South West Wales

Carmarthenshire broadband firm ResQNet grants suspended

Grants to help people sign up for broadband with a Carmarthenshire firm have been suspended.

It follows complaints from ResQNet customers that they had been left with a patchy and inconsistent service.

The Cross Hands company has received almost £900,000 in public cash from a government scheme to provide high-speed internet access in so-call 'not-spots'.

ResQNet vowed to upgrade its network by the end of October. Grants for other broadband providers are not affected.

The firm received funding as part of the Wales Broadband Support Scheme, which makes £1,000 grants available to households unable to access broadband connections.

The money is typically paid directly to suppliers, so residents do not have to pay up front for equipment and connection costs.

'Frustrating'

Customers from various parts of Carmarthenshire have told BBC Wales they were promised broadband connection speeds of around 5Mbps by ResQNet, but say they have faced a disrupted and a patchy service in recent months.

John Sydney, from Taliaris near Llandeilo, said he had now cancelled his subscription to ResQNet because of his frustration with the service.

He said he was pleased with the internet speed initially being provided by ResQNet, but then the broadband connection deteriorated around six months ago.

"We've had very, very slow speeds and a lot of disconnections," he said.

"It's on and off all the time. All of a sudden you couldn't do things online... it was quite frustrating."

He said the Welsh government "should be checking on the supplier... to make sure he's fulfilling his part of the contract".

Another customer, Roger Thomas, from Cwmdu near Llandeilo, has gone back to using an old, and slower service, because he said ResQNet was too unreliable.

Image caption Cwmdu near Llandeilo is one of 47 communities served by ResQNet

"£24 pounds a months is a lot of money for a service that doesn't work," he said.

BBC Wales has been made aware of more problems with services in the village of Llanedi, between Cross Hands and Pontarddulais.

ResQNet's own website indicates a series of technical problems and upgrades to the service, while a Facebook page has been set up by frustrated ResQNet customers.

The company declined to be interviewed by BBC Wales, but in a statement said work would soon be completed to increase network capacity and upgrades to the wireless network.

ResQNet director Clive Downey said that the internet usage they were experiencing was "was way beyond what we expected".

Compensation paid

In its statement, the company added: "We appreciate there have been service issues on parts of our network due to the increased need for bandwidth combined with the success of the service.

"The planned increase in the capacity of the network has been delayed but its implementation by the end of October will help alleviate the current issues for the customers affected.

ResQNet said it was a "small, innovative business" that over the last two-and-a-half years had provided broadband services where other "major players have failed".

"We are committed to continue this trend and overcome the obstacles that will come along from time to time by continued investment and innovation and provide broadband users in west Wales with real choices," it added.

"We are also more aware of its limitations and our business strategy will now reflect this new found knowledge whilst being very aware of the importance this service is to the areas concerned.

The company said customers affected by the current issues would be compensated under the terms of their contract, and some had already been paid.

The Welsh government said it was "unacceptable" that customers had been let down, after it had paid £892,000 in grants to residents and businesses who had identified ResQNet as their broadband service provider.

A Welsh government spokesperson said it was working with ResQNet to ensure it fulfilled contractual obligations, adding that there was a "mechanism to recover funding under certain circumstances".

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