ANALYSIS: BT Openreach effigy might be amusing but it is a serious protest at villages still being left out of ‘digital first’ UK because of slow broadband
Last week Digital Minister Matt Hancock said he wanted to stop being ‘badgered’ by complaints about slow broadband, but one incident on Bonfire Night this weekend showed that there is little chance of that happening any time soon.
In what might be the most British form of protest ever, the village of Templeton in Devon burnt an effigy of an Openreach van.
It was an unconventional target, but one loaded with symbolism for a community frustrated at broadband speeds of just 700kbps which it is claimed are harming local businesses, quality of life and education.
Resident Roger Linden told the BBC that the snail-like speeds meant that only emails and occasional browsing were possible and that anything data intensive such as video steaming was out of the question.
He added that Openreach had promised to look into the situation three years ago but no progress had been made.
Infuriating locals even further is the fact that a nearby village has been connected to superfast broadband but Openreach believes Templeton is too challenging. This was the inspiration for villagers to redub the organisation ‘wont reach’ on the effigy.
“Templeton’s an extremely rural community, so connecting it to fibre broadband has proved difficult for all network builders,” an Openreach spokesperson told Silicon.
“The area wasn’t included in the local council’s subsidised programme either, so we’re working hard to find alternatives for the residents, including a co-funding solution. Some of the locals have asked us about our Community Fibre Partnership scheme so we’re exploring this option further.”
The incident might be humorous but should not be dismissed. Only last week, Digital Minister Matt Hancock was boasting about superfast broadband coverage, the UK’s digital economy leadership and a desire for ‘full fibre’. But there are still communities in the UK lagging behind.
The proposed universal service obligation (USO) but if the UK is to realise the benefits of a ‘digital first society’ such as more efficient online public services or a stronger economy that will be challenged by Brexit, then it is essential that the issue of rural broadband isn’t ignored.
The one positive outcome for BT and the newly independent Openreach is that their early re-branding programme appears to be gaining traction as there wasn’t a single mention of BT on the effigy.