Whopping internet bill sparks frustration at Morley Primary School
Copyright: Archant 2016
An internet bill so huge it’s unpayable has staff at a rural primary school feeling frustrated and left behind on the information superhighway.
Morley Primary School, which has just 134 pupils, is facing a fee of more than £32,000 if it wants to upgrade to a reliable broadband service. Laura Green, headteacher said: “We’re not being looked after. It’s like being thrown to the dogs.
“Suddenly we’re in a marketplace and each school has to pay whatever the cost is.”
Norfolk County Council has been providing Internet access through BT Outreach, and there was a programme of extending broadband access to outlying schools around the county, including Morley.
But an ‘Updata’ programme is taking over from BT. The change means internet will be cheaper for about 80pc of the county’s schools - in particular those in urban areas - but others, including Morley, face huge bills to go with Updata and stay on course to eventually get decent internet.
Mrs Green said currently, only two or three children could go online at a time. Office tasks such as transferring data, which would only take 30 minutes at a city school, can consume a whole day at Morley.
She said: “The situation hasn’t been good with BT, but at least then we were part of a programme that would have eventually led to superfast speeds.
“It feels like no-one is interested in providing the infrastructure that will enable us to teach our children a 21st century curriculum, and we’re going to fall behind other schools in the country as a result of it.”
A letter to the school from Geoff Connell, the council’s head of ICT and information management, said the school could try to seek out another supplier, but recommended trying to find the money to join the Updata programme. It read: “I hope that you can appreciate that without NCC artificially subsiding the market costs, this is what the school or indeed any organisation requiring access to the Internet in your location currently has to pay for a connection of this speed.
“It will get cheaper over time as superfast broadband gets rolled out through the Better Broadband For Norfolk Programme, though this may be of little consolation at this point in time.”
Update from 18/11/2016
Since the original publication of this story, Norfolk County Council contacted this newspaper to point out that Updata would have paid for the £32,000 works if the school had signed onto its scheme before a deadline.
An except from Mr Connell’s letter to the school, as referred to above, reads:
Please note that around 80% of the schools who signed up will be paying less though Updata than they did to BT and average connection speeds have also increased. In order to try to assist the schools that would need to pay more, we tried to compensate for this by inserting some clauses into the contract. These clauses meant that Updata would need to fund any excess construction charges (ECC) for hard to reach schools (up to a capped level) that signed up to their offering by the deadline date of mid-February, subsequently extended to the end of March 2016.
Unfortunately, this clause cannot apply to your schools as your contract to take on the Updata service was not signed until 21 April 2016 (by Judith Tigerschiold) and missed these deadlines.
Therefore in this instance we cannot make any allowances via the Updata contract for your schools to receive funding, and the Council has decided not to fund these charges as set out in the minutes of the Members Working Group on 23 May 2016.
In reply, Mrs Green said that information had been buried in a previous document sent to the school.
She said: “Updata sent a letter to the previous headteacher of Morley Primary School on 25th January 2016 together with a four-page order form and seven pages of small print entitled ‘Norfolk County Council Schools FAQ Sheet’. At page six, question no. 36 it states:
Q: If I sign-up with NCC until the end of July 2016, can I still change my mind and join the new network at a later date?
A: NCC will arrange for the circuits to be ceased at the end of July. For Learning Stream and Ethernet circuits NCC has to give BT 3 months’ notice. For ADSL o NGN circuits the termination period is 35 days. It is important that you make a decision, as once notice has been given to cancel a circuit, it will not be withdrawn. If you sign later than 12 February you will be included but you will not have a guaranteed slot in the transition programme. For some hard to reach sites, the excessive construction charges are included in the installation charge. This offer expires on 24th March.
“It seems to me that this important information was deliberately buried within the FAQ sheet. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to expect schools to decipher this technical information, go out to tender for providers and make a decision about something as important as this within the limited time frame of eight weeks.”