Category Archives: Communications

Broadband

Well at last it seems to be official that Fibre-optic Broadband (FTTP) is finally coming to the valley.

It’s been a long and somewhat tortuous process but we’ve got there! However this news comes with a ‘Valley Health Warning’, it’s not ALL of the valley that will benefit. In their infinite wisdom OpenReach and/or Welsh Government – they both appear to blame the other – have decided that the top third of the valley isn’t worthy enough to join the 21st Century.

Yes, you read that correctly. From Ty Hir on upwards there will be no FTTP, just the current expensive satellite!

One of the reasons for setting up the CIC in the first place was to lobby for better connection. We went through a number of alternative technology companies, all of whom disappeared without trace having seen the difficulty of the topography of the valley, and all who said that full fibre was the only answer.

I’m very pleased that our constant nagging at OpenReach and others has had success, but i’m really upset that they have decided to create a two-tier valley when it must surely only cost a fraction more to run the cables another mile or so.

We haven’t given up and negotiations will continue, but at the moment it’s not looking too good.

I’m not bitter! Oh go on, yes I AM!

Listed!!

We have just heard from CADW, that our wonderfully unusual grey telephone box at the entrance to the valley has been given Grade II Listed status!!

Many a resident has given direction to their house as “keep straight on at the grey telephone box” and the thought of BT painting it red or, heaven forbid, taking it away altogether wasn’t worth thinking about.

Some years ago BT removed the red box opposite Coed Dias, without so much as asking us. For some reason they decided that it was in Monmouthshire and so consulted the wrong Council, who obviously weren’t concerned.

Then they tried to paint it red and we managed to stop that and gave it a coat of (BT supplied) Battleship Grey. {BTW Residents, it is going to need to be done again this Spring}

Fast forward to August 2020, and undercover of COVID lockdowns, a little notice appeared inside the box – subtle – which our very own Vicky Jones spotted with her eagle eye. They were going to remove our iconic box! We contacted BT as we were under the impression that it was already Listed, but apparently not.

So we ‘mobilised the troops’ and bombarded Monmouthshire CC , whose final decision it was, with pleas to maintain the box. Our argument obviously held sway – that it is the only emergency telephone in the whole area – and we learned that it had been reprieved – for now!

Whilst residents were writing to the Council, Vicky and I were busy pestering CADW (the Welsh ancient monuments organisation) to get a full Listing. The National Park weighed in by getting it included on the regional Historic Environment Record. Things were looking up. Thanks Alice.

On 31st December we heard that it had been “recommended for Grade II listing” What a way to end a horrible year!

Then on February 1st we received the official notification that ‘our box’ is a Listed Building, and so is saved for the nation and posterity!

Perseverance pays off!

Why grey? Well many years back it was decided that telephone boxes in places like National Parks should be less obtrusive in the landscape and so many were painted grey. One in the next valley, at Capel y Ffin was also grey, but has now reverted to red. BT have tried on many occasions to re-red ours, but thanks to local vigilance from people like the late Lord Crickhowell, who lived just opposite, the grey was preserved, so we are just making formal what we have known all along – grey boxes for National Parks.

Footnote: Just as I finished writing this blog, I received an e-mail from my contact at BT Payphones with this:

I’ve been preparing some material for a possible press release about phone boxes in general and I came across an extract from a 1935 or 1936 letter from the designer of the traditional phone box (Sir Giles Gilbert Scott) to the Postmaster General:

“I do feel very strongly that the rural kiosk should not be bright red. I am more convinced than ever that bright red kiosks in an old village street or a village green will be an abomination. Red looks well in the busy streets of a city with coloured motor buses and coloured signs of all kinds but the English Rural atmosphere is entirely different, it is essentially quiet in tone and peaceful and bright red kiosks will jar the nerves of all who love rural England.”

The designer’s preferred colour was grey and I’m sure he would have held the similar views about boxes in Wales!

Maybe his spirit lives on near you!

Broadband – how long is a piece of fibre?

Since I last updated the Broadband section of this blog in October 2018, a lot has happened – well, actually being honest a lot has NOT happened.

Openreach or how not to Reach into the Open

The Openreach Community idea looked a really good way of getting fibre to our properties, so I sat down with all the local info I could gather and amassed a list of some 37 telephone lines in and around the valley, all served from the same green box at Stanton.

I sat back and waited, then in the middle of December I got an e-mail!  Speedy stuff Broadband! it said

Option 1 Core community –33 Premises
Initial Estimate – £163,434.00/ £4,952.55 per premise

Having picked myself up off the floor I commenced a series of telephone conversations to find a more sensible figure.  After all the likelihood of all 37 phone line owners (or 33 if you use their figures) agreeing to divvy up the £163,434 was pretty remote and so the actual per interested property would be significantly higher.

Various grants were mentioned but even they would only go so far as to reduce the per property amount by about £1000 each.

So, back to my Openreach contact and I’m still waiting for a revised version.  Apparently they have been surveying the area to arrive at a different solution.

We wait without holding our breath!

Political assistance

Our local Assembly Member on the Powys side (how annoying the county boundary can be!) is Kirsty Williams (who also happens to be Welsh Minister in charge of Education – so she’s at the ‘top table”).  With so many communities in her patch all suffering from the lack of BB, she organised a meeting in Talgarth with the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters.  Apparently BB is his responsibility – one would have thought something as important as BB would warrant a full Minister, not a Deputy, but apparently BB isn’t ‘devolved’ so doesn’t have a Welsh Government (WG) budget directly.

Apparently he has just let £22m in contracts to BT and Openreach to fix a number of what used to be known as ‘Not Spots” , now apparently ‘NGA White areas’.  This sounded a lot, until he explained that WG had allocated £80m.  Therefore they still have £58m sloshing around that they could easily allocate to communities like ours to purchase our system from Openreach as above – I said, a few times!  Needless to say it’s not that easy – procurement policies and state aid rules prohibit certain things and are good to hide behind – I know I’ve done it!

Also present were two senior people from Openreach, who are responsible for putting up the fibre cables.  One said nothing at all apart from his name, the other did respond to criticism but mainly in the way of “I’ll find out and get back to you.”

A very valid point was made by a gent from Kington who pointed out that the residents of say Cardiff had all this stuff landed on their doorsteps for free, without asking and without spending hours and hours trying to get something done.  It doesn’t seem fair that we should be left to moulder (or pay extortionate satellite charges) just because we live in the countryside – where in fact there is a greater social need for good connections.

Final member of the ‘top table’ was Viv Collins who is the Civil Servant in charge of the Superfast Cymru programme.

Having put our situation quite strongly during the meeting – tried every alternative solution currently on the market, but the topography of the valley doesn’t suit any of them; ridiculous quote from Openreach etc.  – I managed to get a word with Viv Collins at the end of the meeting. She suggested that she should get one of her team to visit the valley to understand the problems.

Again we wait without holding breath.

Ian Mabberley

11-6-2019

Latest on Broadband

Following a chance encounter with a couple of Openreach technicians outside the house recently, who said they were upgrading the current copper wire system (!!).  I Tweeted my incredulity and almost by return received a note about a “Joint Funding Scheme for Communities”.

I’ve now completed this as best I can and have include 37 properties in and around the valley (including an interesting 23 Business lines).

The form went back to Openreach on Monday and now we await their calculations as to the potential costs.

Watch this space!!

 

Chance meeting

By chance, CIC IT Director Ian Mitchell was returning from a business trip to London when he realised that the person sitting opposite him on the train was our new MP Chris Davies.  Never one to miss a chance to press his case, Ian engaged Chris in conversation and explained about the problems we are having getting suitable communications, particularly Broadband, in the valley.

Chris said that he understood the frustration of being part of the very small percentage of the population which doesn’t look like getting high speed Broadband and promised to do what he could to find a solution.

We realise that as a new MP he will have a huge amount of requests like this ‘on his plate’, but we hope that this personal face to face request for help will not be ignored!