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Ceredigion badly let down on broadband

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Elin Jones: Raised concerns about broadband in the county

Elin Jones: Raised concerns about broadband in the county

CEREDIGION AM Elin Jones has raised serious concerns about broadband in the county, seeking to make it a priority for Superfast Cymru. Figures just released reveal that only 60% of homes in Ceredigion which are eligible for Superfast Broadband had been completed by this summer. The figures from the Welsh Government placed Ceredigion second from last in all Local Authorities in Wales for Superfast installation. Almost £6 million has been spent by Superfast Cymru in Ceredigion but this is less than half of that which has been spent on neighbouring rural communities in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd and Powys, which each averaged between £12 and £14 million.

Elin Jones said: “I’m seeking an urgent meeting with the Cabinet Secretary overseeing the roll out of Superfast Broadband across Wales. This is simply not good enough. I am extremely concerned about these figures, and will be seeking answers from the Government on the issue. Ceredigion seems to have been left behind in the rollout process. It has had comparatively less money spent by Superfast Cymru than that spent in similar rural areas, and the results show this. I am constantly hearing from constituents about poor broadband speeds and whole communities have been let down as several deadlines for Superfast Broadband have been missed. There are also cases where communities are being left out of the scope completely by Openreach, even when they are extremely close to areas who receive broadband. Fast and reliable internet is what we need in Ceredigion, both for our communities and for our businesses. The Government now needs to step in and act to make sure that Ceredigion is seen as a priority for Superfast Cymru, and that’s what I shall be pressing the Government to achieve.”

Up to June 2016, the percentage of Superfast Cymru eligible premises completed in Ceredigion was 60.44%. For once, not getting the roughest end of the stick, Merthyr Tydfil tops the table at 98.32%. The figure for neighbouring Pembrokeshire stood at 81.99%, while Carmarthenshire at 70.94% and Powys at 65.67% have almost as much to complain about as Ceredigion. Almost, but not quite. Strangely, only Cardiff at 58.08% is having it worse. The reasons for the capital – unusually – lagging behind the country on provision are not explained – perhaps Herald readers know why? In terms of numbers, Superfast Cymru eligible premises completed in Ceredigion totalled 21,252. By this measure, Pembrokeshire topped the table at 50,121, with Carmarthenshire in fourth at 47,320 and Powys sixth at 43,135. Cardiff again propped up the table at just 4,853. Spend by local authority ran thus: Pembrokeshire top with £14,234,570; Carmarthenshire third with £13,394,753; Powys sixth at £12,252,033; Ceredigion 13th (unlucky for us) at just £5,975,072; and poor old Cardiff 22nd and bottom at only £1,342,583.

Cllr Alun Williams, Ceredigion Council Cabinet Member, said: “Every week, people are making decisions about where to live and work based on availability of broadband. If we don’t provide the facilities that people need in the modern world, it will lead to rural depopulation. On the other hand, if we get it right, broadband has the capacity to equalise all the inequalities between rural and urban areas that have always existed.”

A CASE IN POINT

The Herald spoke with just one couple among the very many people in Ceredigion who are frustrated by the lack of broadband access on a daily basis. Our respondents live just a few hundred metres from the A487 between Llanrhystud and Aberystwyth, a road along which fibre optic broadband has been laid in the last year or so. As with other cases, the householders’ quest for broadband is a lengthy saga.

In 2005, they found the perfect house and checked that broadband was available for the postcode: ‘Result!’ Both worked from home and made extensive use of the internet, including email; it was essential to their livelihoods. As soon as they moved in, then, they applied to BT for broadband. The process was long and bureaucratic but BT were happy to sell broadband to this address. So, our new homeowners paid up front, because that was the only option. Eventually, engineers come to check and became very excited by the length of the telephone line to the house: They had never come across one that long! ‘But what does that mean?’ our couple asked. ‘It means you can’t have broadband, sorry’.

It’s still only 2006 and our intrepid couple refuse to be daunted. They contact BT to try to get the broadband deal refunded and explore alternatives. They apply for dial-up internet and go back in time to hearing that strange electronic ‘brrr-biiip-brrr’ sound that defined ‘connectivity’ in the 1980s. But dial-up works poorly and is very expensive. The service is on and off, as is the phone line itself. On an almost annual basis, it is ploughed up by a neighbouring farmer. When BT finally turn out to fix it, they seemingly Sellotape the line back together and leave it to the untender mercy of next year’s ploughman. When it does work at all, the line is usually so ‘crackly’ as to be almost inaudible. Just what you want when communicating with a business partner, client or potential employer in the ‘developed world’, i.e. Zambia, China, Peru…

Meanwhile, the couple go through the annual ritual of trying to get BT to credit them for the months with no telephone line. Through 2007 and 2008, the battle to get the broadband deposit and monthly payment refunded continues. Writing letters in ever increasing font size and bold type finally elicits a response from the BT Chair person’s office, promising action. No progress on broadband, though: ‘Keep trying, our services improve all the time!’ is the message from BT.

In 2008, the village of Blaenplwyf gets together to express its collective unhappiness about the lack of connectivity. Residents conduct a survey and hold meetings about broadband services. Some have very slow broadband via BT, others nothing at all.

Villagers persist with exploring the possibilities, including Welsh Assembly Government funding. Elin Jones was very helpful, our respondents note. They themselves try mobile broadband with Orange, plugging dongles into USB ports, but get a service no better than the dial-up. It becomes apparent that 3G is unavailable in the area. Then, at a village meeting, Three Mobile promise 3G mobile broadband!

Our couple and many others sign up on the spot. By 2009, they are chugging along with mobile broadband which, although it does not work brilliantly, is a big improvement on dial-up. But, so delirious are they to be within touching distance of the 21st century, our couple exceed their 1GB monthly allowance and incur a charge of an additional £100! Three Mobile do not give any warning that the limit is about to be exceeded or what that will cost. Ouch! No more streaming or downloading for them.

From 2010 to 2014, the service begins to slow down as local users are added. Our couple up their allowance to 15GB – the maximum available – but the service remains poor and unreliable. They still have no chance of streaming films or TV programmes due to slow download speeds and limited monthly data allocation. Then the fibre-optic cables are laid along the main road and they can almost smell super-fast broadband. They are advised by BT Openreach engineers to write to BT to ask to be included in plans for the area. They ask to change the phone line so they can get broadband. The couple make little or no use of their landline and only keep it to remain eligible for broadband from BT. With steam coming out of their ears, they nevertheless pay the quarterly charge of more than £85 just to keep their faint hopes alive. Then they are advised that BT has nothing to do with phone line plans as they are not responsible for the infrastructure. The couple sign up with Superfast Cymru.

By 2015, it becomes impossible for two people working from home to keep within the 15GB per month allowance. So, they are forced to add another 20GB per month, a new maximum limit for mobile accounts. Both accounts work but are neither is reliable. The landline remains faulty for several months after that year’s ploughing.

‘MORE FOOLS US!’

In 2016, our respondent couple still get an ‘outrageously expensive’ bill for the landline every quarter. They confess to The Herald that the only time they use ‘the phone’ is to find their misplaced mobiles! In October, they check again on fibre optic broadband and get the message: ‘Fibre not available’ from BT Community Fibre Partnerships: ‘You are connected to Aberystwyth via an EO’ (Exchange Only) line.

‘Faster broadband is not available to you yet, the first cabinets in your area are expected to be upgraded by the end of the year’. Over the 10 years of their travails, the couple say that BT have: “Constantly added insult to injury by signing us up to online billing when we could only use a dial-up line, continually bombarding us with offers of better broadband deals, despite many letters asking for such offers to be held back until they were actually feasible, plus keeping our line in a poor state of repair. And we keep holding on to our line so that one day we may be able to get broadband, more the fools us!” Over the last 10 years, although they otherwise love where they live and are deeply involved with the community, our couple have periodically been compelled to review the option of moving to somewhere that they could work without this constant hassle and expense over connectivity. This tragi-comedy, BT take note, is the human face of your unforgivably poor performance in Ceredigion. Shame on you.

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Join the stand against scams

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CEREDIGION residents will get the opportunity to learn more about how they can protect themselves against scams in an event to be held at the Bandstand, Aberystwyth on 27 September between 9:30am and 1:30pm.

Ceredigion County Council have joined the National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team and Wales Against Scam Partnership (WASP) who will be touring Wales holding scam awareness events between 24 and 28 September.

Friends Against Scams is an NTS initiative that aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering communities to ‘Take a Stand Against Scams’.

Councillor Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Public Protection Services said, “Scams often target the most vulnerable people in society but the reality is that anyone can become a victim of scams. Scams damage lives and can affect people financially and emotionally so I’m proud that Ceredigion County Council has joined the work of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, Friends Against Scams and others who are working together to prevent people from being victims of scams. By signing up as an organisation we undertake to actively promote the Friends Against Scams initiative.”

Each year scams cause between £5bn and £10bn worth of detriment to UK consumers. In addition to the financial impact, scams can have a severe emotional and psychological impact on victims.

Louise Baxter, Team Manager in the National Trading Standards Scams Team said: “The tactics used by scammers leave victims socially isolated and ashamed of telling their friends and families what’s really going on behind closed doors. It is fantastic to have a great organisation to help us tackle this problem on a local, regional and national level and I would encourage all those that are interested in showing their support to join the campaign and be part of our growing Friends Against Scams network.”

Call by at the Bandstand, Aberystwyth on 27 September between 9:30am and 1:30pm to learn more on how to protect yourself from scams. For more information about becoming a Friend Against Scams, visitwww.friendsasagainstscams.org.uk

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Victim speaks out about the impact knifepoint robbery

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Teifion Lewis: Robbed the man at knifepoint

THE VICTIM of a knifepoint robbery has spoken out about the impact the incident has had on his life as Dyfed-Powys Police takes part in a national knife amnesty aiming to get weapons off the streets.

The 24-year-old was approached by a man he didn’t know while walking his dog in Carmarthen on July 20 this year. A knife was held to his chest, and he was forced to hand over the money in his wallet.

His attacker, Teifion Lewis, of Llammas Street, Carmarthen, was arrested and charged with robbery within four days, and was sentenced to 40 months in prison.

Looking back at the incident, the victim, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: “At first, I didn’t realise he had a knife on him. I just assumed he was another man who was out partying, given he was young and it was late on a Friday night.

“Even when he was right in front of me with his hand on my chest, I assumed he must have had too much to drink and just stumbled into me. Once I saw he was brandishing a knife, though, that changed everything. It was at that moment that I realised I was in far more danger than I’d first thought.

“I suppose the only real thing that was going through my mind at the time was to talk to him, do as he says, and get out of there as soon as possible without becoming hysterical. I just had to keep as calm as possible for the time he was blocking my route.”

He explained that it was only when Lewis had taken his money and walked away, that he realised what could have happened had things gone wrong.

“I thought about how easily he could have stabbed me and I’d have been left out in an empty street, cold and alone, bleeding to death, without even a mobile phone on me to call my friends and family to tell them I love them,” he said.

“I’ve never given much thought as to what my inevitable death will be like, but I’d never have thought it could have ended that way.”

The victim had walked his dog every night for two years – using this particular route for seven months – with no issue. Since being robbed, he has become wary of going out at night and hasn’t been able to walk down the lane where he was stopped without suffering flashbacks.

“It’s not necessarily the whole event that comes back to me, but different parts, such as when he started to sob to me about his home life, or when he apologised for ‘having to mug me’,” he said.

“By far, what’s stuck with me the most are the words said to me as I was being mugged. The words ‘I want your money, I don’t want your life’ have been repeating in my mind every day since then, without failure.”

On September 2, at Swansea Crown Court, Teifion Lewis was sentenced for robbery and possessing a knife in a public place. The victim read out a statement directly addressing Lewis, urging him to get his life back on track and forgiving him for what he did.

“You asked me that night to forget that the robbery had ever happened,” he read. “My assumption is because you were fearful as for what might subsequently happen to you. I’m afraid though, that the image of a knife being flicked towards my chest, and the phrase ‘I want your money, I don’t want your life’ is something I will never be able to erase from my mind, no matter how much I wish for it to go.

“I want you, however, to improve. I want you to use your punishment as your wake-up call, and as a doorway to improving both your future and the future of those who you are close to. There is help available for you, even in prison, and even when it seems all hope is lost. If I can get my life back on track after my autism diagnosis, so can you.

“You’re young, you’re able bodied, and you still have time. Use it wisely. I can’t forget what you did, but just this once I will forgive you.”

The victim has spoken out about his experience as Dyfed-Powys Police takes part in Operation Sceptre – a national week of action aimed at cracking down on the illegal possession of knives. A knife amnesty is taking place during the week (Sept 18-24), with people able to bin their knives at specific locations across the force no questions asked.

The 24-year-old has backed the operation, and the chance to get knives out of our communities.

“I’d prefer it if these people who carry knives with them be honest about who they are and why they have them on their person,” he said. “But it’s much more important that it’s an opportunity to get these weapons off the street.

“If the ability to do this anonymously is what gives these people the confidence to rid themselves of their weapons, then so be it.”

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A brand new Welsh language ukulele orchestra

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CAN you play the ukulele and would like to join a ukulele orchestra? Or would you like to learn a new skill and to socialise in a Welsh-speaking environment? Why not join Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl?

On Monday, October 15, Cered: Menter Iaith Ceredigion, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Learn Welsh will launch Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl which is a brand new, Welsh language ukulele orchestra in Aberystwyth for free, for those aged 16+.

Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl will practice weekly between 6pm and 7:30pm every Monday night during the school term and practices will take place at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. There is no need for any experience or ability on the ukulele and there will be instruments available to borrow so that you can have a taste before buying your own ukulele.

Welsh will be the main language of Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl but there is a warm welcome to everyone whatever your level of proficiency in Welsh. Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl is supported by Learn Welsh as a great activity for learners to practice their Welsh outside the classroom in a fun and new way.

Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl’s conductor will be Steffan Rees who has held a number of Iwcs a Hwyl workshops over the last year as Cered’s Community Development Officer. Steffan is also a musician who composes and performs as “Bwca” and he has been playing the ukulele for years.

Steffan said, “I have really wanted to start a Welsh ukulele orchestra in Ceredigion for a while having seen the successes and popularity of those in Cardiff and South East Wales. The ukulele is an instrument that excites people of all ages and with some patience and perseverance, it is an easy enough instrument to master. I’m looking forward to developing a repertoire with the orchestra and play a few gigs; the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron in 2020 perhaps!”

Numbers for the first term of the orchestra are limited so contact the Arts Centre Box Office on 01970 632 232 to book your place in Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl.

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