Residents of Tangley, Wildhern, Hatherden and Charlton Down - led by Parish Council Vice-Chairman Dave Eldred and joined by Sir George - met with representatives from Hampshire County Council and Test Valley Borough Council to discuss the contract to deliver brodband to the area. Steve Spillane of VIB, who won the contract placed by HCC last year, was also present with Trevor Grove’ of Wi-FI Net Ltd. the company installing some of the necessary infrastructure.
"This meeting, which lasted an hour, began with a brief background resume from David Gleave of TVBC. He explained that, using money from SEEDA, TVBC and HCC had awarded a contract to VIB to supply broadband to the Hatherden Exchange Area. The contract was signed a year ago, after competitive tenders were invited, and lasts for three years. It followed from a decision by BT not to enable the telephone exchange and was the local authority's response to the lack of broadband provision."
"We heard that, initially, the service was provided by satellite and there were difficulties with the range and reliability of the service. Recently, a leased line has been brought into the barn of a local farmer and eight "nodes" had been provided to deliver a wireless-based service to the community. After some teething troubles, we were told that this service was now up and running, but this was disputed by the residents who are signed up to the VIB system. Also a number of houses remain outside the reach of the current service."
"There was a debate as to whether this technology had the reliability and capacity to deliver the quality of service that residents wanted, and doubts were expressed as to whether the village had confidence in VIB to meet its contractual obligations. Some residents with homes surrounded by trees were doubtful that they could be reached, and others were concerned that signals could be bounced by certain types of material. It appeared that a relatively small number of the 200 eligible homes had been getting a satisfactory service and the local discontent had been demonstrated by 80-100 people turning up to a recent public meeting."
"The local authorities made it clear that there was no budgetary provision for any other service, if the current service was withdrawn or failed."
Sir George suggested that the right approach involved "belt and braces" The belt was to make the current service work to the full extent of the relevant technology and to deliver the terms of the contract; the braces were to get BT to enable the local telephone exchange, so residents had a choice of service provider.
He was busy pursuing this with the Chairman of BT and would report progress. He hoped BT would enable the exchange without asking for a contribution from residents; but if a contribution was needed, he would liaise with the Parish Council and the residents to see if and how this could be raised. There could be a modest uplift in house values if the exchange was enabled.
On how the current contract was delivered, he said this was primarily a matter for the two parties - HCC and VIB. His inclination was to give VIB a final chance to provide a defined quality of service to a defined number of houses within a defined period - possibly the end of July. He recognised that a small number of houses might not be reached in that time scale, in which case a slightly longer period should be allowed to enable the footprint to be extended. Residents should be surveyed after the agreed date to see whether they were getting what they were entitled to.
There was general agreement to that aporach to that, and the meeting then adjourned so that discussions between VIB and HCC could take place.
"What residents want is certainty and reliability. Many are fed up with what has happened in the past year and I have every sympathy with them."
Attending the meeting from Hampshire County Council were John Reese-Evans and Ian Willcox; from TVBC David Gleave.
The residents were as below, excluding Mark Roach who kindly took the picture
In picture from left to right. Edward Cox, Jonathan Capes, Mathew Morton, Eric Tomlin, GY and David Eldred.