With its social networking websites, email and blogs, the Internet appears to have brought the world closer together. Unless, it seems, you happen to live in the Welsh village of Salem. For 71-year-old resident Beverley McCartney has been told that to install broadband at her home would cost her more than £150,000
The sum does not include a monthly subscription and would have to be paid prior to any online shopping occurred. Yesterday Mrs McCartney said it was unacceptable that she should be denied broadband access just because she lives in a small village. Just days after BT announced huge profits, it emerged that the company told the pensioner it would cost her £129,613.54 plus VAT to connect her house near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.
The pensioner said today: ‘I’m not on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere – it’s rural, but not a wilderness. ‘It’s outrageous. I thought it was ludicrous in view of their profits. I can only laugh otherwise I’d probably burst into tears.’ BT had previously told Mrs McCartney the firm was unable to connect broadband – but wrote to her last week saying it could. The company said in ‘very rare’ cases exceptional charges would be imposed.
Mrs McCartney said: ‘I phoned BT and said surely this is a typing error and the girl said: “No, there’s been no mistake, other people have had bills for much more than this.” ‘I live three miles out of Llandeilo but there’s 50 odd houses in Salem and I’m quite sure they’d like broadband too. But I couldn’t afford £2,000, let alone £150,000.’ Last year Prince Charles warned that homes and business in the countryside risked being left in ‘broadband deserts’.
An estimated two million people are unable to access a fast internet connection and the Prince said isolated communities, which already struggle to make a living, face an ‘immense handicap’ without the ability to promote their goods or download information through websites and email. Schools, doctors’ surgeries and other essential services are also suffering after being left in the internet ‘slow lane’, he said, and if the rural economy fails as a result, Britain’s countryside will be full of ‘ghost communities, populated by little more than second-home owners’.
Last week David Cameron appointed Ed Vaizey to be the minister in charge of the Digital Economy Act, which was passed just before the General Election. The controversial Bill seeks to curb online piracy, among several other major policies, all with the aim of stimulating the UK’s digital economy Yesterday a BT spokesman insisted it was fair to charge Mrs McCartney the vast sum for broadband. He said: ‘If it’s just one individual person and it requires upgrading the network for one person, no company would cover that.
‘There can be very rare cases where additional charges need to be applied because of an exceptional amount of work required to the network in order to provide service. ‘These charges reflect the additional line plant and equipment needed to provide broadband to a particular location.’ He added: ‘BT is making a multi-billion pound investment in its UK network and is continuing to work with the Welsh Assembly to find solutions for the relatively few areas in Wales still unable to access a broadband service.’
He said the company worked to connect previous ‘not-spots’, helping residents get online – but added Salem was not classified as not-spot. He said: ‘We’ve been working on broadband ‘not-spots’ but it requires huge amounts of engineering work.’