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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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Cardigan: Welsh language nursery’s treasurer stole £16,336 from coffers

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A FORMER treasurer of Cylch Meithrin Penparc in Cardigan has been jailed today for a fraud that brought the Welsh language nursery to its knees.
Catrin Davies, a 33 year old single mother of two daughters, cheated the organisation out of £16,336.
After she left the post the nursery struggled to pay debts and at one stage was left with £1.84p in its bank.
Davies, of Bwthyn Lleine, Ferwig, admitted fraud and was jailed for eight months.
Judge Geraint Walters, sitting at Swansea Crown Court, told her the offending was too series for the sentence to be suspended.
Craig Jones, prosecuting, said Davies was appointed treasurer in September, 2015, and left the post in December 2016.
The new treasurer noticed discrepancies in the accounts. Davies tried to cover them up by sticking pieces of paper onto bank statements to blank out figures, photocopying them, and then carefully typing in new and bogus figures.
By then Davies had failed to pay money into the account and withdrawn some herself.
Mr Jones said that at one stage the nursery had to pay a roof repair bill. Davies knew there wasn’t enough money in the account but to keep the fraud going and to avoid detection she actually paid the bill out of her own money.
Mr Jones said after the true financial situation had been established Cylch Meithrin Penparc was at risk of closure. Internet access was cut off because the telephone bill could not be paid and staff found themselves buying essential items out of their own money.
And there was still a fear, he added, that the nursery would struggle to overcome the blow and to recover the confidence of parents.
Janet Gedrych, representing Davies, said she had suffered a devastating fall from grace.
Davies ran the Pink Orchid florists in Priory Street, Cardigan, for nine years and had a good reputation in the town.
But her partner left her and his debts behind and ran up more and she owed £30,000 in personal and business debts. By October, 2015, debt collectors were knocking on her door and she defrauded Cylch Meithrin Penparc to pay them off.
Judge Walters said the nursery provided a hugely valuable service to parents who wanted their children to learn Welsh and Davies had helped herself to money they had paid in.
“Your activity has reduced its ability to operate. It has not closed but it’s hanging by a thread.”
Judge Walters said he accepted that Davies had found herself squeezed financially, but many people struggled under similar circumstances.

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Police appeal for information about Cardigan crash

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CARDIGAN police are appealing for information about an RTC involving two cars, on the A487 Cardigan to Tanygroes, at around 5:45pm on Monday (Nov 13).

A white Mitsubishi Shogun and a blue/silver Fiat Bravo were involved in the collision, on the bypass near Cardigan Tesco. The two drivers were taken to hospital; one has since been released.

Anyone who witnessed the collision, or was driving along the road around the time, is asked to contact Ceredigion Roads Policing Unit by calling 101.

If you are Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908, quoting Ref: 326 of 13 November.

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Police reaffirms commitment to a safe working environment

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE has pledged to maintain its ongoing work to provide a safe working environment for all its staff.

Following the high profile accusations against members of the entertainment industry and reports that have subsequently followed from all corners of society, the force has taken action to ensure its staff and officers are aware of the existing support and mechanisms available to them.

While much work has already been – and continues to be – undertaken to tackle and eliminate unacceptable behaviour within Dyfed-Powys Police, chief officers are actively developing a culture where all members of staff are confident in speaking out.

An open letter has been issued to all employees, in which Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Claire Parmenter has reaffirmed that ensuring all staff can work in a fair and safe environment remains a key priority.

In it, she says: “The chief officer group wants to reassure you all that in Dyfed-Powys Police we hold our staff at the heart of our service and we will do everything we can to provide a safe working environment where everyone has the equal right to respect and dignity.

“The #MeToo Campaign was re-launched in the wake of the early allegations and has since been used by millions of women and men as an instantly recognisable method of removing the stigma that surrounds sexual harassment, by both victims and supporters of the campaign.

“While much work has already been undertaken to tackle and eliminate harassment, bullying and discrimination, work in this area is never done. Therefore, ensuring a fair, safe and equitable working environment for our staff in Dyfed-Powys Police remains an absolute priority.

“I have pledged my support to ongoing work aimed at reminding all officers and staff of the existing support and mechanisms available by which Dyfed-Powys Police encourages the reporting of wrong-doing. We will be reviewing policy, procedure and practice to ensure they remain current and that they are both supportive of victims and alleged perpetrators.

“We will also engage with staff associations and networks, the Police Federation and Unison to better understand staff concerns, embed high standards of conduct and reduce fear experienced by victims.”

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