Imagine being a prospective home buyer in early 2013. Your looking to buy a house for your young family and based on the financial crisis you have to look towards new build houses just to get onto the housing ladder.
You see a new development on some old council land where the houses are a reasonable price, but there’s two house builders. So, you make your choice based on the quality of the house build, the layout of the house and the value for money of the overall property.
Also, owning a telecoms and IT business, you take into consideration the connectivity speeds available from broadband in the area. Both builders confirmed during initial discussions that there was no Virgin Media in the area and that the local provider was BT. So, based on the fact there was no overriding factor for connectivity from either builder, it was a case of choosing the right house and waiting for Openreach (The national monopoly) to enable our local cabinet for superfast broadband.
We bought our house from the builder of the smaller development in March 2013.
Once you move in, you get your landline connected and you hold your breath once the broadband is live to see what sort of speeds you can achieve based on the quality of the copper of your line and the “indicated speeds” from your provider.
Speeds of less than 2MB download and 0.3MB upload are completely not practical for anything other than basic web browsing these days, so to find out this was the maximum we could get was not the best news I’ve ever heard in my life considering we thought we would get anywhere up to 6MB download on provider estimates.
So imagine in an ever increasing world of online and digital dependence you cannot use your SKY on demand or catch up TV, you can’t Skype your family in Northern Ireland, you can’t download films, you definitely cannot use your Xbox for online gaming or film / TV streaming, you can’t use online WEBEX’s, Microsoft Office 365, IP telephony, remote access to your companies computer systems or a plethora of other services.
To add to this, our telephone lines are connected to a cabinet which is over half a mile away across the housing estates which suffer from voltage issues which means broadband constantly goes down to a point where you must have an Openreach visit just to get it back up and running. Even when your line is up and running, imagine never consistently getting the depressing download / upload speeds which render any type of usage on your broadband pointless.
After 2 years of having to take a 22 mile round trip to my offices, wasting on average 2 hours of my working day just to get any sort of decent connectivity I began to despair at the fact that there was still no sign of Cabinet 18 being upgraded by Openreach. Going onto their “Where and When” online tracker was a weekly moment of despair.
I tried working from my local gym whose Wi-Fi always managed to drop out at the most horrendous times. This was a double whammy as my Vodafone signal for my mobile wasn’t great there either. So only a two mile round trip to try and work, but even more stress when the connectivity just didn’t work.
Towards the end of 2015 I turned into our housing estate via the larger house builders section to see a joyous site in front of me, a Virgin Media van.
Giddy excited I approached the engineer working on a cabinet and asked him was Virgin Media coming to the area? He looked back at me completely confused. “Its been here for ages mate” he replied. I was completely stunned as I consistently checked the Virgin Media “Cable my Street” website and our road wasn’t on their schedule. I asked him if he was sure, he replied “100% mate, except for that small pocket of houses over there, their house builder wouldn’t give us access to their ducting so they don’t have it.”. Basically, he was suggesting that Galliford Try - the owner of Kier Homes who built our house had denied Virgin Media access to their site and therefore robbed anyone in our development of up to 100MB broadband.
I was absolutely furious and sent an email to Keir Homes which was never responded to. I couldn’t believe that the sales person at the other house builder didn’t know they had given Virgin Media access to their ducting to provide their services which would have been a clear reason to buy one of their houses.
As I pulled onto my drive way, my neighbour was just coming out of his house and I told him about what had just happened. At this point he told me about all his efforts in writing to our local MP Richard Burden who was doing all he could through Digital Birmingham, Galliford Try and Virgin Media to resolve our situation.
To make matters even worse, within weeks of finding out about Virgin Media on the bigger development we found out that a BT Openreach cabinet only 50 Meters from my front door had been upgraded to superfast broadband.
So basically, at one end of our street was 100MB Virgin Media fibre and at the other end of our street was 70MB superfast broadband whilst we had broadband which hardly reached 2MB when it was working.
My broadband became so bad that after being completely offline from 23rd February 2016 through to the 30th March 2016 I just cancelled my service completely. What was the point of paying for something that hardly ever worked?
I even had a visit from Openreach who blamed my internal extension wiring for the voltage faults on my line, which then led me to disconnect my internal extensions from the main Openreach socket. I found out 3 days after I had done this that at least 3 other people in our street where suffering from the same issues and I had disconnected my internal extension wiring for no reason.
So, as I write this blog, I haven’t had home broadband for 10 months (Jan 17).
There was a small saving grace for a month. When I upgraded our Vodafone contract in my business at the beginning of April, Vodafone gave us unlimited data for a month as a “data trial”.
Over the Vodafone 4G mobile network, we were receiving 45MB download and 15MB upload speeds. So for one beautiful month, we could watch catchup TV, Skype our family in Northern Ireland, update all the devices in the house which needed a software update, stream live TV anywhere around the house, join WEBEX’s and access all my companies IT systems without issue.
Unfortunately, although Vodafone’s 4G network is amazing where we live, you cannot buy a tariff big enough to run your houses internet usage on, therefore once we got to May 2016, it was back to the dark ages.
So back to the main issue at hand.
Our house and all other houses on the two developments are built on land previously owned by Birmingham City Council (so I’m told).
Virgin Media who are in the area have confirmed to Birmingham City Council that they would like to provide their services to all the houses in our street and would need to dig up the foot paths to achieve this. Game on, thank you Virgin Media.
However, Birmingham City Council who owned the land have stated that the road still hasn’t been handed over from Galliford Try so it can’t be adopted. However, I have seen information to state Galliford Try have handed the road back over to be adopted.
Once the road is adopted (even though this should have happened over 12 months ago im led to believe) the council can grant Virgin Media access to provide the services to our house. Wait for it – I have seen correspondence that when the road is adopted that they won’t allow Virgin Media to dig up the footpaths unless they return them to the standard they found them.
So Virgin Media rightly it seems will not dig up the path as its unviable for them to provide the services and then pay for the footpaths to be recovered with tarmac for only 18 houses or so.
Openreach – the national monopoly has decided its unviable for them to upgrade Cabinet 18 to superfast broadband due to the fact Virgin Media are in the area and therefore they won’t get enough customers to make their money back……
Now the plot thickens even further!
Birmingham City Council who still haven’t accepted the adoption of our road and won’t let Virgin Media dig the foot paths up to provide much needed broadband services to us have “LET” Virgin Media dig the footpaths on a road which runs parallel to us and was part of the same development as ours. The houses on this road were completed on one side, then nearly two years later the other house builder completed their houses on the opposite side of the road. The road on this street was finished to the same standard as ours before the new construction started so it shouldn’t have been adopted based on the principal of our road and therefore why should they grant access to Virgin Media to dig up the footpaths on that road but not ours????
So after nearly 4 years of absolutely shocking broadband we are left with the following situation:
a) Galliford Try our house builder allegedly finished the road over 12 months ago to be adopted by Birmingham City Council who still haven’t completed the process
b) Virgin Media want to provide services to our road but Birmingham City Council will not allow them to until the road is adopted
c) Its alleged that Birmingham City Council will not let Virgin Media dig the road up even when it is adopted unless they recover all the tarmac on the footpaths
d) Virgin Media cannot afford to provide the services to our road when the road is finally adopted due to it costing too much to recover the tarmac of the entire footpaths
e) Openreach – the national monopoly has decided that because Virgin Media are in the area it is uneconomical for them to provide services
f) Openreach will not rewire our houses to the cabinet which is 50 meters away from our front door which has Superfast broadband.
g) Birmingham City Council have now let Virgin Media dig up the footpaths on an adjacent road which was completed to the same standard as our road by the same house builder but won’t let Virgin Media dig up our footpaths
h) We have 100MB Virgin Media at one end of our street and 70MB superfast Openreach broadband at the other
It feels right now our street is clearly being discriminated against by Birmingham City Council due to services being allowed to an adjacent` street. Apart from burning cars at the end of the street or donning a Batman suit and scaling the roof of our houses with banners to drum up some local press attention, I have absolutely no idea what to do next.
The infrastructure planning in our country leaves a lot to be desired. How can two house builders on essentially the same development have completely different communication providers, which leads to the situation that our street is dealing with right now?
Based on an average of two trips a week for nearly 4 years I have managed to waste 4576 miles, 416 hours, £2,288 in driving costs along with an average of £2,400 in extra mobile data charges. Not to mention the potential loss in value of my house compared to other houses on my estate due to everybody wanting decent broadband speeds when they buy houses now.
We are not asking for much, just some common sense, maybe some compassion and the right to have services nearly everyone else within half a square mile of our location has.
Please get in touch if you could offer any advice to help us in our quest to get superfast broadband for our street.