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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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Restaurant owner fined over £3000 for ‘significant rodent infestation’

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THE FORMER proprietor of a restaurant which had a ‘significant rodent infestation’ pleaded guilty to ten food hygiene offences at Aberystwyth Justice Centre on Monday (Jun 18).

Mr Rysul Asad of Gloster Row, Cardigan, and the former proprietor of Gulshan, Chancery Lane, Cardigan, has appeared before Magistrates.

Four offences related to the presence of a significant rodent infestation at the restaurant, which was under Mr Asad’s control at the time. A further five offences related to the poor standards of cleaning found during the investigation.

Emergency action was taken by Ceredigion County Council Environmental Health Officers in September 2017 following the discovery of an active rodent infestation at the premises, and resulted in the immediate closure of the food business.

Rodent activity, including the presence of droppings, entry points and gnawing, was discovered within food preparation and food storage areas of the premises. Furthermore, Officers also discovered dirty equipment and very poor standards of cleaning.

Rodents carry a number of dangerous microorganisms and pose a significant risk to human health. These can include Salmonellosis, Escherichia coli (E.coli), Hantavirus and Weil’s disease.

The presence of rodents within a food premises can transmit these diseases via contaminated surfaces, equipment and the food itself, to such an extent that it is regarded as an imminent risk to health.

Cabinet Member for Public Protection Services Councillor Gareth Lloyd said: “Food hygiene inspections, and Food Hygiene Ratings shown on the doors of the majority of food businesses in Ceredigion, gives reassurance to the public who live, work and visit the county that the food they eat is safe and has been prepared hygienically. However, on rare occasions the Council must take action to protect public health and the reputation of our excellent hospitality industry who work hard to maintain standards.”

Mr Asad also pleaded guilty to a further offence of failing to register his new food business, namely Shatun Sharha Limited trading as Shampan the Boat Restaurant and Takeaway, River Teifi, Quay Street, Lower Mwldan, Cardigan, for which he is now the proprietor. Mr Asad failed to notify the Commercial Services Team at Ceredigion County Council of this change following his departure from Gulshan in November 2017.

Councillor Lloyd added: “Cases like this underline the importance of the work of our food and safety team and the value of our inspection programme. The food safety team works hard with local businesses to meet and maintain legal food hygiene standards to ensure the best hygiene safety in our county.”

The Magistrates imposed a total financial penalty of £3,107 on Mr Asad for the offences. This included Council costs and victim surcharge.

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3,000 Welsh landlords still unregistered

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JANET FINCH-SAUNDERS AM has called on the Welsh Government to urgently work to improve landlord registration under Rent Smart Wales, as estimates released indicate around 3,000 remain unregistered.

Ms Finch-Saunders said: “Rent Smart Wales estimates that still 3,000 landlords are unregistered here in Wales.

“Whilst that makes up a small percentage of our total landlords, it is most concerning for those living in properties leased to them by those who have not yet registered.

“The Welsh Government has confirmed that a landlord who is not registered with Rent Smart Wales is unable to serve a valid Section 21 eviction notice – so where unregistered landlords do indicate that they want tenants to vacate a property, this is not recognised by local housing associations, which can cause stress to tenants who may not be aware of their full rights under the law.

“By focusing on ensuring that all landlords are properly registered, the Welsh Government can alleviate such concerns, and I will be urging the Cabinet Secretary to act to ensure all landlords are abiding by this legislation in full.”

The Minister for Housing and Regeneration told Ms Finch-Saunders that the latest figures released by Rent Smart Wales show that 90,812 landlords are now registered. Rent Smart Wales’ latest estimate for the number of unregistered landlords is approximately 3,000.

This is based on the dwelling stock estimates recently published by StatsWales, and an estimation of the average number of properties owned by each landlord.

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Public urged to enjoy dolphin sightings at a distance

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WITH summer on the way, bringing visitors enjoying Ceredigion’s wildlife rich coastline, the Council is urging members of the public to enjoy coastal activities without disturbing Cardigan Bay’s special wildlife and habitats. The call comes after individuals recently approached and swam with dolphins in Cardigan Bay.

The Ceredigion Marine Code of Conduct asks water users to stay 100 metres away from dolphins and porpoises encountered at sea, and to keep a distance of 50 metres from seals and nesting sea birds.

In no circumstances should the public attempt to feed, swim with or touch the dolphins. These are wild animals. Dolphins are large and powerful and can grow up to four metres long. As well as causing significant disturbance to the animals and pushing them off important feeding sites, close contact can also result in exposure to diseases to both humans and animals.

Repeated disturbance could cause the dolphins to leave important feeding sites to search for quieter areas.

Disruption to feeding, resting and nursing behaviour could have a long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of individual dolphins and populations.

The Cabinet member responsible for Economy and Regeneration, Councillor Rhodri Evans said: “Cardigan Bay’s wildlife is a great asset to the economy of our coastal communities and is also important in its own right. It is because of this that we ask residents and visitors to enjoy dolphin, and other wildlife sightings at a safe distance. Although the temptation to have a close-up view is understandable, we can’t risk disturbing Cardigan Bay’s wildlife and possibly driving them away. It’s the last thing anyone wants.”

The Ceredigion Marine Code of Conduct was established by Ceredigion County Council over twenty years ago, in response to local community concerns that the bottlenose dolphins that use these waters to feed, socialise and breed were experiencing greater pressures from disturbance by those enjoying recreational water-based activities.

The Ceredigion Marine Code of Conduct can be found online on http://www.cardiganbaysac.org.uk/?page_id=583

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