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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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19 Responses
  1. http://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/?postcode=LN4%203AH

    Tells the story, cabinet covering the Fen postcodes has been enabled, benefiting people in Metheringham, but at more than 5km from cabinet things are not going to get better and ADSL/ADSL2+ was always slow.

    They are lucky if they previously had ADSL working.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Yes that’s how we’d interpret it too. Do you have any actual historic speedtests from the Fen area Andrew? Would be good to see if there’s a record of the change that locals complain about.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Which is where ADSL served from the cabinet would help. Not great, but at 5km there would still be a service. To do it properly (and not use one of those crippled power masks) would involve reworking the ANFP and disabling ADSL access from the exchange that goes via that cabinet which will, of course, not be popular with LLU operators. However, if it could be justified in exceptional areas, it could make a big difference.

      It would also mean that BTO would have to offer a GEA DSL produce at comparable costs to the current BTW exchange ADSL services.

  2. DTMark says:

    If some people had a slow but usable connection and now have nothing, might (increased) cross-talk be responsible?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      As per the article, it doesn’t look as if the cabinet that serves the Fen itself has been upgraded to support FTTC. So crosstalk isn’t going to be their issue, although obviously longer lines = general interference through signal degradation.

    2. TheFacts says:

      Wrong – Address ……., METHERINGHAM FEN, LINCOLN, LN4 3AH on Exchange METHERINGHAM is served by Cabinet 4.

      WBC ADSL 2+ Up to 1

      Fibre Multicast — — — Available

    3. DTMark says:

      I read Andrew’s comment above as “the premises are connected to a cabinet which supplies VDSL”.

      There has been vague talk of peoples ADSL speeds falling as VDSL is enabled, nothing particularly specific, and I wonder if the increased cross-talk in the bundles, bearing in mind these premises are at the end of the “loops” might be responsible for borderline ADSL connections slowing and/or failing completely.

      We’ll be seeing a lot more areas like this (“borderline/out of range for VDSL”) as the BDUK programme progresses. Barely a week goes by without me reading stories like this, most are actually urban, but then they probably would be bearing in mind population sizes.

      Since BT are contracted to supply 2Mbps for everyone in each area, it will be interesting to see what fixed line solution was planned and when it will be deployed. Isn’t it meant to be this year/next? Why the secrecy surrounding these?

    4. Mark Jackson says:

      TheFacts, what checker tells you its “Fibre Multicast”. BT’s checker database says “Copper Multicast”, but in any case there’s still no FTTC available for order.

    5. TheFacts says:


    6. Mark Jackson says:

      LN4 3AA appears to be in the centre of METHERINGHAM proper, not the Fen, and it too does not appear to have FTTC, according to BT’s database. Only ADSL/ADSL2+. Not quite sure what point you’re trying to make?

    7. TheFacts says:

      Above is the location of the FTTC cabinet. Cab 4 has FTTC.

      What database are you looking at?

    8. gerarda says:

      It would tend to make more sense if these people were on an FTTC cabinet, We certainly saw a drop in ADSL speeds after the out of range cabinet serving us was enabled.

    9. Cab 4 does appear to serve that area and is ENABLED, maybe I needed to phrase it simpler in my original post, but as is normal for very long lines to the cabinet Openreach does not even offer FTTC.

      Beyond the fighting and arguing, suspect this is just the usual story of not every one getting faster speeds from VDSL2, but the cabinet is not wasted as plenty seem to be benefiting, i.e. no rule was set that in area that got funding would 100% have to hit the superfast threshold.

      ADSL was so slow to the area that it is not decent, and people in the affected area need to pursue ABInternet who have suggested they cover the area.

    10. MikeW says:

      ADSL suffers from crosstalk too – but at those lower frequencies, it isn’t as much of an effect as on VDSL2. Still, as take-up increases, speeds will slow a little – it just takes years to notice the effect.

      The extra power masks (PSD masks) applied to the FTTC cabinet are designed such that the VDSL2 transmissions from the cab should be the same power as the ADSL signals from the exchange – for overlapping frequencies – to ensure that no additional crosstalk is created.

      The masks are a configurable item, with the shape determined by the electrical distance between cabinet and exchange. If someone mis-configured this parameter in the cabinet, it is plausible that the cabinet transmits at a higher power than is desirable, so extra crosstalk could be happening.

  3. Patrick Cosgrove says:

    I suppose one answer would be for local authorities to make it a Phase 2 contractual condition that BT identifies and then prioritises all communities where Phase 1 has caused speeds to slow. BT probably won’t like that as it will want to prioritise the easiest, cheapest and more densely populated areas, but that’s been the way all through this long and sorry saga.

  4. DTMark says:

    Not sure why anyone would have satellite or ADSL at that location.

    According to the coverage maps, both Vodafone and EE 4G services are available.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      It would be good to know what kind of performance that 4G is delivering to the area as you never can tell for sure from a coverage map. I’m supposedly in an area of good 4G coverage, but in reality the reception is pretty poor (I rarely see the 4G icon pop up) and speeds aren’t much different from a slower 3G HSPA link.

  5. For those suggesting ADSL from a cabinet – it would help but only cut down distance covered marginally.

    Area is in basically middle of nowhere between two exchanges.

    ABInternet shows up as possibly available, so that would be the avenue for people to explore.

    3G/4G looks like an option

    Where as same postcode BT ADSL was only getting

    Time for people to try the 3g/4g routers with a small external antenna maybe.

  6. Steve Bryan says:

    25th June 2015
    Once again everything appears to have been swept under the carpet and covered over with technical terms from parties that cannot or are not prepared to enable broadband connections to Tan Vats at the very far end of Metheringham Fen.
    I turn green with envy every time I see TV ads offering mega speed broadband connections for as little as £10.00 per month when we have to pay out £30.00 per month for a satellite connection that delivers only 10mb per month.
    Broadband was supposed to be for the masses not just the lucky few who live in the cities, towns and villages close to the exchange.

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