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West Devon Councillors Criticise CDS Broadband Project and Airband UPDATE2

Friday, Jun 28th, 2024 (9:54 am) - Score 760
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The recent meeting of an overview and scrutiny committee in West Devon (England) saw local councillors, as well as some residents, heap criticism on the state aid supported Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme and contracted UK ISP Airband for being “inefficient and chaotic” in their delivery of faster broadband networks.

Just to recap. The CDS scheme is a local government-led partnership which has spent many years helping to deliver faster broadband infrastructure to areas where the market has failed to invest. The scheme has already helped over 320,000 poorly served premises to access “superfast broadband” speeds (usually defined as 30Mbps+), but it’s also suffered plenty of big bumps and delays along the way (e.g. the scrapping of Gigaclear’s (here) and Truespeed’s (here) contracts, as well as the earlier rejection of BT’s Phase 2 proposal (here)).

The latest criticism, which has been covered by the Bude & Stratton Post, appears to be focused upon CDS’ various contracts with Airband (no other suppliers are named). Airband has already provided a “superfast wireless network” (FWA) to cover more than 11,700 premises in Devon and Somerset through its pre-existing contracts with CDS.

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The provider is currently also delivering full fibre (FTTP) broadband to more than 6,000 premises in Central Devon, North Devon, Torridge and West Devon. On top of that, in 2020 they secured a £25.5m (state aid) Phase 2 contract (here and here) to reach over 40,100 homes and businesses in earmarked areas of Somerset West and Taunton, parts of Sedgemoor, East Devon, as well as areas of Mid Devon, South Hams and Teignbridge. This contract was originally due to complete by the end of 2024, although we haven’t seen any progress updates from CDS on this since last year.

According to the new report, councillors complained that “hundreds of homes and businesses” were being affected by slow broadband speeds and delays in work to install new fibre cables. In other areas, residents say they were having to dig their own trenches to help run the new fibre optic cables (not so easy if you’re disabled or a pensioner), had been suffering from “wifi connections dropping out up to 100 times a day” and it was stated that there had been “technology failures” on 30,000 care devices during the CDS rollout.

Cllr Isabel Saxby (Lab, Bere Ferrers) said:

“People in our area cannot wait till 2027 until technology catches up, if we do not speak up for those people, it will be 2029 or 2032 before they are connected.”

Cllr Neil Jory (Con, Milton Ford), lead member for the economy, said:

“It’s a strategic aim of ours to promote faster broadband, many rural businesses are reliant on it. It’s been a very frustrating exercise, we have pushed really hard but our over-riding impression of CDS is that it is inefficient and chaotic and left us in situation where we are not getting the service we should be receiving.”

Cllr Neil Jory also noted that, at one point, the local authority did have a dedicated “broadband officer” in place who could help related communicates and convene with CDS, as well as Airband. But it was stated that the funding for this position was no longer available, and clearly that hasn’t helped matters.

Sadly, the article doesn’t provide enough context on the complaints, which makes it hard to analyse. For example, it’s not completely clear which gripes may relate to Airband’s FTTP deployments and which are more focused upon their fixed wireless network, as the issues often end up being conflated.

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Similarly, the remarks about WiFi drops probably refer to their fixed wireless network, but then the use of “WiFi” terminology could just as easily reflect issues with a separate / internal home network. As for the talk of needing to dig their own cables, it was unclear whether this was only applicable to specific properties.

The reality is that sometimes houses exist so far from the main road (e.g. farms), where the fibre runes, that it is not always economically viable for an operator to trench all the way out to them without charging hefty fees. This is when it may become cheaper for a homeowner to take the DIY approach, if they’re able. Such issues are often more likely to crop up in remote rural areas.

The article itself doesn’t include a comment from CDS (they didn’t respond) or Airband, although we have shot off our own message to related contacts this morning and hope to receive a reply. The local authority is now said to be in the process of calling on both CDS and Airband to “appear at a future meeting” in order to discuss the issues.

UPDATE 2:46pm

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We’ve had a response from Airband.

A spokesperson for Airband told ISPreview:

“In response to the article, we are investigating to see if there is an increased number of support tickets being raised in the area. As you, and readers will be aware, WiFi complaints can be down to in-home factors beyond our control. But our Customer Support team are on hand to help customers if they are experiencing issues.

We continue to work with the team at Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) to navigate the challenges we, and other providers have faced rolling out better connectivity in the area. In November last year, we won an INCA award for the work carried out in Clovelly which (here), highlights some of the complex environments we are working to connect.”

UPDATE 4:49pm

We’ve also had a comment from CDS, although it most avoids directly answering the concerns that were raised.

A Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) spokesperson told ISPreview:

“CDS has delivered superfast broadband access to more than 325,000 homes and businesses in the region – which is more than any other broadband programme in England.

Investment through the CDS programme is helping to connect some of the most hard-to-reach communities which the commercial market has considered either too difficult or too expensive to build to through their own commercial plans, and public subsidy is needed to provide vital infrastructure.

In West Devon, superfast (30Mbps+) broadband coverage stands at just over 84.5%, of which 64.2% is the result of investment from CDS (or roughly 15,190 premises). This far exceeds the average 33% that Government estimated the public sector would need to fund.

Superfast coverage in West Devon is roughly in line with the 86%(*) UK average for rural areas.”

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
6 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    it’s impressive how different the outcomes between CDS and Superfast Cornwall have been. a testament to how “anyone but Openreach” is not necessarily the best approach.

    Cornwall’s getting more and more Openreach FTTH infill (the 2/3rds that didn’t get it as a direct result of Superfast Cornwall) and yet the mess across the Tamar continues to rumble on.

  2. Avatar photo Jeff says:

    CDS is a disgrace to the areas covered. I know first hand as I am, apparently, covered by the project. Constant letdown, delays, very poor communication and a total lack of oversight over their contracts. If it wasn’t for Starlink I’d still be on sub 4 megabit ADSL. It is only a matter of time before Airband goes under and/or the contracts break down again adding more years of delay. Nobody is held accountable and their failures will continue. Their statement says it all: Ignore, deflect and claim others sucess as their own.

  3. Avatar photo Peter says:

    Well airband started installing fibre in our village in spring 2022 part of which is a CDS contract (Phase F13) and have installed to about 25% of the houses, none of which is lit and haven’t been seen since 2023, a complete joke!

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      But airband are on tv ….

  4. Avatar photo Phil says:

    We’ve been let down by Airband and CDS far too often. Poor customer service and a complete lack of progress, it’s about time they get their house in order.

  5. Avatar photo Matt says:

    As far as I know our property has been part of Airband’s fibre network plan since it’s inception and the original “Go live” date was November 2023, this was then rescheduled to March of this year and then we were told that “Unfortunately, This cluster (NFF10) build, and others, have been put on hold at the moment. This is whilst an internal build review takes place”. I also read that they are “restructuring” and “maximizing current assets”.

    Meanwhile they haven’t updated their website in relation to connections for around a year!

    The whole situation is very frustrating as Airband being holders of the CDS contract in our area but not delivering means that many properties like ours are not likely to have usable broadband any time soon, as the very thing that the CDS and the use of public money was meant to mitigate i.e. the cost of connecting rural properties means other providers are not available.

    If you write to them you get generic responses that fail to provide any answers. I’ve written to my MP about the situation and I would urge others to do the same.

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