Most people in Whitchurch are aware of the Big Let Down by BT after the town won the BT Race-to-Infinity that promised faster broadband to everyone.
The dedicated team of Whitchurch volunteers who ran the campaign and all those who helped and supported it are amongst the most upset. They all traipsed through snow and ice over several weeks promoting the ‘Race’ and canvassing for votes.
Many say this was a cynical use of volunteers to run a cheap/free marketing campaign for BT – the campaign team agree.

This has been well-documented.

But Whitchurch is not alone in these issues with BT following the ‘Race’.

Over in Maddingley nr Cambridge almost exactly the same problems have been arising, with BT failing to deliver on their promises.

Today they issued a Press Release. The section emboldened (by this website) seems very apt to Whitchurch.

We reproduce their Press Release here in full.

UPDATE: the local newspaper ‘Cambridge News’ has picked up on the story – see HERE.

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PRESS RELEASE from the campaigners in Madingley

BT Abandons Race to Infinity Winners

It was in October 2010, almost 3 years ago now that BT launched the “Race to Infinity” competition to publicise its superfast broadband service. The usual plan is to roll out faster services to those who already have fast broadband and to leave those struggling with less than 2Mbit/s to wait at the end of the queue.

This time BT was offering something different. If local communities could get enough people to register their interest, then BT would fast track delivery of superfast broadband to March 2012.

The Race to Infinity, as it was called, completed at the end of 2010 with ten winners, one of which was Madingley exchange area, covering the villages of Coton, Madingley, Hardwick and Caldecote and parts of Dry Drayton, just outside the high-tech city of Cambridge. This was a remarkable achievement made possible by a team of activists giving up huge amounts of their time to go door to door canvassing support. The weather was atrocious with sub -zero temperatures and the pens that BT provided in its marketing pack had to be abandoned in favour of pencils because the ink froze!

After the initial euphoria, the residents and businesses of the winning villages looked forward to their new service to be launched in March 2012. Needless to say, the project was delayed, but some customers were connected in the summer and autumn of that year, including those in Coton and parts of Hardwick. However, all work then stopped and only after enquiries from the media were further connections made in the spring of 2013. Not everything went smoothly and while about half of Caldecote was able to order the new service, stories like that of Trish Pritchard (June 1st) were not uncommon:

“We placed our order on 13/4/13 with our final installation booked for 29/4/13. A couple of our neighbours had already had it installed so we were confident there would be no problems. However BTs order system failed and they didn’t carry out the necessary external works so we had to postpone the final installation. This happened twice more until the external works were completed and I had a carrier wire hanging out of my wall. I then expected the final installation to happen quickly but by this stage (early June) BT Openreach had put a freeze on all new installations in the village. I haven’t been able to progress our order further despite it being half finished and having close neighbours who have got the service and it is working for them. I still have the carrier wire hanging out of my front wall.”

So with service available to only about half of Caldecote and half of Hardwick by May 2013, Annette Thorpe, BT Partnership Director for Anglia Region, attended a number of public meetings to explain what was going on. Apparently there was a problem with delivery of fibre by overhead poles and a new technical solution was being designed. This new solution would be ready for delivery within a few weeks.

Apart from the fact that there has been no further progress in the following five months, the excuse about overhead delivery made people suspicious and even angry. Several streets in Caldecote have had many houses enabled, yet about half remain stubbornly on super-slow broadband. This is in spite of the fibre cables already having been laid in the ducts and there being no telegraph pole in sight. (See attached photo.) Whether or not you get Infinity seems to be down to some kind of house number lottery. Even the roads that do have poles have had fibre laid to the foot of each pole, sometimes necessitating the road to be dug up for new ducts to be laid.

The real reason for the delay is becoming clear to everyone.

The technical issues that BT mentions are clearly not the whole story.
The truth is that they have abandoned the people who worked so hard on their behalf and like a builder who doesn’t turn up to finish your extension, they have moved on to the next project. As always, those that already have fast broadband are prioritised to get the early improvements, while those with the slow speeds seem destined to stay there forever. What makes people most angry though is the way they have been lied to throughout the process. People donated a great deal of their time to BT during this competition to make sure their community won (and that BT achieved its publicity aims), and many of them are still without the fibre they worked so hard to get. This is not just about streaming youtube or playing online games.

A local businessman told us,

“We gave up time we should have spent building our business to help BT with this project. On the assumption that BT would deliver, we have invested in Voice Over IP and Cloud Storage, neither of which we can exploit properly with the existing broadband service.”

To make matters worse, the recent BDUK project, as exposed by the recent report, failed to take into account BT’s track record in failing to fulfill its promises and seems to be taking priority over existing commitments.

Contacts:
BT representative for Madingley: annette.thorpe@bt.com
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To contact the Whitchurch Campaign team email : contact@whitchurch.org.uk

Whitchurch articles documenting this saga are at: LIST OF ARTICLES

Comments (4)

  • Herry Lawford

    Despite not being a Whitchurch resident, (though a follower of your excellent website), I was hugely impressed with your well-organised campaign to get Infinity broadband and was very pleased when the town was one of the winners. One never imagined that BT wouldn’t deliver, or would behave so cynically once the race was ‘won’.

    How about a concerted campaign of e-mails and letters addressed to the highest echelons of BT with a press release for the Press, with the object of shaming them into completion? Campaigns of that type by organisations like Avaaz are very successful – though they of course garner the support of millions. But you have a strong local story to tell the news outlets here and one would imagine that significant pressure would be generated.

    Herry Lawford
    Stockbridge, Hants

  • Karen S

    I have complained to ASA, as they quite often rule against companies that run competitions unfairly. I’ll let you know if they decide to pursue it.

  • Sarah Ciccolallo

    Race to Infinity was likely dreamed up by some clever PR agency not only to create awareness and buzz around the new service but, more importantly in my opinion, to establish a positive emotional connection with all those rural BT customers up and down the country who endure substandard broadband speeds.
    Three years later, the campaign has done its job and the risk of upsetting a few locals in the winning villages is surely outweighed by the benefits of any new project they diverted their money on.
    As long as they keep it low profile no-one will ever go and check what happened to the winners of the race.

    For them to keep their promise we should make a lot of noise about this “betrayal” and put them in a position where they could lose the goodwill they have created across the country. Watchdog perhaps?

  • Karen S

    No luck! As the promotion was over 3 months ago, the ASA aren’t interested. As this was always going to take more than 3 months to deliver, BT are off the hook.

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