Thursday, 30 September 2010

Superfast Broadband for Cornwall - yay! (Treating councillors like mushrooms - boo!)

I am indebted to Matthew Clarke who has provided recordings from the press announcement of super fast broadband for Cornwall earlier today.

You would have thought that, as we are asked to be ambassadors for the scheme, Cornwall councillors would have been given a full briefing on the deal. Unfortunately not. We had a chance to learn more at a meeting of East Cornwall councillors earlier in the week, but the officer pulled out citing an embargo on any details. The only notice we had was a perfunctory note sent out late last night from the Leader of the Council giving no details whatsoever.

Richard Glover of the Chamber of Commerce made it clear this morning that his members have been given the full details of the scheme - yet elected councillors are once again treated like mushrooms.

I asked the Leader of the Council for details of the scheme or a full briefing yet have not had the courtesy of an acknowledgement or a reply. Cllr Robertson was perhaps too busy parading in front of the world's media.

As for the details of the scheme, it should be fantastic news for businesses in Cornwall. They will get access to 100mb superfast fibre-optic broadband. The Chief Executive of BT has made it clear that they will not be holding a monopoly on provision and so competition should ensure that the packages are affordable - but we could do with a bit more detail on this.

I have a few more concerns about the access for residents and private customers - concerns which I would have hoped could have been assuaged in the missing briefing.

Specifically, I am concerned about whether there will be decent access for all residents. BT has said that about 85% of residents will have access to fibre-optic broadband direct to their home or to the local junction box. If it is the latter, what speeds will actually be achieved? We have all seen the reports by Which? that make it clear that 'up to' figures are often totally unrealistic. So for those residents who will have to reply on copper wire for the final stage of the broadband link, what speeds can they realistically expect?

And what about the 15% of residents who won't be connected to the fibre-optic network, either directly or indirectly? Previously, it was promised that they would have access to similar service levels via satellite broadband or similar. Is that still going ahead, when and how?

I have heard that access for residents will depend on local businesses taking up the offer to be connected. Is that ture? And if it is, what about those people who live in areas where there are no local businesses or where local businesses don't want super fast broadband. Will these residents still be able to benefit?

With 130,000km of cable to be laid, can BT say what sort of disruption this will cause in terms of digging up roads?

And finally. In the past it was promised that superfast broadband would roll out from the East of Cornwall. Yet this was not mentioned today and the press conference was held in Newquay. So has this plan been abandoned? At the press conference it was said that there were engineers working on the project already and the press release says that the first connections will be made by early next year - so why have they not told us where this will be?

None of these comments should be taken as questioning the nature of the project itself. I think it is very good news and it was initiated by the previous Lib Dem led County Council. But instead of writing a purely good news story, I have had to write one which has so many questions simply because, yet again, the Cabinet has chosen to ignore local elected members.

(Incidentally, whilst no councillors broke the 11am embargo on the partnership with BT, it appears that the BBC did and the Cornish Guardian managed to have all the details in their on-line report whilst they skirted round the embargo issue. I'm sure that there's a lesson in there somewhere.)

No comments: