Broadband ‘so bad I work from my friend’s shed’

Video conferencing on laptop Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption One customer said she had to go to a friend’s shed to connect to online meetings

Customers of an internet provider paid about £350,000 in taxpayers’ cash say they are having to work from friends’ gardens to get decent wi-fi.

Carmarthen-based Bluewave promises to provide high speed broadband to people living in rural areas with poor signal.

But some customers have spoken of being without internet “for weeks” and the Welsh Government said it had received a “number of complaints”.

Bluewave said it took customer complaints very seriously.

The company, which covers most of west Wales, advises new customers to apply for set up grants from the Welsh Government’s Access Broadband Cymru scheme.

According to data seen by the BBC, 432 of their customers have applied for grant funding since 2017.

With grants averaging between £800 and £900 each, that means the company could have received about £350,000 of public money, through the Welsh Government scheme.

‘I work from a friend’s shed’

Image caption Francesca Nelson says she cannot rely on the broadband at her house for meetings

A bid writer for construction and engineering companies, Francesca Nelson has daily online meetings with colleagues all over the world.

But Ms Nelson said she works from her friend’s shed due to her broadband being so unreliable. “Surely someone is obliged to check that what was being provided to us is actually fit for purpose,” she said.

“The Welsh Government is spending taxpayers’ money on helping people like me to get wi-fi – which is lovely – but let’s make sure it’s decent wi-fi that actually works for everybody.”

Image caption Jackie Morris says she has had to turn down festivals due to being unable to rely on the internet

Artist and illustrator Jackie Morris, who lives near St Davids, recently left Bluewave after months of being frustrated with the service she was receiving from the company. 

Ms Morris said she had to tell major festivals she could not appear live due to not having reliable broadband, and claims the company ignored her complaints. “There have been times when I’ve had no internet for two weeks, no apology, the only thing that has been regular about Bluewave has been their bills once a month, with no respect for the outages,” she said.

“The sheer frustration of trying to work, paying for a service which isn’t cheap and having to drive to St Davids in order to use somebody else’s broadband to do my work has been astonishing.”   

Ms Morris said that while she had applied for and received a £1,000 grant from the scheme, no-one had ever checked if “it was working”.

The Welsh Government said it was aware that some customers were unhappy with their broadband.

“We have raised these issues with Bluewave in order to seek a resolution. These discussions are ongoing,” a spokesman said.

He said it was the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that the equipment and service provided met their requirements.  

“Payments are only made once a connection has been successfully made,” the spokesman said. A forum set up on social media by dissatisfied Bluewave customers now has more than 80 members – all complaining about the service.  

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Media captionWhat is lockdown like with poor internet?

Bluewave said the network was monitored in real time and it had invested heavily in infrastructure over the past 12 months.

It said customers were given personal mobile numbers to stay in touch out of normal operating hours and most faults were solved on the same day or over the phone.

“Your report is an opportunity to learn, we take it on board and apologise to anyone who feels they have been let down,” a statement said. The telecoms regulator confirmed it had received complaints about the company but was not considering enforcement action at this time.

Elinor Williams of Ofcom said enforcement powers were a last resort and it preferred to work with companies to make improvements. “It is challenging because these are small companies and they don’t have the financial back up that some of the bigger players have,” she said.

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