When the Race to Infinity – for faster Internet access speeds – was decidedly won by Whitchurch last year, the roll-out date for the fibre optic system was pencilled in for the first part of 2012 or even possibly December 2011 but “subject to survey”.
In December, after a meeting with BT OpenReach, we reported that they told us orders for the service could be taken as soon as late January. Then, as we reported on the 2nd of this month, a hiccup: works being carried out by Hampshire County Council might lead to a delay of the installation.
Shortly after, as we reported on Valentine’s Day, the roll-out date was set for mid-April.
The faster internet equipment is actually installed in the Andover Telephone Exchange, not the Whitchurch Exchange. Thus, a fibre optic cable which carries the faster internet connection must be installed between the two towns. It appears that the installation of this link, or spine, may be the cause of the roll-out being in mid-April instead of sooner.
BT OpenReach said in late January 2012, “Our local deployment teams are getting concerned about the Highways Agency and the Council and the impact on the construction of our Fibre Spine.”
Their concern was about installation work along the B3400 that might be delayed due to other developments going on, in particular the extra vehicles using the route due to the demolition of the railway bridge on Newbury Street.
BT MUST ‘SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE’
Hampshire County Council Cllr Thacker investigated and reported back to the Whitchurch Town Council.
Cllr Thacker’s report stated, “BT Openreach have been aware of the Network Rail works for at least six months and both the new roundabout and SGN [Southern Gas Networks] works near Andover were planned and discussed well before BT Openreach approached Hampshire County Council with their plans for work along the B3400.”
He continued, “BT Openreach approached Hampshire as late as 17 January 2012 regarding their spine works along the B3400. This was the first time Hampshire County Council were aware of their proposed works despite regular roadwork coordination meetings which BT attend.”
His report also said, “BT Openreach were asked to try to undertake any works at either the Whitchurch or Andover ends of the B3400 before the SGN works and the Network Rail works started on the 30 January. In fact, early start permits were provided for such works and BT Openreach agreed to try to complete them by the weekend of the 27 January.”
Cllr Thacker concluded, “The County Council has required BT to develop a plan to significantly improve their performance. The County Council will be closely monitoring BT Openreach work to ensure that improvements are made to the quality of their work and to ensure that damage to the highway asset is minimised.”
CHALLENGING TO DELIVER
The town website contacted BT OpenReach and put the statements by Cllr Thacker to them. They have so far refused to make any public comment on them, but did indicate that they were confident they could make the first connections in April.
When pressed for an explanation for the delay to mid-April for the roll-out, a representative in the BT Group Strategy, Policy & Portfolio team said, “The Race to Infinity exchanges are all very challenging to deliver, and Whitchurch has a very long spine that is taking longer to deliver than expected.”
He continued, “We have been delighted by the fantastic support we have received from your local authority in terms of facilitating Traffic Management etc, but you don’t know what you will find (e.g. in terms of blocked / broken ducts) until the work starts.”
This is a follow-up to our article from 2 February 2012: Is there a Broadband Hiccup?