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.

What happened?

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.

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.”

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?

Comments (6)

  • climo

    Looks like BT are spineless. How long ago did we ‘win’ this?
    What’s the betting that it’ll be the autumn before all the town is connected.

  • Peter D

    interesting article, thanks again for keeping us informed.

    if they pulled their finger out and had started prior to after the initial 31st December deadline, by now they would know what they have found (e.g. in terms of blocked / broken ducts)….

  • Tavistock Superfast Broadband

    Whitchurch is still in a better position than Tavistock (17th) in the BT Race To Infinity. The largest Telephone Exchange in the highest position. At least you are somewhere, Tavistock is nowhere.

    We are not within the BDUK funding criteria of Connecting Devon & Somerset, the Devon & Somerset Local Broadband Plan. We are on course of being surrounded by superfast broadband, superfast Cornwall is under 3 miles away.

    I know that BT, BT Openreach are doing a great job, the activity in Cornwall and Plymouth can be seen, being held up by rolling fibre optic laying gangs just turns the screw of non-delivery further. Shiny new cabinets ooze smugness. All these things will be seen in Whitchurch long before Tavistock, that is for certain…

  • Steve Wright

    Regardless of the lateness of this service (lets not forget that we’re probably getting it to our rural town early by years still) first thought is resilience.

    I assumed Whitchurch Exchange would have two connections to it (say one to Andover, one to Basingstoke) so that if one went down (errant digger) we’d still have Internet.

    If we’re on a single spine from Andover, do we just hope for the best and rely on documentation of ducts?

    I don’t know BT’s network – perhaps Whitchurch does only have one connection as it is and I’m overly pessimistic…

  • David Paylor

    I live out at Hurstbourne Priors and for about four glorious days I recorded a download speed of >2meg. Now we’re down to <200k average (ie less than half of the poor service we was three months ago). If this is improvement, I live in dread of something going wrong………

  • Peter D

    I see the BT website now has 30-June-2012 as the ‘when you can get it date’ – is there any update to topic from our contacts at BT, what is the latest excuse?!

    (Ed.note: thanks for asking, we forwarded the query to BT. See their response in our latest article http://whitchurch.org.uk/2012/03/faster-broadband-still-starting-mid-april-says-bt/ )

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