BDUK: The answer is to manage expectations with a transparent plan

I am lucky enough to have regular conversations with some great alternative providers working at local level to try and get broadband connectivity to the most rural areas.

This week, for example, I got to speak to Dr Mike Goldsmith, managing director of
VillageBroadband, about the impressive community wireless project he is running in Northamptonshire – you can read more about that programme here.

But along with the exciting and innovative conversations I have, I also get the horror stories and the news from the ground of what small communities are going through on their quest to become connected.

Today one such provider contact pointed me to a story in the Burnley Express entitled ‘Village broadband service not what it seems‘.

A letter from local resident David Parkinson, living in Chatburn, said, as someone who works at an IT business based in the rural location, he and his colleagues were delighted when his village was chosen to be one of the first to get superfast broadband in the Lancashire broadband roll-out.

The work was completed in September 2013 and the local council, alongside BT, is now shouting from the rooftops the doors are open and orders are now being taken for the connections.

However, Mr Parkinson’s business is connected to BT’s exchange directly with an exchange only (EO) line. This means his business is unable to get the new superfast technology from cabinets.

If this was a one off, perhaps it could be forgiven, but Mr Parkinson said the majority of the businesses based in the village have these exchange only lines, leaving those who could arguably benefit most from the faster connectivity missing out.

A number of people have been questioning Lancashire County Council over Twitter about how this happened and how both it and BT were able to celebrate and publicise how super-connected Chatburn was when they hadn’t even come up with a solution to help those with rural enterprises and EO lines.

The council has said it is working on a solution and considering a new cabinet to redirect the EO lines to, but this doesn’t alter the fact Chatburn residents were told they would get their broadband in September 2013, even though those behind the plans knew it didn’t mean all of them.  

It is yet another example of a lack of transparency when it comes to BDUK. They – both BT and the council – knew the EOs were there. They knew they needed to work out an alternative solution to connect those to the faster network. Yet, they still told the village they were getting superfast broadband in September with no caveats.  

I am consistently told by BT spokespeople that they won’t tell us where they are rolling out as plans change and they don’t want to disappoint people, as well as being told people like me – members of the press – will leap on them in 10 seconds flat if they didn’t live up to their promises.

I have consistently replied that transparent plans with honesty about what areas they definitely will cover, where they hope to and the inclusion of caveats, including the likes of EOs, are still a better alternative than saying nothing or giving out tidbits of information.   

In the case of Chatburn, they have fallen into the last category, only revealing half truths about what they are doing, leaving out the killer detail that many will be missing out.

The residents of rural areas in the UK want broadband and, having waited this long, are ok with waiting longer. But what they want is the truth about when they can expect it and, as my provider contact said, a management of expectations, rather than statements that could easily be construed as lies.

I hope Mr Parkinson won’t be waiting too long for his connection and his business doesn’t suffer in the meantime.


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