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The Curious Broadband Speed Confusion of a Rural Lincolnshire Community

Monday, April 20th, 2015 (9:29 am) - Score 1,472

A tiny rural community called Metheringham Fen in Lincolnshire (England’s East Midlands) has complained that their broadband speeds have actually gotten worse since BT is alleged to have upgraded the local connectivity. The situation has forced some locals to shell out on an expensive and restrictive Satellite solution instead.

The multi-million pound Onlincolnshire project is currently working with BT in order to make superfast broadband (25Mbps+) speeds available to “at least” 88% of all homes and businesses in the county by April 2016, which should benefit around 167,000 premises (note: 90,000 of this have already been completed).

But sometimes it can be difficult to know who will be covered, when and then what kind of speeds a community can actually expect to receive (i.e. some of those in upgraded areas will actually get sub-25Mbps performance). This appears to be part of the problem for Metheringham Fen (here), which is seeing locals complain that the upgrade work appears to have actually made connection speeds worse and suggests that some are now struggling to gain a working connection.

One local campaigner, Tony Higgins, said: “Despite all the hype being spewed out by BT and Lincolnshire County Council over how wonderful they all are in providing super-dooper broadband to the rural communities, they are, in fact, cutting many people off.” But he’s not the only one and the article also highlights some of the issues with using Satellite as a quick-fix for rural connectivity woes, which the Government appears keen to push for the last 1-2% of the county.

Hayley Bryan, Owner of Local Business – Mrs Bee Designs, said:

The satellite internet cost £300 to be installed. It limits how much I can use the internet and how many suppliers I can contact before I use all our allowance up.”

Unfortunately the source article is rather sparse on detail (e.g. it doesn’t say what the before and after speeds were) and BT simply puts the issue down to the fact that people in Metheringham Fen exist at the end of a long copper telephone line, where performance will naturally be at its lowest. A BTOpenreach spokesperson said, “There are no faults with telephone equipment in this area, but the long length of the telephone lines has an impact on the speeds that are available.”

As usual we wanted to know more, but getting to the bottom of what has happened in Metheringham Fen, which incidentally resides a few miles south east of Lincoln, also demonstrates just how tricky it can be for communities to learn whether or not they will even benefit from Broadband Delivery UK projects like the Onlincolnshire scheme.

metheringham fen map

A quick check of the local postcode via the Onlincolnshire site reports that “your post code is covered by the Onlincolnshire project“, although it also gives a caveat that “the premises within the post code span multiple phases; it is therefore not possible to establish the exact plans for your address.” A quick check via the Superfast-Openreach website simply claims to have “no data for your postcode/address.”

A result like that makes it immediately clear that “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) connectivity has not yet been expanded to Metheringham Fen, although the local Metheringham telephone exchange has technically been upgraded to support both (i.e. this seems to benefit the main village, but not the outlying Fen area). Further checks via BT confirm that the Fen area can only get basic ADSL or ADSL2+ connectivity.

The Onlincolnshire website does at least offer a variety of Coverage Maps for the project’s planned roll-out, although the detail is so low and the colouring so vague that it quickly becomes difficult to know whether or not a particular community will benefit. In addition, none of these projects appear able to give a rough summary of estimated speeds post-upgrade. As such it’s easy to see where confusion can arise.

But this still leaves the question of why broadband performance in the Fen has decreased. We suspect that there could be a number of causes, such as uptake of the new connectivity in nearby communities creating a bout of mild network congestion or some of the local cable / connectivity may have been damaged in a less noticeable way (water ingress etc.).

In addition, we’ve also noted how consumers on ADSL2+ connections that exist at the end of very long lines can, counter-intuitively perhaps, sometimes also get slightly slower speeds than if they were still using first generation ADSL (ADSL Max). The Fen area seems so remote as to be lucky to get even 1Mbps. In that case this can sometimes be helped by simply forcing your router to connect via the old ADSL standard instead.

The good news is that Lincolnshire council are currently tendering for a supplier (most likely a BT extension) to help them expand the coverage of superfast broadband to even more areas and we expect to know fairly soon whether or not this will benefit Metheringham Fen.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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