Good morning, I’m James Saunby ofGreySky Consulting.Before we risk getting into the details of the Rural Community Broadband project, I just wanted to give an idea of the sort of area we’re dealing with.I couldn’t really think of a single image that summed it up, but hopefully these two give an idea. First we’re on what I recently heard described as “the barbarian side of the wall”And it’s quite remote.
How remote?The Northumberland Uplands covers a bit over 3,000 Km2, with a population a bit under 33,000.That’s about 1 ½ times the area of Herefordshire, and less than 1/5 the population.As with Herefordshire, the sparseness of the population is the real problem for broadband in Northumberland.The Uplands area is served by around 16,000 telephone lines. Of these around 2,300 are too long to support normal ADSL broadband services. That’s around 15%.
But there are also some real black-spots where more than 50% of telephone lines are too long to support broadband services. Although these black-spots account for less than 10% of the telephone lines, they include nearly a third of the problem lines unable to support broadband.But, does it matter. Do we really need broadband? The answer to this is in two parts.
The first is technical. I was previously Head of New Internet products at BT, until 2001. The products we introduced then were designed for dial-up. Yes, it all worked better with broadband, but dial-up was possible.So in 2003 when I was Head of ICT at Advantage West Midlands, we could be content with 96% - because people still had dial-up.But that’s just not true any more. In any real sense, the internet doesn’t work over dial-up anymore. If you don’t have broadband, you don’t have the internet.
And the internet is developing fast.Cloud computing is really still in its infancy at the moment. But it’s going to change our lives.This kitchen is in Newcastle University. It is fitted with an incredible array of sensors. They’re in everything – obviously the fridge, cooker, taps, but also the knives, pans, storage containers, the floor – basically everything and everywhere.And they’re all connected to the internet. Massive processing power in “the cloud” takes the data and can “learn” what is happening in the kitchen. This means it can help – suggesting recipes, and following them to tell you what to do next. And it can detect unusual behaviour – if you collapse in the kitchen, then it can summon assistance.This can turn ordinary sheltered housing into 24 hours-a-day care. Allowing vulnerable people to live independent lives far longer and more safely that is currently possible.
So we need it. But do we want it?To answer that, we turn to Fontburn.Fontburn is a very small community spread around Fontburn Reservoir, about 6 miles south of Rothbury – which is its nearest telephone exchange. In many ways it’s an idyllic place to live. But they had one problem – no broadband.
A couple of years ago, One NorthEast funded a community broadband trial at Fontburn – using satellite and wireless distribution. It has transformed the lives of the people who live there, and their feedback provides some of the most compelling evidence of the need for broadband services in rural communities.“We were seriously thinking that we had made a mistake coming to live here and would have to move house to an area with a better connection.”
“We cannot stress enough how much we need this service... the thought of going back to the ‘dark ages’ is unbearable.”The feedback from Fontburn covers a wide range of issues relating to the rollout of broadband, particularly in remote rural area. It provided a major guiding force in the development of the priorities for the Rural Community Broadband project.
2 Mbps, reliable and sustainable service, with full access to the popular ISPs – basic broadband for all - is seen as the clear priority. WiFi access and high speed NGA, though is seen as important in maintaining an agenda of ongoing development.And so the Rural Community Broadband project was formed. We’ve got £250,000 funding from DEFRA, and around another £30,000 from other sources. With this we went out to the market to identify a broadband service provider who could make the maximum possible impact to the 2,300 people across 3,000 km2 who can’t yet get broadband.Within a month we’d had 43 organisations express interest in delivering the project – from small community organisations to global operators. Finally we received 7 proposals for consideration.
Last week we completed the final evaluation and selected the preferred supplier.Unfortunately I’m not able to reveal that yet for legal reasons, but with their contribution to match funding, the Rural Community Broadband project has a budget in excess of £400,000.
It’s not the end of the problem yet. But it should almost completely eliminate the problem of broadband access in the worst black-spot areas. It is a start, and it’s happening now.
"Local infrastructure projects - such as the work that Rutland Telecom is doing - have a key role to play in the roll-out of next generation broadband; helping speed up the availability of new services in remote areas. We congratulate Rutland Telecom on what has been achieved so far and will be watching their future projects with interest“Stephen Carter: Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform <br />
A personal message from Stephen Fry“Sorry I can’t be there on the big launch day but I just wanted to send my personal support. I am old enough to remember the great postal strike of 1970 or 71 when Rutland issued its own postage stamps. This is a far more important step.I am fantastically impressed by the enterprise, initiative and technical savvy of Rutland Telecom and wish them well here in Uppingham and in the wider UK beyond”<br />
speed you can believe in!<br /><ul><li>Rural broadband consultants
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Herefordshire Broadband Summit<br />Crossing the Digital DivideIn Remote Northumberland<br />James Saunby<br />
Northumberland<br />Uplands<br />Rural Community Broadband<br />