How East Sussex County Council misleads the public about their broadband strategy

Not everyone knows this, but using the “WaybackMachine” facility at the Internet Archive project, you can view not only how a web page looks today, but also how it looked at various dates in the past.

Woe betide you if you are a public organization that has made some promises in the past that you haven’t kept!  You might think that you can quietly airbrush the promises out of existence and pretend that you promised something different.  In pre-internet days, you might have got away with it, but not now.

A case in point is what East Sussex Council have been saying about their broadband strategy.

Here are the original promises, made in 2011.

Sep 2011: We are working with our partners on a broadband plan which we aim to give to BDUK this Autumn
[www.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/broadband/default.htm captured by web.archive.org on 7 Sep 2011]

19 Dec 2011: Everyone in East Sussex – homes and businesses – should have access to superfast broadband within the next two years. Peter Jones (then leader of the Council): “I also want to ensure that our rural areas and other parts of the county that could be hard to reach – where many of our small businesses are located – will be on the priority list for this upgrade.
[www.eastsussex.gov.uk/yourcouncil/pressoffice/pressreleases/2011/12/3450.htm]

The first thing to note is that the broadband plan was approximately 6 months late.  In fact on 20th February 2012, ESCC were saying:

Feb 2012: We are working with our partners on a broadband plan for BDUK which will be delivered in February 2012…We hope to provide superfast broadband, with speeds of 100mbps, to everyone in East Sussex by 2017
[www.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/broadband/default.htm captured by web.archive.org on 20 Feb 2012]

It would appear that the plan, promised for the Autumn of 2011, was actually submitted on the last day of February 2012, because on 1st March 2012, ESCC announced:

We have been working with our partners on a broadband plan which has been sent to BDUK for approval…We hope to provide superfast broadband, with speeds of 100mbps, to everyone in East Sussex by 2017
[www.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/broadband/default.htm captured by web.archive.org on 28 Mar 2012

But while the plan is 6 months or so late in being submitted, what on earth has happened to the actual completion date?  When Peter Jones, in December 2011, said “Everyone in East Sussex – homes and businesses – should have access to superfast broadband within the next two years“, most people would have interpreted that as meaning the end of 2013.  Suddenly, without admitting it, the completion date has gone from 2 years away to 5 or 6 years away.  Some slippage! – and not a hint of apology from ESCC or even acknowledgement that they have failed their earlier promise so spectacularly.

But never mind the date; look at that exciting speed: “speeds of 100mbps“, not even an “up to” just “speeds of 100mbps“.

For most of 2012, one could read the statement “We hope to provide superfast broadband, with speeds of 100mbps, to everyone in East Sussex by 2017“.  It is showing on page http://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/broadband/default.htm , as captured by the Web Archive’s machine, on 20 February 2012 and again on 28 March, 28 April, 29 May, 29 June, 30 July and 30 August 2012.

Suddenly, in February 2013, we read

We aim to provide superfast broadband (24 Mbps and over) to 90% of the county by 2015, whilst ensuring everyone in East Sussex can access the minimum level of service of 2 Mbps
[www.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/broadband/default.htm captured by web.archive.org on 2 Feb and 5 May 2013]

So while the date has been revised downwards, “speeds of 100mbps” has become “24Mbps and over“; “everyone” has become “90% of the county“, and the only promise that actually applies to everyone is “minimum service level of 2Mbps“.

Have you had enough of ESCC changing their statements?  I do hope not, because there is more.  In May 2013, we get

over the next 3 years…96% of all properties across East Sussex and parts of Brighton & Hove will have access to superfast broadband of at least 24mpbs; 99% of all properties in the county will have access to higher-speed fibre broadband; every property in East Sussex will be able to access a broadband service of at least 2mbps
[www.eastsussex.gov.uk/business/broadband/default.htm as at 24 June 2013

So “by 2015” has become “within the next 3 years [from May 2013]

But here’s the thing that made me cross enough to spend time writing this web post: in May 2013, ESCC issued a “Members’ briefing” saying

We originally set out to deliver superfast speeds to at least 90% of premises and we are delighted that we’ve been able to work with BT on plans which will deliver far more

Excuse me, ESCC, “originally set out“?  It’s one thing to change your plans – even to change them more than once – but do us a favour, don’t pretend that what you’ve ended up with was your original plan.  It wasn’t.

There’s one more thing.  To those of us in places like Brightling, a key promise was contained in Peter Jones’ December 2011 press release:

I also want to ensure that our rural areas and other parts of the county that could be hard to reach – where many of our small businesses are located – will be on the priority list for this upgrade

So what has happened to the prioritization of hard-to-reach areas?  The answer can be found at www.goesussex.co.uk/faqs from which I infer that:

  • they can’t or won’t give us a date by which Brightling will get broadband
  • they can’t tell us when they will tell us
  • the sequence of implementation will be decided by BT on engineering grounds, with no prioritization for hard-to-reach areas (which probably means that hard-to-reach will be last)

Here are some questions for ESCC.  The comments box is open for their reply

  • Is there still a commitment to 100% superfast coverage?  If so, by what date?
  • “Higher-speed fibre broadband” means what?
  • What happened to the commitment to “ensure that our rural areas and other parts of the county that could be hard to reach … will be on the priority list for this upgrade”?  It appears to be contradicted by “We cannot use registrations as a way to select areas as decisions will be made from an engineering point of view.” And “network architects are being used by BT to work out the quickest and cheapest way to deliver what we have agreed” [www.goesussex.co.uk/faqs]
  • Is there still any commitment to achieve some target “by 2015”?  If so what is the commitment for 2015?
  • The 96% (or 90%, whichever it is) target is for the whole county (or the whole county plus Brighton and parts of Hove).  This will be a mixture of town properties and country properties.  Coverage in towns will be higher than average and therefore coverage outside towns will be lower than average.  What is the target coverage for rural areas, which Peter Jones said he wanted to see prioritized?
  • How can the statement “We originally set out to deliver superfast speeds to at least 90% of premises” be justified given that for almost the whole of 2012 the council’s web site said “We hope to provide superfast broadband, with speeds of 100mbps, to everyone in East Sussex by 2017”
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1 Response to How East Sussex County Council misleads the public about their broadband strategy

  1. Pingback: Brightling Blog » Broadband meeting – 7:30pm Monday 30th June 2014, Brightling Village Hall

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