The following is from Martin Horwood’s column in the Gloucestershire Echo, reproduced with kind permission from both Martin and GlosMedia.
Great invention the telephone. 138 years on, we’re more dependent on it than ever thanks to the internet. However much you use another 19th century invention, radio (rebranded as wi-fi), it’s the telephone network that connects you to the world.
So it’s a big problem when it fails. I speak from experience. On Friday, some combination of my service providers accidentally changed my home phone number. So no incoming calls and our home internet connection stopped working. Much of my work – even filing this column – suddenly became more complicated. The kids couldn’t access information for their homework and, more alarmingly, my wife – a senior public health doctor – was cut off from the networks she might have needed in the event of an outbreak of something nasty.
None of this cut any ice with Post Office HomePhone’s call centre who couldn’t contact BT’s engineers but vaguely hoped it might all be sorted after five days or so. There’s a side issue about rubbish customer care by utility companies here. I seem to be taking up more and more cases for constituents.
But at least my phone should be fixed soon. What if you’ve suffered virtually useless broadband speeds for years? What if you’ve just bought a house in urban Cheltenham assuming this wouldn’t be an issue?
The first problem is that some bright spark years ago decided Cheltenham needed one central telephone exchange in Oriel Road. As Cheltenham grew, more distant areas got a poorer and poorer service the further those copper wires had to reach. Today, that means slower and slower internet connections.
Along come BT, subsidised by millions in public cash to install superfast fibre-optic cables alongside the old wires, and even extending to hard-to-reach areas under specially commissioned schemes like Gloucestershire’s ‘Fastershire’.
Government’s ambition is 90% coverage. I assumed the exceptions would be somewhere like the Outer Hebrides. Oh no. Newer estates across Cheltenham – and presumably elsewhere – have been left out because BT thinks they aren’t ‘commercially viable’ to connect. If their service was bad already, they’re ending up with connection speeds twenty times slower than their neighbours. If this is you, get in touch. It’s time for digital justice!