Residents of three small rural villages in the borough of Darlington (Durham, England) have been left upset after the local council pulled £50K of public investment to help roll-out faster “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services to the area, which is partly due to Openreach trebling their quote for the work.
The villages of Summerhouse, Redworth and Killerby (circled – top right) in West Darlington are all small and remote rural communities, with each being home to populations of approximately 143, 190 and 100 respectively. Initially the Darlington council had set aside £50,000 to help upgrade the villages and this was due to be matched by public investment from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.
Unfortunately that commitment was removed after long-running negotiations with Openreach (BT) ended in August 2016 without agreement, which is partly because the telecoms giant had trebled the deployment estimate from £100,000 (original) to £300,000. On top of that the local council’s Director of Economic Growth, Ian Williams, also confirmed that “austerity and significant budget cuts” had played their part.
However nobody saw fit to tell the local residents of this outcome until last month.
Yvonne Stonehouse, Chair of Summerhouse Parish Council, said (Northern Echo):
“People are really upset about it because a lot of people have businesses and it was a promise that’s been broken.
People have got youngsters who need to do homework, people are doing university degrees – they’re having to go into town to access the internet and it’s unacceptable.
People are going to move out of the villages because they can’t work like that and children can’t do homework online. We’re just six miles out of Darlington and we can’t get any internet. You can see people trying to get signal on their phones on the green outside.”
At this point it’s worth nothing that Durham has already delivered around 95% coverage of fixed line “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) networks and the Digital Durham project is currently working to reach an additional 29,000 premises or 97% coverage by December 2018. The local coverage in Darlington is also at a similarly strong level.
In many ways the situation in Darlington could thus be seen as an example of an issue that will become increasingly common as the national BDUK programme gradually reaches towards its current end goal of 97% fixed line superfast broadband coverage by 2020. Tackling those final few % will become disproportionally expensive for operators like BT, with tiny populations making it very difficult to build a viable economic model.
However it’s still possible that the related Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), which covers Darlington, may separately be able to extend their latest “fibre broadband” expansion and call on devolution linked investment to help bring faster speeds to the village (details). A roll-out plan for the area is currently being developed and so we should have an answer on that soon.
Failing that it’s possible that alternative network providers or the forthcoming 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) may be able to provide another lifeline to the remote communities but for now the locals will have to stomach slow ADSL. The original story did not include a comment from Openreach and so we have put in a request.