May Update

By now, the Penallt broadband project should have been completed but, as many residents are painfully aware, two major problems are continuing to cause problems.

The success: by the end of March some 60 or so residents had been switched from their previous internet provider to the service set up by Spectrum Internet and many were reporting tenfold increases in download speeds, most exceeding 10Mpbs (some much higher). Upload speeds were typically 1 Mbps, again far higher than before and leading to e.g. much better experiences with using Skype’s video.

Spectrum Internet have installed a microwave link from the Monmouth exchange to the BT cabinet in Lone Lane. As there is no “line of sight” between these two points, a repeater station was also installed on the slopes of The Kymin. The effect of this link was to shorten the distance of each resident to the Monmouth exchange by 4.5 km and, since download speed drops off quickly with distances greater than 2 km, all users experienced an immediate and dramatic improvement in service. This improvement was magnified by Spectrum’s use of the newer and faster ADSL2+ equipment rather than the previous provision of now outdated ADSL.

At the same time as these connections were being made, parts of the village suffered a catastrophic loss of telephone service which took up to three weeks to put right. It remains unclear how this happened and why it affected some residents and not others.

Problem 1: it was recognised at an early stage that the village could not be treated as a single entity with a single solution as all houses in the southern part of the parish, including the whole of Tregagle, were connected to the Trellech exchange and not the Monmouth one. Obviously, this meant that bringing microwave to the Lone Lane cabinet could have no effect on the “Tregagle group” as they were connected to a different cabinet, situated at the top of Whitebrook. Furthermore, bringing a microwave link into the Whitebrook cabinet would have much less of an effect on download speeds as the cabinet is much nearer to the exchange.

So, a different solution was needed and Spectrum proposed that wide area WiFi could be the answer. This requires “line of sight” between the WiFi transmitter and each resident and a suitable site across The Wye was found and tests were conducted. Spectrum’s Claire Brown recently contacted this group as follows:

Wireless broadband works best when there is clear line of sight to the mast. The reports produced by the project team showed that wireless signal will comfortably ‘hit’ Tregagle in some areas. However, we remain concerned that some properties would not receive an improved or consistent  service due their location – for example, properties that are ‘blocked’ by other properties to the mast or by trees (The leaves on trees deflect the signal in spring and summer).

It would seem unfair to only provide a solution to only half those requesting it – plus it would make the scheme unaffordable to operate in the long term. However, we have already begun to explore other solutions but require a little more time to pull all the details together and then be able to present the options to you. We’d like to suggest a meeting w/c 13th May with you.

In terms of the Welsh Government grant, we feel that this is becoming a separate scheme to the Penallt project – it has always required different technology and we feel that it is best to now be operated as its own project. Our understanding that this will also afford more time for project and grant as it would fall into the 2013 funding pot.

We apologise for the delay in getting the scheme up and running for Tregagle but we continue to do everything possible to provide a solution that can be implemented as quickly as possible.

Problem 2: At some stage during the last year or so, BT Openreach “re-parented” the telephone lines of a group of houses in the north east of the village, roughly encompassing The Birches up to The Old Church. These properties were amongst the closest to the Lone Lane cabinet and, probably to minimise overload on the cabinet, their telephone lines were disconnected from the cabinet and connected directly to the Monmouth exchange instead. This only became apparent a few weeks ago and meant that affected residents could no longer take advantage of the fast broadband provided to those connected to the cabinet. Again, Spectrum’s Claire Brown recently contacted this group as follows:

We have requested that Openreach consider the possibility of ‘re-parenting’ the lines back through the cabinet which would allow you to connect via the Penallt broadband scheme. Unfortunately we received the following response:

“I have now had a response from our network team. The current policy is that we would not undertake any rerouting of our network to redirect an end user currently on an EO [Exchange Only] line via a PCP [cabinet]. This would potentially require significant lineplant rearrangement and apart from the associated costs which are likely to exceed any potential return this could potentially add significant length to the end user lines which could result in a degradation of any exchange based services being delivered to the end users.

This policy also applies to the rollout of our own NGA network so we would not reroute EO lines via a PCP so they could receive service via our FTTC product. I’m sorry this is not the response you were hoping for. “

Therefore we would need to explore other possibilities separating you from the main Penallt project. Whilst I know this is frustrating, this does afford more time and opportunity under the Welsh Government grant as the project would fall into the 2013 funding pot rather than just extending from the 2012 grant.

The technical project team need a little longer to study the options as we have not undertaken a project such as this however, we would like to propose a meeting w/c 13th May to discuss our findings and solutions with you. My apologies that this is taking a while to resolve but this is quite a technical challenge – as you can see even Openreach aren’t looking to resolve the issue for you or others connected directly to exchanges.

Meeting: Spectrum Internet has scheduled a meeting to discuss these two problem areas for Wednesday May 15th at Pelham Hall. Further details are here.