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This page refers to the efforts your Parish Council is making to improve the speed and reliability of Internet Broadband connections in the village. Present status is indicated (unofficially) on SamKnows.com, and on BT's own page BT's own where and when page. Please call back to learn more and take part in the discussion.

Revised 1. July 2014 - "Fibre to the Cabinet" comes to Acton Bridge, but some reported speeds are disappointing

What's New - Great News for Acton Bridge - Fibre Broadband Goes Live!

The new Green Cabinet on the pavement opposite the Hazel Pear has gone live, with a "Fibre broadband is here" sticker on it. A similar cabinet was formally unveiled in Weaverham last week.

BT and Plus.Net (other ISPs are available) are now offering fibre connectivity to most Acton Bridge subscribers - it seems that the extent is from Station Road in the east to Milton Rough in the west, and along Hill Top Road and Cliff Road past Bancroft, but not quite as far as Chapel Lane, although at least one property in Pear Tree Lane seems to be in range. Estimated speeds run from 70Mb/s at the Hazel Pear to 15Mb/s at the extremities. Your editor, who has also been the "Digital Champion" for Acton Bridge, will be seeking further details of reach and speeds in the coming weeks. Ironically, his home is just beyond the present range of fibre-speed connectivity.

You can check for yourself by clicking on "Check BT Infinity availability" on BT's website. However, correspondents in Acton Bridge have recently reported that the download speeds actually achieved, for example in Cliff Road and Chapel Lane, are significantly lower than those predicted when they signed up for the fibre upgrade. In at least one case the speed is no better than it was over the normal broadband. One possible explanation offered has been that the wiring between the green cabinet by the Hazel Pear and the properties concerned is aluminium, rather than the usual copper. If this is the case, it rather undermines the appeal of the recent FTTC upgrade.

If you have recently upgraded to fibre, we'd be very interested to hear from you, so that we can form a body of evidence to present to Connecting Cheshire. Please run the Broadband Speed Checker, broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk, and e-mail us with your results at the address below (shown as an image to reduce spam). We won't identify individual properties without permission.
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The official unveiling of the Weaverham cabinet - those pictured include Julian Cobley from Connecting Cheshire ; Charles Fifield, Cheshire West & Chester Councillor ; Graham Evans MP ; and John Oliver from Acton Bridge Parish Council. Picture courtesy of David Evans, Acton Bridge Parish Council.

Connecting Cheshire hosted a drop-in briefing event on 21. January in Tarporley, CW6 0AY. Acton Bridge Parish Council is planning to host a similar event, either in Acton Bridge itself, or perhaps in cooperation with Kingsley Parish Council, once we are clearer about the timescale for implementation.

14. March 2014 - A helpful correspondent noticed that the status of the Weaverham exchange on the BT Openreach where and when website changed from "Under Evaluation" to "Coming Soon" recently, and has now advanced to "Accepting Orders", though BT's website doesn't say fibre is available yet.

4. March 2014 - Connecting Cheshire have sent us another Update, which doesn't seem to be on their website yet, but you can download a copy from this link (it's a PDF, so you'll need a suitable reader such as Adobe).

Your Editor attended another Connecting Cheshire Conference on Friday 6. December, and was pleased to learn that the Weaverham Exchange (BT Code MRWEA, which serves almost all of Acton Bridge) will be in the first phase of upgrades as Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) is rolled out by BT Openreach across rural Cheshire. This phase should start becoming available at the end of March 2014, and be finished during the summer. We don't know to what extent this improvement in timescale has resulted from the efforts of your Parish Council in attending such conferences and presentations, and pressing the case for rural broadband during our constant engagement with CC and BT, but it's very good news.

You can learn more about locations and roll-out phases from Connecting Cheshire's news page. You can also download their latest hi-res map (5MB PDF), now showing Parish boundaries, by clicking on the link on the CC page, or directly from here.

You'll notice a few anomalies on the map, such as a blue area around the River Weaver by Little Leigh. For reasons of legacy cable routing, some premises here are served by the Comberbach Exchange and will not benefit from the Weaverham upgrade. There are also some parts of Weaverham itself where the rollout will be a little later, owing to trunking access or other engineering issues. However, the databases used for generating the mapping are quite crude, and there will be many localised variations.

Having cracked the "chicken and egg" problem by getting fibre into the ground before demand is proven, BT Openreach and Connecting Cheshire are understandably anxious to get a return on their £30M investment, and this will be the ongoing role of Digital Champions in the various Parishes. It's important to realise that the substantial improvement in bandwidth resulting from the fibre will only be available to subscribers who pay a premium to their Internet Service Provider to upgrade to a faster package. I don't think this has been made as clear as it might be, but one advantage of the Openreach roll-out (as opposed to come other cable providers, such as Sky or Virgin) is that any ISP (such as PlusNet, TalkTalk, Tiscali and so on) can offer products over the Openreach network, so subscribers can shop around for the most appropriate deal.

At Question Time, your Editor asked the 6. December conference whether BT / CC would consider supplying high-speed WiFi to neighbourhood meeting places, such as our own Parish Rooms, where it could act as a demonstration facility to encourage uptake of the FTTC services. After all, it may be difficult for some customers to quantify what the benefits would be. In return, the Parish Council would offer to run surgeries for potential users, who could bring their own laptops, tablets and so on to try it for themselves. A continuing benefit would be that future users of the Parish Rooms would be able to log on to the Internet during meetings, such as when the Parish Council needs to discuss Planning Documents on the Cheshire West & Chester website, which is not possible from there at present.

Here is a link to the new Business pages for Connecting Cheshire, and you can read their Project Update newsletters on their Resources and Links page (opens in a new window).

Your Editor attended a presentation by Andrew Arditti of Connecting Cheshire at the Weaverham Parish Council meeting on Monday 16. September, but unfortunately this was very brief, and the local Digital Champion was abroad on business.

Your Editor attended a third SuperFast Broadband (SFB) event at Oulton Park on Monday 3. June 2013, and reported to that evening's meeting of Acton Bridge Parish Council.

Speakers included Julian Cobley and Andrew Arditti, of Connecting Cheshire Partnership (CCP); Howard Hopwood, Deputy Chair of Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership; Bill Murphy, Managing Director of BT - Next Generation Access; and John Williams, representing Rainow Broadband Group, who presented a Community Case Study of how his village had brought forward FTTC to the parts served by the Bollington Exchange.

This was an opportunity for CCP to build on the recent announcement of awarding a contract to BT to accelerate the rollout of SFB in Cheshire, bringing "Fibre to the Cabinet" connectivity to many more premises. See the June Update PDF for more details. Questions were taken, including one from your Editor, put "on behalf of his grandchildren", as to whether this new funding would mean that local exchanges such as ours in Weaverham (Code MRWEA) would now automatically move up the pecking order from its present status as "Not Currently in Rollout Plans". Unfortunately Mr Murphy had left by then, and Mr Steve Edwards from BT was unable to give any assurances about specific exchanges, as the upgrade schedule will depend on the outcome of a detailed survey of the engineering practicalities across the County, which was started on receipt of the contract but will not be complete until December 2013.

Your Editor attended another SuperFast Broadband (SFB) event at Marthall Village Hall on Friday 1. March 2013, and reported to the following meeting of Acton Bridge Parish Council. The event was chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon. George Osborne MP, in whose Tatton constituency Marthall lies. Other speakers included Mrs Kathy Doyle from Over Peover, local businessman Steve Jones, Bill Murphy from BT, and Julian Cobley from Connecting Cheshire. The Government is allocating £530M to facilitate the roll-out of faster (if not always super-fast) broadband, mainly as Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC), in rural areas.

The speakers, and some of the audience who asked questions, emphasised the disadvantage suffered by rural communities as so many services come to depend on the Internet, and having a fast connection. For example, most Government departments such as DWP and HMRC insist on electronic communication, and we have seen this ourselves with CWAC regarding planning documents. Education is going the same way, and many children and higher education students are expected to "log in" to download homework and projects, and upload the results of their work. Add to this the trend towards TV catch-up such as BBC iPlayer and films from the likes of Netflix, and the problem is compounded. It's even worse for small businesses, who may need to exchange large files and operate remotely.

Frustration was expressed that BT are rolling out "infinity" fibre to the premises (FTTP), offering tens or hundreds of Mb/s in many urban areas, while large tracts of the country can't even get broadband, never mind super-fast. It's unrealistic for Acton Bridge to expect FTTP, as our population density is too low, so the best we can realistically hope for is an increase from the present 2Mb/s or so download to perhaps 6Mb/s or 10Mb/s via FTTC. That would be enough for most domestic users, so if we as a village, or perhaps in concert with our Ward neighbours in Weaverham, Cuddington and Dutton put pressure on BT through Connecting Cheshire, we might improve our chances. However, at the moment, our local exchange in Weaverham (BT code MRWEA) doesn't even have a date for FTTC capability.

The BBC's Radio 4 "Today" programme carried a feature on broadband on 31. July 2012. The BBC page is here and it carries a link to the full House of Lords report, which suggests that the Government's broadband strategy risks leaving many communities behind by focusing on speed over reach of service.

Your Editor attended the SuperFast Broadband (SFB) event at the Northwich Memorial Hall on Friday 22. June 2012.

This Connecting Cheshire page links to their "slide show", a map of the areas hardest to reach for the SuperFast Broadband roll-out, and some quite useful notes from the workshop session of the meeting. One suggestion I made was that local businesses might act as catalysts to stimulate the commercial viability of SFB roll-out to areas which might otherwise struggle to make a case.

Encouragingly, the map of "areas hardest to reach" shows Acton Bridge within the white ("Likely to be reached") area, unlike our neighbours in Dutton, who are in one of the hardest. I'm not sure how reliable these categories are, but it's better than I'd previously been led to believe.

Your Parish Council will continue its efforts to improve the provision of Internet connectivity to Acton Bridge. If you'd like to contribute to this discussion and process, please send an e-mail to the usual Acton Bridge address.....
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Update 21. November
We've just received the following message from Chris Capes at Cheshire West & Chester Council :-

Dear Digital Champion,
Thank you for attending the Digital Champions Event on the 25th October, we hope you found the supporting information sent out to be useful. We want to keep you up to date with the latest information and are acutely aware you are waiting for a template from us to gather information from your communities. We attended an event last week with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and they informed us they will be releasing a toolkit at the end of November for us and communities to use. We therefore feel that it will make sense to wait till that toolkit is available before we send out the templates to you as we want to make sure that it is right first time.
We hope that this doesnít cause you any problems and thank you for your patience, please donít hesitate to ask if you have any questions in the meantime.
Kind Regards
Chris Capes
Cheshire West and Chester

When we have the template, I'll write again to those who kindly participated last time (see below) so that we can form a common response to Connecting Cheshire.

I recently attended a "Digital Champions" seminar / workshop on "Superfast Broadband", run jointly by the Cheshire Association of Local Councils (of which Acton Bridge Parish Council is a member) and Cheshire Community Action. Here is a link to the Connecting Cheshire website, where you can find out more, and contribute to the campaign; and here's a link to B4RN - "Broadband for the Rural North", an ambitious campaign in Lancashire (new URL).

There is a concern that rural, thinly-populated areas such as ours will be left behind in the roll-out of the superfast technology [see #1 below] unless a commercial case can be made, or significant community effort is brought to bear. One consequence of this may be that people are unwilling to move to this area, or set up businesses that depend on modern communications, and this in turn may influence Neighbourhood Planning.

Please let me know how you feel about the speed you are getting [see #2 below], and whether it limits what you'd like to use the Internet for ; and in particular what benefits a faster connection could bring you, and what premium you might be prepared to pay for it. If you're perfectly happy with what you have now, that's still a helpful response!

Mny thanks for any help or additional comments you can offer. We'll publish selected extracts below as they come in.

Steve Pardoe
Acton Bridge Parish Council

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[#1] "Superfast" hasn't really been defined, but in practice it means at least 10Mb/s, or significantly faster than is possible via copper telephone lines all the way from the local exchange (in our case, Weaverham) to the home. This increase can be achieved by running fibre-optic cables into the home (as is available in many urban areas, known as FTTH) or, more realistically, by fibre just to the familiar green kerbside cabinets much closer to consumers (known as FTTC) with the final link to homes via the existing copper. Other options include 3G phone "dongles", local line-of-sight microwave links, connections over the utility networks, and even satellite up / down-links. These high speeds are most useful if you are streaming video such as BBC iPlayer, using Skype or other video conferencing, downloading films, and so on; but, like most improvements, today's "nice to have" can become tomorrow's "bare minimum". It's notable that the EU has very much more ambitious speed targets than the UK.

[#2] You can find out your own actual download and upload speeds via free websites such as Broadband Speed Checker,
broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk, or get an estimate from BT by entering your phone number into their web page
The upload (your home to the exchange) speed is typically only about a quarter of the download (exchange to your home) speed - that's the "A" in "ADSL". Most Internet users don't upload large files, so it's usually less important.
In my own case, I have noticed a recent improvement (from about 500kb/s to 2,400kb/s), though I don't know whether this is a permanent feature or just lucky. BT's "Infinity" fibre-based product isn't available on the Weaverham exchange, and at present BT have no firm plans to make it so, but you can register interest on the BT website by looking for BT Infinity. It was through just such registration of interest that we got ordinary ADSL broadband into Weaverham several years ago.

Comments from respondents are being posted on a separate discussion page.

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