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Bereft Bennetts Field Businesses Battle Broadband Bosses

Wednesday 26 August 2015, 16:14
By John Smith

The meeting brokered by WincantonChamber, between Bennetts Field business reps and broadband rollout admins

On the back of growing frustrations over the lack of adequate broadband on Bennett’s Field Industrial Estate, and the discovery that it was being omitted from the current upgrade programme, Wincanton Chamber brokered a face to face meeting with Paul Coles, BT Southwest Partnership Director, and Matthew Ballard of Somerset County Council (representing Connecting Devon and Somerset), to see if an acceptable solution could be agreed.

There was good representation from the Bennett’s Field Businesses, and local Councillors, eager to support the Bennett’s Field business community. Unfortunately, despite ongoing pressure from Wincanton Chamber, backed by Town and District Councils, and David Warburton MP, Connecting Devon and Somerset confirmed that the Bennett’s Field cabinet won’t be upgraded in this phase of the programme. It’s possible that the upgrade may be part of phase two, but details including time-frame have yet to be finalised. However, there were some positives to be taken from the meeting.

Paul Coles stated that because this cabinet has only 37 lines, a much lower density than the others around town, upgrading it is not good value for money in this first phase. However, it is possible for the affected businesses to jointly fund the upgrade, and to that end Paul said that BT would provide a full costing so they can decide if it's worthwhile.

Paul emphasised that even if the Bennett's Field cabinet was upgraded it may not bring sufficient benefit to all the businesses. This fibre upgrade is common to residents and businesses alike, providing them with a significant bandwidth increase when compared to ADSL. But some businesses need to share their connection with many computers, and upload much more data than the average home user, and in those case even the upgrade might not be enough.

Connecting Devon & Somerset fibre rollout map, as of 28th August 2015
The Connecting Devon & Somerset fibre rollout map, as of 28th August 2015 - click for wider view and key

Internet-dependent businesses could consider leased lines which provide a great deal more bandwidth than even fibre. Unfortunately these lines come at a heavy cost, up to several thousands of pounds per year, and so some might still need to consider sharing a line with neighbours. Leased lines also come with the added benefit of an improved service contract. BT's standard service contract for normal lines allows for four days to diagnose a fault and respond to the customer; a tricky fix potentially taking longer. Leased lines have a much higher priority, four hour service.

So the Bennett's Field business community now has to decide which option suites their needs best.

  1. Wait for the eventual upgrade of their cabinet in phase two.
  2. Club together to jointly fund the cabinet upgrade.
  3. Individual businesses could lease a dedicated line.

At the very least we should acknowledge that the current upgrade work is a major bonus for the majority of Wincanton. The Wincanton Chamber will continue to press for a more acceptable solution and is grateful for the support and encouragement of the Bennett’s Field businesses.


Posts: 1
Broadband in Wincanton and Villages
Reply #1 on : Thu August 27, 2015, 14:33:20
This unfortunate outcome emphasises all that is wrong with this supposed roll-out. It has been misconceived from the outset. Fast broadband should be regarded as part of the essential national infrastructure, not as a means for a company to profit only from high capacity locations, and to disregard those places where a profit is unlikely. A suggestion that self financing to the order of thousands of pounds is a possible solution is outrageous. Again, rural areas suffer while our cities gain every latest benefit because more people will pay. We can afford HS2 but not reliable broadband for all. How does this help businesses to be competitive in the global market?
Posts: 2
Re: Bereft Bennetts Field Businesses Battle Broadband Bosses
Reply #2 on : Thu August 27, 2015, 16:20:48
I agree in general, but isn't it a bit unfair to simply blame BT? While it's less than ideal, until the national comms network is owned and operated by the government we can only expect the network to develop at the whim of the company who owns it.

Add to that the simple fact that our government hasn't paid enough to stretch BT's own plans to cover the entire country fairly and squarely, it hardly comes as a surprise that the rollout isn't a proper national effort, or that it's being administered under the premise that if we can't connect everybody, we should at least connect as many as we can.

On the basis that we want to stretch the allocated funding to connect as many people as physically possible, it seems to me that the choice we have here in Wincanton is that we have *some* fibre, or no fibre at all till next year.

I can only imagine that, given the same funding (which I tend to agree ought ot be significantly increased as part of the national plan), if they had upgraded Bennetts Field they'd surely also have upgraded all the other low-density cabinets between here and Bristol. In that situation we'd all still be waiting, and industrial estates further west would become even more compelling options for our businesses to consider moving to.

And then there's the long-game. I've read that BT are currently testing 5G (we haven't even got a taste of 4G yet), and the speeds they're getting wirelessly in London with that technology represent a *much* bigger improvement than we're seeing with the move from ADSL to fibre. If we're headed towards hundreds of megabits per second *wirelessly*, I can imagine the bosses at BT are thinking maybe this fibre cable rollout isn't really a good investment at all.

If BT get 5G rolling, and successfully acquire EE's wireless network, we might not need fibre much longer! It's surely easier to roll out a 100% wireless network to the whole country than to run cables everywhere. Maybe I'm wrong and we'll never be dependent on a wireless network, but it feels a little inevitable. I'd rather not dilly-dally with "narrowband" if in the long-run we can jump a few generations and save ourselves a packet in the process.
Posts: 2
@Sarah Sadler on Facebook
Reply #3 on : Sun August 30, 2015, 17:06:22
I don't disagree, Sarah. I've considered the alternatives. I suppose what I mean to say is that it's one thing to become upset about the way things are rolling out, and quite another to see both, or several possiblities and the exclaim that it's unfortunate [for me] that they've done it the way they have. Ultimately it seems like perfectly viable alternmatives, and given the money available they've decided to persue the most profitable rollout (good for more consumers as well as BT's bottom line).

It could be that BT have made that decision and it isn't appreciated by Connecting Devon and Somerset. Government could well have stipulated conditions, that priority be given to business rather than simply line density. Maybe they had that in mind but didn't communicate it properly. Who knows?

Either way, they're alternatives rather than mistakes. It's just a bit unfortunate that some businesses in town will have to wait a little longer.

I'm also keeping in mind that people are constantly pointing out to me that there are a great deal more businesses in town than meets the eye. More than those that are on the High Street and the trading estates. If the Bennetts Field cabinet was upgraded it could have been at the cost of a high-density, likely residential cabinent - in Wincanton or elsewhere - and that could have deprived a great many more businesses who are also dependent on their net connection. In the interests of full disclosure, I'm a web developer in Wincanton and I value the upload speed of my connection which I look forward to upgrading now.

Of course there are more people employed on the trading estate than are represented by the number of lines in that cabinet. So I suppose you can still argue that basing the decision entirely on the number of lines on that cabinet is a little too simple an approach. Perhaps the counter argument is that if we expect BT/CDS to do all the additional research before rolling out in a given area, the whole process would take even longer still, and cost more. Speculation, of course.

The bottom line is that I take your point, I don't disagree, I just see many sides, many alternatives, and quite honestly, and perhaps cynically, I wouldn't have expected this rollout to happen any other way.

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