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”
Posted in Brightling, Broadband | 1 Comment

Barn raising

We almost have a new barn.

From this:

Old pole barn, after the winter of 2011/12

Old pole barn, after the winter of 2011/12

to this:

New barn - sides still need to go on

New barn – sides still need to go on

 

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FIT payments – further update

Having blogged before about E.ON’s poor performance on paying FITs, I think the good news is that once you do get onto their new computer system, the payment turnround is fairly quick (albeit they have gone backwards in that the payment advice now comes on paper, whereas it used to come electronically).

Here’s an update of my payments.

Submitted 12Aug2011 – paid 1Sep (20 days)
Submitted 11Nov2011 – paid 29Nov (18 days)
Submitted 11Feb2012 – paid 14Mar (32 days)
Submitted 11May2012 – paid 26Jul (76 days)
Submitted 11Aug2012 – paid 17Aug (6 days)

Posted in Electricity and off-grid | Leave a comment

Vegetable garden

This little corner has two walls facing south and west.  Against the west-facing wall I have already planted a couple of pear trees, and I felt that this area was begging to be turned into a vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden

Vegetable garden

Twelve barrow-loads of well-rotted horse manure have gone into it.

The plan is to grow a crop of potatoes next year – not that they are a particularly financially rewarding crop, but the theory is that they help to “clear the ground”.  Meanwhile, though I couldn’t resist an autumn sowing of broad beans – two double rows of Aquadulce Claudia which went in today.

For comparison, this is what the same area looked like in March 2009.

Vegetable garden in March 2009

Vegetable garden in March 2009

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They’re back and they’re bigger than ever

The puffballs are back.  Calvatia gigantea.  They always appear in the small field between the house and the front pond.

Puffball

This one has got even bigger since I took this photo – and somewhat dirtier-looking; I suspect that it is no longer edible.  Past its best at any rate.

Here is one from a couple of years ago.  It’s at the edible stage – no hint of spore formation.

Puffball slices

Puffball slices

Cooking puffball

Cooking puffball

It tastes of mushroom, basically, and one slice is enough in my opinion.  I don’t know how you’d eat a whole one.

Posted in Wildlife | 1 Comment

FIT payments update

My posts on E.ON and FIT payments have generated more comments than anything I have ever written.

For the record, I have now received my payments for the period ending 11th May 2012 and the full track record is as follows:

Submitted 12Aug2011 – paid 1Sep (20 days)
Submitted 11Nov2011 – paid 29Nov (18 days)
Submitted 11Feb2012 – paid 14Mar (32 days)
Submitted 11May2012 – paid 26Jul (76 days)
Submitted 11Aug2012 – still waiting as at 18Aug

The payments from E.On’s old system used to arrive by email.  Now they come in the snail mail – a distinct step backwards.  They sent me 3 separate letters – in 3 separate envelopes –  about my payment for Feb-May.  The first letter was for the payment from 11Feb to 31Mar.  Then a second letter for the payment from 1Apr to 11May.  Then a third letter for the period from 31Mar to 31Mar.  This last one came, not surprisingly, to zero.

And they still managed to get my payments wrong.  They included the export tariff, to which we are not entitled, being “off-grid”.  I phoned them up.  Some difficulty explaining this to them – I don’t suppose they get many off-grid customers.  I’m sure if I’d said nothing I could have gone on getting the export payments for the next 25 years, but I really don’t want to store up trouble – I’d rather be squeaky clean.

 

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Another reason to avoid E.ON for your feed-in tariffs

I’ve previously posted about E.ON’s uselessness in handling feed-in tariffs; and now they have fallen over again.

We have now had our solar panels up and running for 9 months, so this morning I submitted our quarterly meter reading for the feed-in tariffs.  Got the following automated reply.

Subject:     Thank you for your Feed-in Tariff meter reading
Date:     Sat, 11 Feb 2012 08:01:09 +0000
From:     RETUK Feed In Tariff Meter Readings <FitMeterReadings@eonenergy.com>
To:     Andrew Wedmore

Hello and thanks for your Feed-in Tariff meter reading. We’ll use this to work out your payment which we’ll send to your chosen bank account in the next 45 days [my italics].
 
We are sorry that it is going to take this long but we are currently experiencing high volumes due to the changes in the Solar PV industry at present.  We are working to improve this and hope to pay your next quarter within a reduced timescale.
 
If you have any questions, please email us at Feed In Tariff Meter Readings.
 
Kind regards
 
E.ON Feed-in Tariff Team

————————————————–
45 days!  One hardly needs to point out that if they were the creditor rather than the debtor, they wouldn’t calmly let you take 45 days to pay.  

 

Posted in Electricity and off-grid | 75 Comments

Window replacement

The window replacement has made a huge difference to the house – both the external appearance and the comfort level within.

For starters, here are some before and after pictures.

“Before”

“After”

Credits:
Surveyor: Mr N Standen BSc MRICS, Standen Associates, 7 Havelock Road, HASTINGS, TN34 1BP
T: 01424 434355
nick@standenassociates.co.uk

Carpenter: Chris Bolton, 1 Carol Cottage, Hurst Green, TN19 7PE
01580 860537

Joinery manufacture:
James Eaton, Southview Joinery, Unit 3, Wadhurst Business Park, Wadhurst TN5 6PT
01892 783357

Glazing installation:
Wealden Glass: http://www.wealdenglass.co.uk/

Glass:
slimlite Double Glazing Co Ltd – http://www.slimliteglass.co.uk/

The double glazing system uses two 4mm panes with a 3.2mm spacer between them. The total thickness of the glazing is therefore 11.2mm and this enables it to fit into a normal rebate in a timber window, giving a very traditional look and avoiding all the clunkiness that is so often seen with double-glazed windows. We also chose the 3.2mm spacer because it comes in a light grey colour. The light grey “disappears” because it looks just like glass seen edge on. Usually one sees spacers in either white or black, both of which rather draw attention to themselves in comparison. All of this was worked out after much examining of samples and lengthy discussions on the phone with Slimlite.

The other (rather expensive) decision that we made was to have Slimlite’s “reproduction crown” glass on all the front-facing windows. This reproduces the wavy effect of old glass, and I’m glad we did this because it definitely avoids the obviously new look that you get with modern float glass, which is dead flat. This was particularly expensive for the sash window (on the left in the picture) because of its multiplicity of small panes.

A decision that we weren’t aware of making was to have low-E glass (as the inner pane). I didn’t specify low-E and I didn’t specify not to have it, so I got it. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it. Seen from the outside, it is a little more reflective than ordinary glass and again conveys the message “I’m new and modern”. But it’s most obvious when you see old and new side by side, so once all the windows are done one ceases to be aware of it. And the thermal gain effect is terrific. On a day like today, cold but sunny, you can put your hand on the inside pane and feel it really warm to the touch.

[Update 27 Mar 2014. The glass has not been perfect. Since installation, 3 of the panes have suffered from misting, ie moisture between the two glazing layers. This is out of roughly 70 panes in the entire house. The suppliers, Slimlite, have replaced all 3 at no charge, but they don’t pay the glazier’s labour cost. So far the glazier has also decided not to charge me, but whether he would do so if more panes went, I don’t know. The question is: will more and more of them go in the future, or is it the case that the ones that are going to go bad have now all shown up?]

The other great thing is the draught-proofing system. I’m pretty sure that we have the Schlegel system and very effective it is too. The contribution to inside comfort is fantastic. Mind you, we started from the opposite extreme: some of the old windows had had to have duck tape round the glass to keep it in, and many of them we didn’t dare open on the grounds that it was only being closed that kept them in one piece.

One thing we didn’t get right first off. I was told a long time ago that windows in a brick wall look best if set back from the face of the brickwork (and probably last longer too). But when ours went in it was apparent that they had been made on the assumption that they would be level with the brickwork. I just hadn’t thought about this and I wasn’t happy. So we ended up having to have the cills extended so that they could be put further back. Another thing to try and get right next time.

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An occasional bus service

Searching for a bus from Battle to Eastbourne, I discover at http://www.carlberry.co.uk/ that there is one on Thursdays.  Clicking on the link for more detail, I read

Service details. Special notes. Not every week. This service does not run every week. It run every other week, maybe only once a month, maybe only every other month.

A fine example of how to break bad news gradually.

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E.ON mess up my FIT statement

Writing up my experiences with E.ON and the feed-in tariff.

On 12th August it was the 3-month anniversary of the installation of our solar panels.  A day I had been looking forward to as it means we can submit our first quarterly feed-in tarriffs “invoice”.  The  process is that you can dial an 0845 number (no fear!) or submit by email; I did the latter.  An acknowledgement came the next day (Saturday):

Subject:     RE: FIT reading
Date:     Sat, 13 Aug 2011 09:05:51 +0100
From:     RETUK Feed In Tariff Meter Readings <FitMeterReadings@eonenergy.com>
To:     ‘Andrew Wedmore’

Good Morning,

Thank you for your generation reading.

Your payment will be process in the next 30 days.

Regards,

Emma [name redacted]
Feed In Tariff Team
E.ON Energy Solutions
I: 7613679
E: +44 (0) 845 301 4884
E.ON UK
Caxton Road
Bedford MK41 0EW
——————————————————————–
So far, so good.

On 19th August I got the following email:
——————————————————————–

Subject:     FIT00038567 FIT Payment
Date:     Fri, 19 Aug 2011 16:24:46 +0100
From:     RETUK Feed In Tariff Meter Readings <FitMeterReadings@eonenergy.com>
To:     ‘Andrew Wedmore’

Dear Mr Wedmore

Please find attached your generation and  export payment statement covering 05 May 2011 to 05 August  2011. Your payment will be made into your nominated bank account.

Your Sincerely

Emma [name redacted]
Feed In Tariff Team
E.ON Energy Solutions
I: 7613679
E: +44 (0) 845 301 4884
E.ON UK
Caxton Road
Bedford MK41 0EW

——————————————————————–
Very exciting.  Only problem was that the attached statement was completely wrong.  It had my name and address on it OK, and it had the meter reading that I had given them.  But it had completely the wrong previous meter reading (544 units, should have been 0) and (I learned a bit later) someone else’s account number.

It also awarded me an “export tarriff” of 3.1p per unit on a deemed 50% of our output, a payment to which we are not entitled, being off-grid.

Furthermore, the multiplication was wrong (it can’t be wrong, it was obviously out of a computer but it was).  I quote: “kWh generated: 379.  Generation Tariff rate: 43.3p.  We work out your Generation Payment by multiplying your Generation Tariff rate by the number of kWh generated [it actually says this right there in the statement].  Generation payment £116.35 ”  As the Americans say: “Do the math”.

I decided to phone (using http://www.saynoto0870.com/ to avoid the 0845 number).  Emma wasn’t there but I spoke to a colleague.  I quoted the account number on the statement and she said “Ah, Mr Smith”.  This was when I discovered that the account number on the statement was wrong, despite the name and address being correct.  At first I thought that perhaps I had quoted the wrong account number in my meter reading email, but no, on checking it I found that it was correct.

The data on the statement seemed to be a subtle blend of our data with Mr Smith’s data.  I pointed this out and was assured that this information would be passed on to Emma who would correct the statement.

But of course this was not the end of the story.  A second email arrived quite promptly the next working day.

——– Original Message ——–
Subject:     FIT00038567 FIT Payment
Date:     Mon, 22 Aug 2011 08:43:18 +0100
From:     RETUK Feed In Tariff Meter Readings <FitMeterReadings@eonenergy.com>
To:     ‘Andrew Wedmore’

Good Morning Mr Wedmore,

I have received an email from one of my colleagues regarding the payment I processed.

I have double checked it and I apologise but I had put the incorrect unit price down. Please find the correct statement attached.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Emma [name redated]

————————————————–
The only slight problem, I see when I open the attachment, is that the “correct statement attached” is now actually more wrong than the previous statement.  The rate, which used to be correct at 43.3p, has now been reduced to 30.7p.  This makes the multiplication correct, but all the previously incorrect data is unchanged. And of course wrong times wrong is wrong (generally speaking).

Hardly had I had time to digest this, than a third, unsolicited, email arrives.

Subject:     FW: FIT00038574 FIT Payment
Date:     Mon, 22 Aug 2011 08:53:49 +0100
From:     RETUK Feed In Tariff Meter Readings <FitMeterReadings@eonenergy.com>
To:     ‘Andrew Wedmore’

Good Morning,

I do apologise about this, Please find the correct statement again with the correct FIT account Id on it.

Again if you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Emma [name redacted]

————————————————–

This attachment still has all the wrong monetary amounts but she has corrected the account number!

Time for another phone call.

Emma seems very puzzled, and unsure what to do next.  “Well” I say, “The thing is, I’ve had three wrong statements now, and I’m beginning to lose confidence.  Can I speak to someone else about it?

“Someone else” is the supervisor, Selina.  She has a crisp competence in her voice, and I believe her when she tells me she has figured out the real problem, and explains it to me.  Their system is spreadsheet-based.  It works off a number of spreadsheets and their process is based on each customer being on the same line on each spreadsheet.  Unfortunately the lines have somehow slipped by one, so that I am on line 90 of one spreadsheet and line 91 of another one.  Hence the blending of my data with Mr Smith’s – it all makes sense now.

So basically, E.ON are running a manual system with a bit of help from Microsoft Excel.  What a kludge!  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the spreadsheets live on Emma’s C drive.  On the C drive of Emma’s laptop, in fact, which she then leaves on a train….but I am drifting off into fantasy.  I ought to have been suspicious when I learned that their data collection process was for you to send them a free-format email (rather than fill in a web form, say).  It’s a familiar IT story – presenting a competent face externally, all lash-up internally.

If you have a free choice, don’t select E.ON as your FIT supplier.  Go elsewhere.

The correct statement arrived promptly, showing that we have earned £399.66.  This is compared to Emma’s three efforts each showing £122.23 payable.

The payment itself is somewhat less than I had originally hoped, bearing in mind that it relates to the three sunniest months of the year.  The reason is that our PV system has spent too much of the time effectively turned off, due to the problems with the Load Controller system, described in an earlier entry.  In fact the main problem wasn’t with the Load Controller itself, but rather that we had the wrong kind of solar inverter.  This problem has now been fixed (by changing to a different manufacturer/model), and so I expect that in the comparable period next year we will generate quite a lot more electricity.  I may blog about why the original solar inverter was wrong in a separate entry.

Posted in Electricity and off-grid | 11 Comments