In January I started getting letters and emails from BT telling me that I was shortly to be upgraded to a “faster, more reliable fibre service”. It sent me a new BT router and told me 24 April was my switchover day.
In anticipation, I cancelled my old unreliable line and switched back to BT. Now BT says there is no prospect of a fibre service in our area because we are too far from the exchange, and they have quoted £70,000 to connect to 10Mbps broadband.
New fibre-optic cable had already been installed 30 poles short of my house. It would take two engineers, a roll of cable and a day’s work to install the last stretch to us and the other five premises en route.
JH, Woodbridge, Suffolk
Numbers of readers have contacted me about vast quotes after I exposed the misleading promises of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) scheme. Introduced in March, it promised “affordable” broadband for households with poor service.
The small print reveals that “affordability” refers to monthly tariffs of less than £50. What it doesn’t say is that you may have to be a multimillionaire to get connected.
KT of High Peak, Cheshire was quoted £100,000 to upgrade in a one-line email from BT, while GW, near Okehampton in Devon, was asked for £70,176. “I find it very unprofessional that the most formal version of this quotation is an email with no detail whatsoever,” he says. “I had asked for a breakdown of costs and told that no more information can be provided.”
AC of Whitwell, Norfolk and his neighbours have each been quoted over £70,000. “The problem is compounded by the fact that Openreach keeps changing the status of our community on its Fibre Checker web page,” he writes. “Sometimes it promises ‘fibre is coming soon’, then that there are no plans for our area at present. It makes it impossible to plan.”
AB, in Norfolk, is a single mother on tax credits whose job is compromised by her low broadband speeds. She’s been quoted £30,000. “I am scandalised that ordinary householders should be expected to pay to extend BT’s infrastructure, of which they then take ownership,” she writes.
According to Ofcom, BT is supposed to divide the cost among nearby households who could benefit from an installation. The regulator is investigating BT, following claims that the company has been overcharging residents instead of splitting its quotes.
BT insists shared costs are not permissible under the USO. It told the Observer that challenging terrain and associated road closures make connecting to remote properties very expensive, which is why plans to include AC’s Norfolk community in its roll-out were abandoned.
As for JH, the promises of free fibre were an “error” and it’s paid him £130 to apologise. “While we’re following the process for the USO, set out by government, we’re looking into a number of ways in which we might be able to update the process to allow for the sharing of the cost across a community, ultimately to bring down the price for individuals,” it says.
“Residents could significantly reduce the cost by exploring other opportunities such as joining up with homes nearby, and seeing if a Community Fibre Partnership is viable – they could also use government vouchers for this to further reduce the cost.”