BT Openreach is charging rural residents more than £5,000 to connect their homes to the internet.
Some isolated villages can’t get basic broadband because they are too far from the telephone exchanges owned by BT.
But, rather than extend its network, BT Openreach is telling communities they must raise as much as £58,000 among themselves to fund improvements.
Critics say that this is the equivalent of charging homeowners to install wires to carry electricity into their homes.
The huge fees emerged during Money Mail investigations into poor value for money from broadband contracts.
Stuart Billinghurst and Emma Collison, who live in a hamlet on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, were told he and his neighbours would have to cough up £5,272 each for a broadband connection
MPs say internet access is a vital utility and accuse BT of charging rural households for work it should be funding.
Grant Shapps, chair of the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), says: ‘People in rural areas are being ripped off by BT.
‘It can’t be right that having been denied proper internet access for years, the solution offered is for residents to pay for the infrastructure themselves.
‘Nowadays, broadband is one of life’s essential services, like electricity, and you’d never expect the public to pay for the wires to be laid to switch on the lights.’
Stuart Billinghurst, an alpaca farmer who lives in a hamlet of 11 houses on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, was told he and his neighbours would have to cough up £5,272 each for a broadband connection.
They live five miles from the nearest telephone exchange — too far for even basic broadband speeds.
Since moving to the area six years ago, the father of two, 40, has paid £120 a month for a satellite dish connection. This is six times the price of a typical £20-a-month broadband package.
Stuart asked Openreach, the arm of BT that owns and maintains the UK’s internet wires and exchanges, what it would take to connect his hamlet.
He was told there was no plan to bring fibre broadband to the area, but if his community stumped up £58,000, Openreach would pay the remainder and install a connection.
Half of the fee would be due before the work began and the rest on completion.
Stuart says: ‘Clearly, some money needs to be spent here to bring us into the 21st century. But that should be coming out of BT’s coffers, not my wallet.
‘I was speechless when they said we would have to find £58,000. We’re ordinary working people — that’s not the kind of money we have.’
Openreach is the national broadband infrastructure provider. All of BT’s rivals — except Virgin Media, which has its own cables covering half the country — rely on its network to serve customers.
Web BT Openreach is telling communities they must raise as much as £58,000 among themselves to fund improvements
Some small, challenger companies, such as Gigaclear, are offering ultrafast broadband to rural outposts that BT doesn’t plan to connect. They build their own networks and don’t rely on BT Openreach.
Meanwhile, BT is offering to build fibre broadband links in remote areas through its Community Fibre Partnerships — for a price.
Typically, the further away from the existing network they are, the more residents have to pay to join. The Community Fibre Partnership describes schemes as ‘co-funded’.
A quote given last July to 30 houses in Angus, Scotland, asked residents to pay £1,358 each to cover the cost of installing 5km of fibre cables, three underground chambers and seven telephone poles — requiring 270 man hours.
Grant Shapps said BT is ripping off people in rural areas
And 70 people in Combe Raleigh, Devon, were told they’d each have to shell out £699 to get connected.
To carry out the work on Bodmin Moor, Openreach says it would need 6km of cabling and to replace 40 per cent of the existing telegraph poles, as they’re too weak, plus obtain permission for road closures.
It said Stuart and his neighbours could apply for a grant, which would reduce costs.
BT has set aside £2 million for grants to communities with a school to bring super-fast access to each home in the area.
It has spent £800,000 of this in more than 70 communities, and £600,000 more is now allocated.
The Government is pushing BT to improve its network so that everyone in the UK has a speed of at least 10 Mbps by 2020.
This is the speed that regulator Ofcom says the average family needs. It says 95 per cent of the population now gets these speeds.
An Openreach spokesman says: ‘We’re as frustrated as anyone that we can’t upgrade the final 5 per cent of the UK easily, but these communities are so difficult and expensive to connect with fibre broadband that they’ve been turned down or ignored by other companies and publicly subsidised schemes.
‘Unlike others, we’ll never say no when communities in this situation want faster, more reliable broadband.
‘So we offer to contribute as much funding as a private company can when it has employees, pensioners and shareholders to consider.
‘We then ask for communities to fund the gap — and the reality is that some projects can be costly.’
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