Bovey Tracey

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Earl of Iddesleigh stops villagers getting fibre broadband after objecting to BT laying cables across his land

Residents of the Devon village of Upton Pyne, near Exeter, have been unable to upgrade their stately 2Mbps broadband connections with more reliable and faster fibre broadband, not because of BT, but because of the objections of a local landowner. Local landowner, Earl John Stafford Northcote the 5th Earl of Iddesleigh, objected to BT siting four poles on his 2,500 acre estate, saying he was “against spoiling the area”, according to DevonLive1. BT installed a broadband fibre cabinet in November, in preparation for the final stretch of cabling to the village. But that would have required the cable to be carried by the telephone poles that the Earl objected to so strongly – or being buried underground, which would be more expensive.

A spokesperson for BT said that the company was “disappointed that it is currently not viable to provide superfast fibre broadband for the village”. Local residents, too, have been described as “furious”. Their broadband connections, partly because of their distance from the nearest exchange, maxes out at just 2Mbps. They have branded the landowner’s attitude as “ridiculous” and the whole situation as “a shambles”.

Villager Fabian King said: “We’ve got the cabinet here and we’ve got the fibre optic cable on the poles. There’s one gap of four poles, that’s all we need to sew it up.”

Maybe the real reason the Earl does not want the locals having fast broadband is that they might find out what his son and heir is up to. Apparently Viscount Thomas Stafford St Cyres2 has been arrested twice for drunk driving, and was banned from the road for three years3.

I hate to say it but this privileged aristo might be right

I’M not usually prone to agreeing heartily with aristocrats, but this time I think the fifth Earl of Iddesleigh is right. The earl, also known as John Stafford Northcote, has delayed the arrival of superfast broadband in the village of Upton Pyne near Exeter, by asking BT to bury broadband cables rather than suspend them on four poles across some of the 2,500 acres he is said to own in the area. BT says it has had two meetings with him and has failed to get agreement for either over or underground cables. If the earl had not objected to the poles, I’m sure BT would not have offered an underground solution at all. Plenty of people seem to think the earl’s objections are outrageous.

How dare he deprive a village languishing on speeds of just two megabits from a bright future of films downloaded in seconds? Comments on this story on Facebook vary from “The golden rule in life is…….the man with the gold makes the rules” to the unprintable. Many people wonder why the earl is making such a fuss about a supposedly “unspoilt valley”, when there are plenty of other utility poles all around. But there are also some who think he has a point. Why shouldn’t BT automatically bury cables in the countryside?

The company’s initial reluctance to do so is, I imagine, due to the fact that it is much less expensive to put them on poles. I expect you’d find the same would be true of electricity and phone suppliers. They might have the ability to bury cables, but their first option is almost always going to be to suspend them, regardless of their ugliness and how much they spoil the view. That’s just one of the ways in which they have become such goldmines for investors. BT made a profit of ?3 billion in 2015 and would probably have repeated it last year were it not for financial troubles in its Italian arm.

Despite earning mountains of cash, BT has been much criticised for its maintenance of the broadband network. It was recently forced to agree to legally separate itself from its in-house division Openreach, which provides the network of cables etc used by all broadband suppliers to connect us to the internet. BT was accused of failing to invest enough in Openreach and favouring itself above other providers. BT has made astronomical profits and could easily afford to spend more on making sure its cables are as invisible as possible, especially in rural areas.

The other issue is, of course, how many households in Devon are still on slow broadband. The argument in Upton Pyne will soon be sorted out, I’m sure, but what about the rest of us, who try to manage businesses on slow and often intermittent broadband? Ofcom published its annual study of UK broadband last month and announced that the average speed has now reached 36.2mbps. I’m lucky if I get 5mbps.

HAVING lived for two years in a semi-detached house next to a music-crazed teenage boy with hippy parents, I can really sympathise with the neighbours of Plymouth resident Danielle Tonkin. Ms Tonkin failed three times to abide by a noise abatement notice, playing music so loud and so often that neighbours were kept awake and some became depressed and were driven from their homes to seek quiet. In my case it was dance music thundering through my walls, in theirs it was One Direction, Jessie J and Shaggy. I think I came off lightly.

The worst thing about living with a noisy neighbour is you never know when the music is going to start, so you can never relax. Sadly, the action taken against Ms Tonkin, who was ordered to pay fines and costs of ?3,000 and had her stereo, TV and CDs destroyed, is unusual. Most people end up having to just put up with it.

I WAS delighted to read that the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter was included in a list of the best 50 free attractions in the UK. RAMM came in at 26 on the list compiled following a survey of 1,000 UK adults by coach company National Express.

I think it’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It has interesting and informative permanent displays, a great programme of exhibitions and talks and a really nice cafe. It is always worth a visit, unlike many museums where the stuff on view never changes.

Expert advice: I can’t get broadband on my farm

Q I have converted a barn on my property to let as a holiday home, but I am losing money because I can’t get BT to install broadband. I have it in my own property, but I have been trying since November to get it for the barn, as guests will want wi-fi. What can I do if I can’t get broadband?
Laura Harcourt, Devon

A You can persist and wait this out with BT, or take matters into your own hands, as a vacant property is costing you money.

Having looked at the mobile internet situation for your postcode, 3G and 4G mobile broadband aren’t really an option.

EE 4G barely covers the area, with low signal strength, while the other network providers (O2, Vodafone…