but will not be rectified by commercially competing interests nor minuscule phone line taxes.

Ewhurst residents then raised a £2,300 fund for Rutland Telecom to provide a feasibility study for us in January 2010. That survey established that:

  1. There are sufficient black (unused) fibre pairs in the existing cable running right through the village.
  2. A Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) solution for all three cabinets is viable, subject to the funding of the capital and installation costs.

However it was clear that a FTTC project was not an economic proposition for either of the major Communications Providers. Whilst some residents around the three cabinets had acceptable speeds then, there were many on longer routes in Somersbury Lane, Horsham Lane, Slythehurst, Lower Breache Road, Plough Lane, Holmbury Road, Peaslake Road, Moon Hall Road, Ryde Way and the Warren, Coneyhurst Lane and Wykehurst Lane, who suffered with poor reliability and speeds.

In Spring 2010 we applied for RDPE (Rural Development Programme for England) grant as no firm would invest the required capital. We had two refusal letters from the BT Group and an e-mail from Virgin Media. BT stated in March 2010 that they had no plans to improve any part of their network in the Ewhurst area nor was the Cranleigh Area scheduled in their next published phases for any BT (FTTC) developments. Virgin media were also not interested in FTTC solutions in Ewhurst.

We spent a significant amount of time preparing our bid which included obtaining quotations from three suppliers as well as satisfying SEEDA that we could provide an unsecured bridging loan for the whole grant amount (receipted invoices are required for Grant payments). Vtesse Networks were the only compliant bid which was included in our final Grant application. We received confirmation that our application for £180,000 had been successful just before Christmas 2010.

However SEEDA, after a delay imposed by BT, announced that our grant had been withdrawn as BT had, under a non disclosure agreement, informed SEEDA that they would after all install their FTTC solution at an undefined future date (Vtesse had proposed a completion date of late Spring 2011). We appealed to SEEDA, DEFRA and our MP; but all to no avail, even though it seems highly irregular that the non-compliant BT proposal could be replaced by a subsequent undefined and inferior BT promise, thus scuppering the fully compliant Vtesse Networks proposal. We now have a BT estimated completion date of March 2012. To date (early February 2012) we have seen the first BT cabinet with a cabled provision of 100 services, located in Cranleigh Road, instead of the proposed three Vtesse cabinets with 1500 services capacity. Given that there are around 1,600 lines provided in the existing three BT Green cabinets, the current BT Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) solution seems to be an unsatisfactory stop-gap solution.

In April 2011 BT inadvertently released their current FTTC database which gave us an opportunity to review Broadband facilities in Surrey and Guildford in particular. As Surrey County Council had started a campaign to provide “Super-fast” (at least 25 Mbps) broadband throughout Surrey, I wrote a paper with a Farncombe resident which we sent to SCC and also provided the data to BDUK, Ofcom, Waverley and Guildford Councils, Jeremy Hunt MP for Waverley and Anne Milton MP for Guildford. We received acknowledgements from SCC but to our knowledge there has been no technical discussion on the paper. The paper includes a number of questions with the major point that there seem to be significantly more premises requiring “Superfast Broadband” than originally envisaged. We have a revised copy of our paper available for further discussion if it is required.

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