H&F still in the slow lane for Superfast Broadband

Last year I wrote about how 6,600 homes in Hammersmith and Fulham were denied Superfast Broadband (defined as a minimum speed of 30 Megabits per second).  The problem at the time was a petty dispute between the Council and BT Openreach over the correct amount to charge for the street works for cabling for the fibre broadband to the new Cabinets. That has now been resolved. Yet there remains problems in some areas.

For instance Cabinet 50 in Hammersmith (which covers Ravenscourt Place and part of Ravenscourt Road) has still been delayed. This is because it covers a relatively small number of households and so BT estimates it would struggle to recoup the cost from charging for the service (to such firms as Talk Talk and Sky as well as to BT’s own internet division.)

If Virgin had put down cable for their cable TV service that would provide an alternative. But they haven’t – at least not yet. Some streets have both service providing welcome competition. But I’m afraid that there are still too many with neither.

Meanwhile the Council has given contradictory messages about whether it could or would provide a subsidy via Section 106 payment to resolve the matter. But BT Openreach say they couldn’t take the money as it would break EU procurement rules on state aid. It is also rather confusing for the Council to be both demanding an extra charge for road works and then offering a handout to make the figures add up. During all this dithering and buck passing residents have been getting ever more exasperated.

Anyway the good news is that I understand Hammersmith BID, a group representing local businesses, have agreed to pick up the tab – £9,268 – for BT Openreach to go ahead for Cabinet 50. If confirmed it will still take them six months or so to do the work.

The Government have been pushing BT to get on with it. There was a target of 95 per cent of premises to be able to receive Superfast broadband by the end of last year. That was (just) reached. It is due to reach 98 per cent by 2020.  It is expected there will then be a “universal service obligation” so those who still have broadband speeds below 10 Megabits per second will have a “right to request” although if the cost of setting it up is above a certain amount they would have to pay.

One could understand it would be a bit tricky if you lived on the top of a hill in some remote area. But it is exasperating to have this trouble in Hammersmith and Fulham.

The website Think Broadband keeps track of progress by different areas. In Hammersmith and Fulham our Superfast Broadband coverage is 95.2 per cent. That is below the London average of 96.8 per cent.  Consider our neighbouring boroughs. Hounslow is 99.1 per cent. Wandsworth is 98.2 per cent. Kensington and Chelsea is 98.1 per cent. Brent is 98.2 per cent.

Why are thousands more of our households being left behind?

My colleague Cllr Mark Loveday has been pursuing the matter. He has asked for it to be brought before the Finance & Delivery Policy & Accountability Committee again due to the failure to make better progress. I hope that the Council agrees to the request and representatives from BT Openreach and Virgin will attend.



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