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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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A level results still high in Ceredigion

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THE ‘A’ level examination results published today by the WJEC (15 August) show that high standards are being achieved in Ceredigion schools once again. 97.9% of entries for WJEC examinations were graded A* to E, with 27.9% of the entries achieving the top ’A’ grades.

Ceredigion pupils continue to outperform the Welsh average. More pupils in Ceredigion achieve the top ’A’ grades and A* to E grades. The below table shows a comparison with average Welsh figures. These don’t include Welsh Baccalaureate results and those from examination bodies other than WJEC.

Wales 2019             Ceredigion 2019

Grade A* – A           27.92%                    27.0%

Grade A* – B           56.0%                      n/a

Grade A* – C          77.5%                        n/a

Grade A* – E          97.9%                       97.6%

Councillor Catrin Miles is the Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said, “I would like to extend my warmest congratulations once again to Ceredigion’s sixth form students for their successes in this year’s A Level and AS examinations.

These results are the culmination of a long journey through school life which has seen them nurture and develop the academic and interpersonal skills that will enable them to move confidently into higher education, training or employment in fields of their choice. I wish them good luck for the future and would like to sincerely thank all who have contributed to their school journey in any way.”

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MP Ben Lake calls for reform of police funding

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HAVING recently shadowed Dyfed Powys Police officers in Aberystwyth, the Ceredigion MP has again urged the UK Government to review the police funding formula for rural areas.

Mr Lake visited Aberystwyth police station as part of the #GiveADayToPolicing campaign, a scheme for Members of Parliament to better understand the challenges currently facing police forces across the UK.

During his visit Mr Lake had the opportunity to experience a variety of aspects of local policing – from spending time with the neighbourhood policing team, meeting officers from different departments, and discussing policing challenges with front-line police officers.

Mr Lake has challenged the UK Government on several occasions to reform the formula for police funding – highlighting the need for the funding formula to take into consideration the seasonal pressures on forces, particularly the significant increase to the population of coastal areas during the summer months.

Mr Lake said: “I am very grateful to the officers of Aberystwyth police station for their welcome, and for taking the time to speak with me. I now have a better understanding of the challenges our police officers face, as well as a deeper level of respect and admiration of their work and commitment to public safety.

“As I have previously stated, we cannot expect a one size fits all approach to work effectively across the whole of the UK, and as such, it is imperative that the criteria used to allocate the Home Office police grant are revised so that they reflect the increased demands and unique challenges facing rural forces in areas such as Ceredigion, especially during summer months.”

Mr Lake added: “It is widely acknowledged that Welsh police forces have suffered under the present funding formula, and so it is high time that the UK Government either amends the formula accordingly, or devolves the responsibility for policing to the Welsh Government so that they may do so themselves.”

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New waste trial launched in Aberystwyth

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A NEW trial has been launched in Aberystwyth as part of the Caru Aber campaign, to help keep the town centre clean on waste collection days.

Heavy duty sacks will be placed on Aberystwyth streets on Monday afternoons before the black bag collection on Tuesdays in the following streets; Portland Street, Portland Road, Queen Street, Corporation Street, Eastgate Street, New Street and Cambrian Place.

Black bags should be put in the sacks by 8am on Tuesday mornings for collection. The intention is that the sacks contain the waste until it is collected. The sacks will be retrieved after the waste has been collected to avoid clutter and obstruction on the streets.

Councillor Dafydd Edwards is the Cabinet member responsible for Highways and Environmental Services together with Housing. He said: “We see this trial as a practical and relatively cost effective way of responding to long standing issues relating to domestic waste presentation in Aberystwyth town centre. The sacks will also provide a visible reminder to residents in the town centre on what days to present their black bags.

“The trial forms part of the Caru Aber campaign, and the wider Caru Ceredigion campaign, where the council looks to work with local communities to address issues which are of concern or are important to them.

“This innovative approach is another example of positive proactive action the council is taking. We hope that the residents of the town centre will play their part by making good use of the sacks as this will be the critical factor in measuring the success of the scheme.”

Clean recycling and food waste should continue to be presented on a weekly basis in the containers that the council already provides through clear bags and food caddies.

Ensuring that the right waste is presented in the right way and on the right day will help to make sure that the town’s streets are kept clean and that the waste is contained, managed and treated in the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way as possible.

The sacks were first used in readiness for waste collections on Tuesday 6 August 2019. The initial feedback is positive as they have worked to contain the waste on the streets, which were noticeably cleaner.

This latest initiative is developing on feedback and experience from two other trials undertaken. The success of the trial will be monitored on an ongoing basis and reviewed to reflect the experience which will include looking at ways of engaging all residents.

For more information about the new scheme, please contact the Customer Services Contact Centre on 01545 570 881 or by e-mail on clic@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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