Swindon Borough Council and UKB Networks have responded to claims that thier plans for a 4G netwok across the town is ‘out-dated’ and ‘unwanted,’ as the result of a protest in Haydon End on Saturday 16 January.
The council have a partnership with UKB Networks to bring a 4G LTE network to the town, a deal worth £2m.
Rural residents are benefiting from the increase in coverage, but in North Swindon people are adamant the service is nullifying interest from other companies such as Virgin and their fibre broadband options.
North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson has campaigned against the wireless 4G system for a long time. He said: “I have pleaded with Swindon Borough Council for eight months to step back from the 4G proposals. There is absolutely no support from residents for this unstable, out-dated technology.
“We need fibre and Swindon Borough Council should be channelling every effort into discussions with BT and other major providers. Everyone knows the UKB scheme will fail, so the council should step back and do the right thing.
“It is technology that’s five years out of date. It is a credit to Swindon Council that they have sought a solution by committing £1 million to providing high speed broadband. I desperately hope they will listen to residents and focus on a fibre solution.
“I regret to think the £1 million could be wasted because customers will not take up the 4G mast service. Virgin have shown strong interest in bringing their service to our area, but see a state aided project like the UKB 4G plan as competition and will not proceed until this is thrown out.”
In July 2014, Swindon Borough Council and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport each agreed to invest up to £1.5 million of funding to extend superfast broadband coverage in non-commercially viable areas.
Colin Polonowski, one of the North Swindon residents protesting the plans, said: “The 4G solution is technically inadequate for the residents of North Swindon as it is significantly slower than fibre or cable and doesn’t meet the OFCOM guidelines for ‘Superfast Broadband’ (anything over 30mbps).
“We are protesting because the council have carried out no market research and all expected uptake is based on the UK Broadband sales team’s opinions. 4G will leave the affected areas even further behind the rest of the country in five years than we presently are.”
Harriet Maltby, a Priory Vale resident, said: “The residents of North Swindon made it very clear that fibre was the answer to local need, but the council are proceeding with this inadequate 4G scheme regardless. We urge the Council to listen to residents and pursue a fibre solution for the area.”
Cllr Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate, Customer and Digital Services, said: “The Council undertook a fair and open procurement process for the superfast broadband project, overseen by BDUK, and had no interest from Virgin or BT.
“UKB Networks were the only operator to come up with a solution and will deliver superfast broadband to more homes than we originally hoped, for less money. The Minister responsible for the national superfast broadband rollout, Ed Vaizey, was very impressed with what we were doing when I met him before Christmas.
“We cannot simply pull out of this deal as we have signed a contract. To do so would have financial and reputational consequences for us as a Council, not to mention the significant impact on our rural communities and people living in north Swindon who want superfast broadband as quickly as possible.
“In fact, if enough people take up the service, UKB Networks have publicly stated they will install fibre at their own cost, so a fibre solution will be available to people in north Swindon if people support the scheme.”
Will Harnden, The Chief Marketing Officer of UK Broadband Networks said: “Prior to full public consultation as part of the official planning process we consulted with the headteachers of local schools in North Swindon in July 2015. All those whom we heard back from responded positively about our plans.
“We then reached out to the ward councillors in October 2015 and held a meeting to explain why we were proposing what we were. In this meeting we offered the councillors the opportunity of a site visit to discuss potential solutions to their concerns, although unfortunately they subsequently declined.
“We very much hope that they will take our offer up of visiting the proposed sites in future.
“Once we had come to a conclusion on the final site locations, based on feedback from Highways and further site visits to minimise the impact of the masts we once again spoke with the local schools and we presented to ward members and residents at the North Swindon Localities meeting in December.
“This meeting with the public was open to all of the 7,600 homes in North Swindon and we received positive feedback from attendees that they were more assured about the plans and had an increased understanding of what it all meant.
“Our technology is proven to work and currently being used in Chiseldon to great effect. In fact Paul Walton of Chiseldon Parish Council says it has transformed how his family uses the internet and that they are now getting download speeds of 45mb. It is also in use in Italy by 200,000 people and Ireland where 100,000 people currently use it.
“UK Broadband’s new Outdoor Unit will have speeds of at least 24mbps in line with the BDUK requirements for superfast broadband in the intervention area.”
Planning applications for masts transmitting the 4G signal are due to go before a Swindon Councill planning committee on 9 February.
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