Welsh broadband scheme change leads to stopped payments
Welsh home owners who are relying on the local government’s Broadband Support Scheme (BBSS) are refusing to pay for work done because they confused about who is to settle the bill.
The £1m scheme originally provided up to £1000 per household to upgrade to or install a 2Mbps broadband service. The scheme refunded home owners on production of two competitive quotations, and a receipt for the work done.
A Welsh government spokesman told Br0kenTeleph0n3 that the business minister (Edwina Hart) decided last month that the scheme could also pay internet service providers (ISPs) directly on behalf of the home owner.
She said the decision was taken because “applicants… should not be financially disadvantaged as a result of having to wait for the reimbursement of their costs”.
However, it appears to have told very few ISPs or home owners. But rumours of the change have led to some home owners holding up payments or refusing to pay for work done because they don’t know who is responsible for applying for and receiving the reimbursement.
Annette Burgess, MD of North Wales wireless broadband provider Exwavia, has called on the government to clarify the position urgently.
“We are being told by our clients that (the BBSS) are now paying for their installations. We now have installations (where payments) were due and the clients are not sure who will be paying, and quite frankly I am not sure either,” she told the government.
The spokesman declined to say how many claims were still not processed, nor what steps it was taking to prevent payment of fraudulent claims arising from collusion between ISPs and home owners.
Burgess wanted to know from the Welsh government if it was now contracting with her, and whether she should be asking for credit references for BBSS before starting work for a home owner.
“Whilst I understand the reasons and in fact support you on this change, I am absolutely shocked that you would not engage the suppliers who are installing (broadband) in Wales,” she said.
Burgess said more than 400 people ordered broadband from her and another 3,500 expressed interest after she sponsored a show on the Isle of Anglesey this week.
“This effort may be a complete waste of time for Exwavia and the residence of Anglesey if we can’t bring the stakeholders together to run this scheme successfully and within the rules outlined,” she said.
She said she had been led to believe that the government would set up a stakeholders group by April 2011. This had not happened.
There is now widespread speculation that the Welsh government’s broadband plans are in disarray ahead of its £100m+ Next Generation procurement, which closes next month. The confusion is said to favour BT, despite the fact that it will offer inferior products and services, unless it departs from its published plans.
Last month BT announced it would upgrade its network on Anglesey to provide up to 20Mbps download to homes. According to its website, Exwavia offers homes 4Mbps to 14Mbps for both uploads and downloads, starting from £20/m, and higher speeds for business, after set-up costs of £1000, which would be covered by the BBSS.
Br0kenTeleph0n3 reported earlier that the Welsh government was sitting on money to extend a radio tower that would improve broadband access to a business park in Anglesey, even though planning permission had been granted in April.
It had also refused permission to light some parts of a £30m fibre to the home network supplied to it and managed by Geo Networks’ subsidiary FibreSpeed. FibreSpeed had also to spend an extra £20,000 to install a microwave link to connect the island to the mainland when permission to light a fibre to a radio mast was not forthcoming. Welsh government spokesmen refused to comment on the reasons for the delays.