CAMPAIGN - Better broadband for forces families across Aldershot

Since his election, Leo has been acutely aware of the significant difficulties many forces families across Aldershot Garrison have with slow and unreliable Internet connections in their homes. As a veteran himself, Leo understands the impact a lack of Internet connectivity can have on families. He has campaigned relentlessly, lobbying both Openreach and the Ministry of Defence, to ensure the rollout of new, super-fast broadband on the Garrison.

In March 2022, after years of lobbying, Aldershot Garrison was announced as being included in Openreach's 'Full Fibre' upgrade plans. Since then, Leo has kept pushing both Openreach and the MOD to deliver on this plan. 


LATEST UPDATE: January 2024 - Minister confirms first addresses signing up for new, super-fast Internet connections

Leo received a reply from James Cartlidge MP, the Minister for Defence Procurement, confirming not only that the rollout is making excellent progress but that some families on the Garrison can already sign up to receive the service. Residents of Vine Close are now able to order a high speed connection from Wifinity. Separately, Openreach have completed work on another 144 homes and residents will be able to order full fibre broadband services before the end of January.

Based on estimates provided by Wifinity and Openreach, the MOD expects the remainder of homes on the Garrison will be able to order full fibre broadband services before the end of March 2024.


September 2023 - MoD outlines details on the delivery for improving broadband connectivity

Leo received encouraging news from the Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge MP, indicating that every SFA home in Aldershot is to receive high-quality broadband soon, with completion to be achieved by early 2024.

Leo wrote directly to constituents that have previously contacted him about SFA broadband to provide an update, and will continue to campaign on this issue until installation works have been fully completed.  


August 2023 - Leo writes to the Minister for Defence Procurement

Leo wrote to James Cartlidge MP requesting that the MoD and DIO provide confirmation of when the works are set to commence.

This follows after Openreach provided an update to Leo stating that works are still in planning and developing well with the MoD, yet were unable to provide a timescale as to when work would start to install fibre broadband.


April 2023 - Leo writes to Openreach requesting an update on the progress

Leo wrote to Openreach's Chief Executive, Mr Clive Selley, requesting details on the timeframe for the delivery of the broadband network. 


March 2023 - Openreach's surveys complete

After concluding their survey work, Openreach confirm that the commercial fibre build will extend to the North Camp area. 

Openreach would not confirm specific addresses at this stage, as they were yet to agree some specific aspects with the design of our network build. They confirmed their commitment to continue to work with Leo, Garrison HQ, and the team at the MOD.

They expect to update Leo further in early April. 


February 2023 - Leo writes to Openreach's Chief Executive

Leo wrote to Openreach's Chief Executive, Mr Clive Selley, to further emphasise the need for upgrades. 

He sought a commitment that forces families' SFA properties will be included in the imminent planned upgrade work - see attached. Openreach's survey work across Aldershot Garrison was due to conclude towards the end of February 2023. 


Autumn 2022/Winter 2023 - upgrades to mobile connectivity

Alongside fixed fibre connections, Leo is also working to secure upgrades to mobile (4G/5G) network technology.

Leo recently held a meeting with BT Group to explore options to improve mobile technology infrastructure locally. He understands that much of the Garrison is yet to benefit from 5G connectivity, but that many families rely upon mobile technology for their existing broadband. 


March 2022 - 'Fibre First' upgrades announced

Leo warmly welcomed the news of the Garrison's inclusion in Openreach's upcoming 'Fibre First' initiative.

Through their ‘Fibre First’ initiative, Openreach had announced that they would soon upgrade infrastructure to ensure local homes were capable of delivering download speeds of up to 1,000Mbps (or 1Gbps). Later in 2022, preparatory assessment would begin with the build scheduled to start in April 2023 subject to that survey work. Leo and Lt Col Burley wrote to local families to share the news - see attached. 

Leo met with Openreach's Chief Executive Officer, Mr Clive Selley, in Westminster to discuss the announcement. 


Summer/Autumn 2021 - Leo continues to lobby Openreach

Leo and Commander Aldershot Garrison, Lt. Col. Nick Burley, agreed to take residents’ feedback directly back to Openreach to again make the case for urgent upgrades to local infrastructure across the Garrison.

They continued to hold meetings with Openreach, with further pressure from the Army’s Regional Command.


Spring 2021 - SFA survey results announced

Hundreds of families responded to Leo's survey with universal frustration at the existing infrastructure.

Almost all residents reported significant difficulties working from home, completing schoolwork, and simply communicating with family members whilst on deployment. SFA properties across North Camp and on Camp Farm Estate were shown to have the worst connectivity, with existing copper (ADSL) connections producing woeful speeds of up to only 5Mbps. This had led to many families paying for additional - and often expensive - mobile home broadband services.


January 2021 - Leo launched SFA survey

To help Leo make the case for considerable financial investment, he wanted to hear directly about experiences of broadband in SFA homes and so launched a survey by writing to all the impacted families across the Garrison.

Leo explained in his letter - see attached - that their insight would be invaluable to help measure what impact poor Internet connectivity may be having on local families. He was acutely aware that the pandemic had further highlighted these problems, and that poor connectivity has a significant impact on the ability to work from home, undertake remote learning, and keep in touch with loved ones – especially those on deployment.


Winter 2020/2021 - Fibre Community Partnership

Together with his parliamentary team, Leo worked through the almost 2,000 SFA properties across Aldershot Garrison to analyse speeds and identify which were most in need of upgrade to put forward for a FCP. 

Having identified approximately 430 SFA homes on the slower ADSL connections, Leo submitted the affected addresses to Openreach. They prepared an installation plan for costing after several weeks of preliminary work. However, their estimated cost to the community - after their own corporate contributions - would be in excess of £300,000. They explained that the community should have been able to benefit from the DCMS Gigabit Voucher Scheme and therefore the financial contribution would be minimal to nil. 

After further investigation, however, the 400 or so properties were a mixture of 'rural' and 'urban' classes under the voucher scheme, and so significant additional financial investment would be required to make the partnership viable.


Autumn 2020 - Initial meetings with BT Openreach

Leo met with Openreach - the company responsible for building and operating the nation's broadband network - to understand how likely it was that our area would be included in their imminent upgrade plans. 

He was keen to establish what new infrastructure and funding would be required to upgrade the existing copper network so that families could enjoy faster and more reliable broadband. Openreach understood the issues families were facing but explained that Aldershot was not in their commercial plans, nor the work they were completing on behalf of the Government's Building Digital UK (BDUK) programme. They advised that a way forward may be to proceed with a Fibre Community Partnership (FCP) - a customised installation plan compiled by Openreach to upgrade existing connections. 


Summer 2020 - Meetings with Garrison HQ and the AFF

Leo met with Garrison HQ and a representative of the Army Families Federation.

Leo heard more about the feedback the AFF had also received from local service families. They took stock on their progress on the efforts to date and agreed to directly approach Openreach to consider the most effective next steps.


Winter 2019/Spring 2020 - Leo approaches Government for support

Disappointed by the DIO's rather passive position on the issue, Leo approached ministerial colleagues to ask what the Government may be able to do to encourage - or compel - private providers to earmark Aldershot Garrison for infrastructure upgrades.

Leo held meetings with various departments with a view to finding a solution, but none that he engaged with was willing to take direct responsibility for forces families being left behind in terms of connectivity. For example, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said this was a matter for the Army's estates division (who had already said it was not their responsibility). The Ministry of Defence (MOD), when challenged about whether the lack of provision was in fact an Armed Forces Covenant issue, claimed the issue was not one that result from Service - see attached letter. 


Spring 2019 - Defence Infrastructure Organisation

Leo and Garrison HQ met with representatives of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) - the organisation responsible for managing the UK's defence estate, including SFA homes.

However, they would not take any responsibility for broadband provision in local SFA. DIO stated that they had no influence on what infrastructure was provided where or by which company. They directed Leo to encourage local families to complain directly to providers in the hope that increased demand in the area may help support an investment decision to upgrade local services. 


Winter 2018 - Leo works to understand scale of broadband issue

Throughout 2018 and 2019, an increasing number of military families from across the Garrison brought to Leo's attention the poor-quality broadband connectivity in their Service Families Accommodation (SFA).

He worked over a number of months to open a dialogue with the Ministry of Defence - and specifically Aldershot Garrison HQ - to understand the scale of the problem for Armed Forces families. Garrison HQ had also reported a large number of families getting in touch to express their significant difficulties with slow and unreliable Internet connections.