We’re on the end of the line here in rural Norfolk and as a result our broadband connection is unreliable and much slower than optimum. So, when the signal failed one recent Thursday morning, I assumed it was one of the regular glitches and that it would be OK again in an hour or so. Sad to say it wasn’t and it was only later when I tried to send a fax – which operates on the same telephone line as the broadband – that I realised we had a more serious problem.

I immediately phoned Anglia Farmers (AF) buying group (from whom we “buy” our telephone service) and reported the fault. Robert, on the phone desk, rang back to say an engineer should call to sort out the problem by close of play Friday.

He reminded me that AF’s contract with Vodafone guaranteed a 24-hour service and he’d been told the job was scheduled for Friday afternoon.

It’s a bit complicated, he said, because Vodafone uses BT’s lines and relies on BT’s subsidiary company, Openreach, for service and repairs. At 3pm on Friday I arrived back at the farm after running errands and found an Openreach engineer with his head in a junction box at the top of our drive. “Are you sorting our line fault?” I asked. To which he replied that he wasn’t. He was dealing with someone else’s problem further along the road. “So, are you going to deal with my line next?” I asked. “Afraid not,” he said. “I leave off at 4pm.” But he volunteered to contact head office to find out when an engineer was due.

I fully support the Farmers Weekly campaign for faster broadband in the countryside. I’ll believe it when it happens. But we need better service and reliability to go with it. It’s all very well for the government and other agencies to demand farmers communicate with them online but they must appreciate that the kind of problems described above are typical.

A few moments later he told me my job had not yet been scheduled and that it would probably be Monday or Tuesday before it was dealt with. I knew I had loads of emails piling up in my inbox so got on the phone again to Robert at AF to ask him to try to speed up the repair. He came back to me with the revised news that it might be done on Saturday but more likely Monday. Needless to say nothing happened Saturday.

I was back on the phone to Robert again on Monday and he eventually reported from the complicated telephone chain of command that it would probably now be Wednesday before Openreach could get here. At which point I blew my top and told him to tell those he had been talking to that I intended to write about their appalling and unacceptable service in Farmers Weekly; that this was the second line problem I’d had in less than six weeks.

Robert, who, on behalf of AF had been as frustrated as I’d been from the start, passed on my message and was back on the phone minutes later to say an engineer would be here first thing Monday morning and that the mention of Farmers Weekly had swung it.

Sure enough an Openreach van arrived at 8.10am on Monday and after the engineer had repaired a fault in the village we were back on-line by 8.55am.

I fully support the Farmers Weekly campaign for faster broadband in the countryside. I’ll believe it when it happens. But we need better service and reliability to go with it. It’s all very well for the government and other agencies to demand farmers communicate with them online but they must appreciate that the kind of problems described above are typical.

Recent promises of superfast broadband won’t help much if rural phone lines keep breaking down.

David Richardson farms about 400ha (1,000 acres) of arable land near Norwich in Norfolk in partnership with his wife, Lorna. His son, Rob, is farm manager.

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