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The New Forest villagers facing a £166,000 bill for high-speed internet

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The properties are currently struggling with download speeds of about 3Mbps
The properties are currently struggling with download speeds of about 3Mbps

BEAULIEU residents face a fee of more than £166,000 for high-speed internet after failing to qualify for Hampshire County Council’s free fibre-optic installation scheme.

Owners of 23 premises on Lyndhurst Road were quoted a charge of £7,246 per unit for superfast broadband by installer Openreach, despite other properties in the area receiving the upgrade for free, writes Lauren Lewis.

Resident and professional life coach Alison Banks (59) said the upgrade was vital to allow people to work from home, especially as offices remain shuttered by coronavirus, but that expecting locals to pay was unreasonable.

She said: “In the first lockdown I was forced to stop life coaching and ended up losing a lot of revenue because I didn’t have a reliable internet connection or phone service.

“I would contribute to getting the necessary infrastructure put in, even though it is so expensive, because I need a stable connection in order to work from home.

“However, for a lot of locals who don’t run a business from home the cost must be very hard to justify.”

Openreach said the reason Lyndhurst Road residents would need to pay extra for superfast broadband was because the area sits outside its commercial and government-funded programmes.

Up to 96% of addresses in the county will have fibre-optic infrastructure installed for free under the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme in the next few years.

Coverage already extends to over 90% of premises, according to Hampshire County Council – but several remote areas remain high-speed black spots.

Cllr Stephen Reid, HCC’s cabinet member for commercial strategy, human resources and performance, explained: “Those living in remote locations have often missed out on the scheme as their properties are more difficult – and consequently more expensive – to reach.”

He said over 100 premises in Beaulieu village, but only a few on Lyndhurst Road, were set to receive fibre broadband infrastructure through the council’s scheme.

The Beaulieu properties that qualify will be named later this year, but the Lyndhurst Road residents who are confirmed to be missing out face having to stump up the cash if they

want a high-speed connection.

The area currently has typical download speeds of three megabits per second (Mbps) – well below the national average of 64Mbps, according to broadcast regulator Ofcom.

The only way to upgrade the community’s broadband network would be through a co-funded Community Fibre Partnership (CFP), under which residents would be liable for the £7,246 per property fee.

An Openreach spokesperson said: “While we understand the quote might seem high, building new digital infrastructure can be complex and expensive but we’ll never say no to communities looking for a better broadband solution.”

Residents could apply for £3,000 grants to offset the cost from the government-funded Rural Gigabit Vouchers and Hampshire County Council top-up scheme.

However, owners of all 23 properties would still need to agree to pay the remaining £4,246 in a contract with Openreach for any residents to get fibre-optic broadband.

However, some residents said they do not want to pay for installation. Leygreen Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast owner Rowena White (67) said: “The reasons I need the internet do not warrant the cost quoted by Openreach.

“I already pay a large amount for my phone line and internet and I don’t want to pay anymore.”

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