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BT Says Cheltenham School Must Raise GBP21K for Better Broadband

Monday, September 14th, 2015 (3:39 pm) - Score 1,166

The Dunalley Primary School, which alongside some other 35-40 homes in Pittville suffers from only having access to old style ADSL2+ connectivity, has been told by BT that it would need to have a “whip-round” in order to raise the £21,000 needed for an upgrade because it was not “commercially viable“.

A quick check suggests that the School, which educates 400 children, should be able to get broadband download speeds of around 11Mbps (Megabits per second). Admittedly this isn’t as bad as some of the schools that we’ve seen in the past, but it’s still a problem for the size of its user base and one that the Government could also be doing much more to tackle.

Judith Price, Dunalley’s Head Teacher, said (Gloucestershire Echo):

It makes me cross. Why can’t our children have access to the same resources as other children in the town? … Teachers will have prepared lessons using ICT – because it’s an essential teaching tool now, they use it all day every day, but quite often they’ll not be able to use the lesson they’ve prepared because the internet drops out.”

The report notes how a lot of the children that attend Dunalley appear to have better broadband at home, but then they probably don’t have to share a single connection with hundreds of other pupils. Meanwhile a BT spokesperson said that they are “sorry to hear about the issues the school is having and we’re happy to speak to them to see if there is anything we can do to help.”

One short-term possibility might be for the school to consider bonding several ADSL2+ lines together, assuming the local infrastructure would support this, although such an approach can become rather expensive. Meanwhile the Cheltenham MP, Alex Chalk, is continuing to press the commercial providers for a solution.

It’s probably worth noting that the School is actually inside the urban part of Cheltenham and 20 street cabinets in the local area have already been upgraded with “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P), although clearly some areas have been left off the list; not that you’d know it from looking at the Fastershire project’s somewhat ineffective coverage map.

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26 Responses
  1. Steve Jones says:

    Surely this is a matter for public finance. There are commercial solutions from a number of suppliers. Schools pay commercial rates for there other services. It’s unclear if a consumer grade service is the right way to go anyway as, with 400 pupils plus staff needs a contended service might not be the right way to go.

    Looking at where Pitville is (on the edge of Cheltenham), then it might not be in an intervention area.

  2. Contended/low SLA FTTC for a 400 pupil school is crazy. They need a high capacity Ethernet service.

  3. TheManStan says:

    400 is a small school… EoFTTC would suffice… but the cabinet needs to be live first.

    Also, the area quite affluent so it’s not surprising that the children get better speeds at home.

  4. FibreFred says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again schools should have connections akin to businesses, public schools should be funded for a fit for purpose connection. Private schools can fund themselves.

    Trying to use adsl2 like this is crazy anyway

  5. Jonny says:

    If the Gloucestershire Echo article is to be taken at face value then it appears that the school have generally failed to enact a coherent IT policy, and are blaming these failures on BT via the local press.

    We can assume that the £21k figure quoted is a gap fund estimate for an FTTC cabinet upgrade – a product unlikely to be suitable for use by a school of 400 with their sights set on “all of [their] classes should be able to use the internet at the same time”. I would argue that they will be disappointed with an FTTC connection if this is their requirement.

    Reading on we get to, “Lessons have to be timetabled to make sure that not too many people are using it at the same time and even then classes have to move rooms to get better signal.”, pointing towards the internal wireless network not being fit for purpose, which is unrelated to the quality of the WAN.

    Honestly it doesn’t sound like the school is short of cash, but no thought has been applied to how best to utilise new devices within the constraints of the available infrastructure, and it appears teaching staff have ploughed head first into lessons relying on fast Internet connectivity when it seems like it was common knowledge that this wasn’t the case.

    There are workarounds to all these issues – staff-only ADSL connection(s) for preparing lessons, instruction on how to download and embed streaming videos into presentations, caching to minimise the amount of data that needs retrieving from the Internet, multiple load-balanced ADSL connections etc. Unfortunately none of those are as visible as what is probably a vanity project of a keen but ultimately misguided member of teaching staff.

    1. fastman says:

      your assumptions are correct around the cab —

  6. TheFacts says:

    Would someone like to estimate what size connection they would need, with sums.

    1. Gadget says:

      Good result Jonny – I had an initial figure of 100Mbos for Secondary and 10Mbps for Primary Schools in my mind but could find a link.
      Its clear that the School is served of an unenabled PCP, but the overwhelming number of schools go for a leased line connection and not a consumer contended offering – it shouldn’t be the school creating the headline story but, as always, it does sell newspapers.

  7. TheFacts says:

    Virgin Media is close, maybe not close enough.

  8. Tim says:

    Have they actually tried ordering a leased line (EAD)?

    On the OR infrastructure maps the School hasn’t had fibre before but fibre isn’t far away and if it’s just pushing some micro-duct through duct and blowing fibre then it’ll probably no incur excess construction costs.

    The school is on CHELTENHAM PCP 208 which is not FTTC enabled.

    1. I’ve actually contacted Mrs Price and let her know what’s available and you’re right ref BT’s infrastructure maps. Apparently their current DSL is also limited to 2Mbit by their current provider which isn’t going to help much either when the line can support speeds of 11Mbit.

    2. TheFacts says:

      Amazing, who sells 2M?

  9. fastman says:

    fibre past the front door so ead would be cheap — you cannot run a school on a residential broadband connection

    1. TheFacts says:

      What about business FTTC?

  10. fastman says:

    its still a contended service in some form and schools should have a secure connection

    1. TheManStan says:

      EoFTTC (Ethernet over FTTC) has guaranteed connection speeds with burst speeds. So any business supplier with this as a product should be able to provide. A far more reasonable price than a leased line.

      https://www.eclipse.net.uk/news/news/2014/september/introducing-eofttc-to-our-connect-portfolio/

    2. fastman says:

      but cab is not enabled as services only 40 premises so not covered commercially or via BDUk

    3. Telecom engineer says:

      Have not seen the maps but if only 40 premises then I suspect cabinet has a single 100pr feed. This will most probably go back into a more substantial eside cable shared with another cabinet. Provided there is space in the shell, two BT engineers could rearrange that 100pr feed so it loops through an enabled cabinet in a week. Much less than 20K and would improve the viability / income of the existing dslam investment.

      There may be technical reasons (distance, unwillingness to loose pressure in the second segment of the cable) for this case, but it is frustrating to see many examples where basic low cost engineering could enable areas left unviable due to network rearrangement not being considered.

    4. New_Londoner says:

      @Telecom Engineer
      “There may be technical reasons (distance, unwillingness to loose pressure in the second segment of the cable) for this case, but it is frustrating to see many examples where basic low cost engineering could enable areas left unviable due to network rearrangement not being considered.”

      IIRC there may be regulatory reasons too – not sure multiple cabinets can connect to a shared fibre cab. And why bother when the school needs Ethernet to meet its stated requirement? You’d be mad to try to support several hundred simultaneous connections over a single broadband link, and that’s before you consider resilience etc.

  11. Telecom engineer says:

    Really ought to have been a condition of bidding for bduk that firms had to cover schools and other essential public services. The commercial argument is sound but if an area isn’t commercially viable for fttc it is unlikely there is enough capacity (line plant) to bond adsl services to a similar spec without attracting excess construction costs also. Is it fair to expect school budgets to cover this unaided? I think not. The education authority need to step up and bt ought to be including these issues in their future plans to avoid such issues. If fttc dslam isn’t viable an fttp or leased line should be run to public premises.

    Unlike your house, it often isn’t a matter of choice re attendance at local school. When I was a pup we had computers being pushed (sometimes unnecessarily) into every lesson, 5 year olds logic controlling turtles, ceefax downloads, even play with granny’s garden etc.. It was obvious computers were essential for education and future economy. Shared between pupils, with the rediculous size of pages these days, 11meg is insufficient.. This is almost like expecting kids of the 80s to become computer literate by sending bbc micros to schools without electricity or expecting them to use slate and abacus whilst their neighbours have books and scientific calculators.

    1. fastman says:

      that’s why schools used to be on PSN networks and should be on uncontended broadband networks

    2. TheManStan says:

      Wouldn’t it make sense for the schools to be connected to JANET-like network or piggy back onto the existing network?

      The skills and knowledge are their, simply give appropriate funding and allow to expand as appropriate.

    3. Jonny says:

      Janet is for further/higher education institutions and research use. The very rough equivalent for a school would be something like:

      http://swgfl.org.uk/products-services/schools-internet-service/core-services

  12. fastman says:

    the man stan you would think it would be on something like that

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