Ex-UK comms minister's constituents plagued by wonky broadband over ... wireless radio link?

Three years on, 'superfast' village's 'net sucks

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Updated A village in former communications minister Ed Vaizey's Parliamentary constituency is suffering ongoing internet outages despite once being the darling of Britain's superfast broadband rollout.

The "hard to reach" village of Fernham in Oxfordshire has been served by fibre broadband since 2015, as news site cable.co.uk reported at the time.

Vaizey himself, then minister for communications in the Ministry of Fun (aka the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), was quoted as saying: "This is fantastic news for the homes and businesses in Fernham who are joining the tens of thousands of premises in Oxfordshire that can already access superfast broadband as a result of our rollout."

Fast-forward three years, however, and the full-fibre diet has proved somewhat iffy for Fernhammers. For starters, it's not full-fibre, and locals are happy just to get a connection at all, never mind one that meets the 24Mb+ "superfast" definition.

Instead of laying cables, "unexpected challenges" faced by local, government-subsidised broadband delivery bods from Better Broadband for Oxfordshire meant the village was instead served over a wireless radio link, with cable.co.uk opining that the cost of laying cable may have exceeded a price cap in force at the time.

"We knew about the radio link three years ago and told [BT] it would be unreliable and over time cost more to maintain than the one mile of fibre that was needed," raged resident Paul Phillipson, a telecoms and tech consultant.


Another aggrieved local, Paul Black, complained of having six visits from BT Openreach engineers before one of them twigged that the link had gone down "due to the microwave dishes going out of alignment". Black added: "Anecdotally, it would appear that heat and wooden poles don't mix."

In ends and means terms, provided the "end" of a superfast broadband connection is delivered under the Broadband Delivery UK programme, the "means" of doing that is up to the subsidised supplier. While most people expect fibre-optic cables to be laid – which do deliver gigabit internet connection speeds – other means of doing so, such as microwave links, are also an option.

BT Openreach's so-called "wireless to the cabinet" tech has been around for a few years, as this ISPReview article explains. A fibre-backhauled pair of microwave dishes is used to serve the local street cabinet with last-mile connections to homes taking place over copper, rather than the favoured model of cables all the way to the home.

Fernham is not the only village affected by broadband bloopers. Another irate consumer from Nottinghamshire got in touch with El Reg a little while ago after discovering, to his annoyance, that Openreach refuses to deal with complaints made directly by end users suffering outages thanks to Openreach-maintained infrastructure.

We have asked Vaizey and Openreach for comment. ®

Updated to add

An Openreach spokesperson has been in touch to say: "We're sorry to hear about the issues with broadband in Fernham, and we'd like to reassure residents that we’re doing all we can to resolve the matter."


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