Action Plan – Part V of The Report From The Penrith & The Border Broadband Conference At Rheged

Penrith & The Border Broadband Conference Report Part 5 – Action Plan

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Mapping Our Access To The Information Superhighway -Penrith And The Borders Broadband Conference Shows That We Really Can Connect Cumbria’s ‘Final Third’ To The High Speed Lanes – if community engagement is sufficiently enthusiastic.

To read Part I please click here, for Part II please click here, for Part III please click here, for Part IV please click here.

For Rory Stewart’s Broadband Website with an increasing array of conference related resources Please Click Here
Many, many thanks to our citizen reporter John Popham for filming and mounting his video on Youtube

PART V  Action Plan and Summation (fifth in a series written between bouts of Apple Juicing and website design)

Marie Fallon of Cumbria County Council (CCC) says that our council is very supportive of expanding the County’s broadband network to connect the final third, she began by describing how they’d invested £26 million in the past, to effectively put Cumbria ahead of the game in rolling out rural ADSL accessibility in cooperation with BT (this is true, 5 yrs ago I was amazed to enjoy higher speed access in Maulds Meaburn than I had in Tokyo), and while that service is starting to look dated and is in need of an upgrade now, the other thing they’d invested in simultaneously – the CLEO network (optical fibre connection to juniors schools (10Mbps) and senior schools (up to 100 Mbps by march 2011) looks like a very useful part of the next wave of advancement in communications services. She rather modestly describes it as being “quite significant” as it covers quite a large area of Cumbria.  It could provide a very useful framework from which to build out fibre to Rory’s ‘Parish Pump’ green cabinets. For many of us CLEO will be key to high speed connection and a happy bi-product is expected to be the boosting of our primary schools’ network speeds to near or actual NGA levels fairly soon. Our children are well provided for already, thanks to CLEO, but their access might get over 8 times faster! We’d heard from Dr. Burgess (See Part 1 of the Report) of the improvements in academic skills and scores that accompany IT literacy (roughly 25% increase in GCE performance has been noted). It’s an investment in our collective future.

Anyway, she also talked of Cumbria County Council being eager to set up a Local enterprise partnership to ensure that we are competitive regionally, nationally and internationally and to ensure a good quality of life and have good access to services. She talked a little about the geographical challenges around the County and reiterated the need for employment of various and multiple solutions. She said that there was still £17,000 left over in the kitty, that if dispersed judiciously could help to get some projects off to a good start. Her news was greeted with loud applause!

Barry Forde then spoke again and his message was upbeat. He remarked upon how interesting the day had been, with so many speakers putting forward so many ideas and solutions for connecting our portion of ‘the final third’. Normally, when we reach the boundary of the community we hit problems – with backhaul principally. However in Cumbria, CCC has the CLEO network already in place, so if your community has a school in it – then the chances are good that your Community Interest Company, a registered non-profit company (CIC) can run fibre from a green cabinet (Rory Stewart’s digital Parish Pump) connected to CLEO to we might need to augment their funds with other sources. He addressed the issue of competence and capability within the community, the need for community members to do a lot for themselves. He and Rory have found 20 plus communities where they’ve already identified champions to help their communities advance their communications capabilities.  The “can-do attitude” is already in place, farmers might be more willing to help a community project access their land to lay fibre than one run by a large utility company, for instance.  Each community can weigh up the options that are available – for very high speed dig in the fibre, for extended communities wireless will probably be a necessary ingredient. “It’s about empowerment, not dictating to them what they must do.” Where we can help people most usefully, is to provide access to backhaul and take “that geography element” out of the equation. He says that the real challenge for us is how to find the money to do two things: one is to put hubs into rural communities and the other is how we can work with existing public sector and commercial networks to get affordable highspeed links into these communities so that we can get real Next Generation Access into these communities. So that people can enjoy the exciting things like telemedicine and third age support, it’s not just about checking your email, it’s about being able to have high quality video conferencing with friends and relatives near and far. There’s the vision! Tele-employment? Accessing global markets? Amazing things could open up.

To enthusiastic applause Barry then handed over to Rory Stewart for his summation, and it was a very good one. He began by saying that he couldn’t have predicted from the outset that there’d still be 95% of us sitting in the audience as there indeed were and that that was proof of the quality of the presentations and the enthusiasm of all concerned. He reflected on the expertise and dynamism of the speakers and of the weighty sum of talent that had gathered from near, far and wide to share their knowledge and experienced insight. He thanked everyone for their participation and encouraged us all to mingle and chat afterwards. He wondered at the variety of different maps of the area that we had seen and the differences noted between them. He praised Miles Mandleson of The Great Asby Broadband Group for proving (as they have most successfully done there) that Community Broadband can no longer be seen as an unrealisable fantasy. He praised Lindsey Annison for her advances made in Warcop and Daniel Heery of Cybermoor with his project at Nenthead. “Those are real projects” in this constituency and these trailblazers can be emulated. He thanked Barry for mapping upper Eden and Adrian for engaging with the coverage issue and questionning what would happen if we applied a Finnish model to the region. He was especially impressed by Nicholas James’ bold solution for Gamblesby model, with the demonstration of using the available resources to maximise the value and minimise the cost (the addition of communities boosting 3G provision and earning from the open access is a very attractive ingredient of the plan).

From the outset he had expressed the hope that people would come forward in the course of the day with realistic and practical offers of help in addressing this important issue and that he was pleased to note that this had already happened. One of the conference’s sponsors Huawei had offered twice to help with provision of the boxes, Virgin Media have offered to light up Temple Sowerby, BT have made an offer that covered the whole constituency. Commendium has made a bid for use of pylons. It’s happening, folks!

He reminded us of the American support that was being given for broadband to help small businesses thrive. He emphasised the enormity of the need for fast broadband in this constituency – we have more small businesses per capita than any other constituency in the country, “our entire economy depends upon small businesses” and our businesses need fast internet for market reach, for speed to market, for lowering transaction costs, and because we’re so sparsely populated we need it for telemedicine, education and the tourism industry.

He then talked finances – Lindsey’s conservative estimate  of £50,000,000 to connect 50,000 people is unlikely to be provided by the state considering that the whole budget stands at £200,000,000, but he would fight our corner and would try to secure somewhere between 4 and 5 million pounds – which should be enough if we engage intelligently with the technologies and technology providers and utilise our available resources. He proposed to come up with a plan (similar to Eric Garr’s but not 351 pages long), form an informal working group for Penrith and the border comprised of: representatives of Cumbria County Council, from Biz (Public business in the UK), Barry Forde to drive down the cost and get better quality access.

The solution, he noted, will include Satellite for some (maybe 2 to 4%), in the foyer afterwards I chatted with a gentleman from Avanti whose Hylas satellites happily happen to overlap their coverage over our region increasing their pulling power (giving a reasonable expectation of 4 Mbps download and 325 kbps upload, that is available right now) so nil desperandum if you live in a very remote home. Rory reminded us that Geo and Nynet  have told us what great things can be done with point-to-point microwave connections including wireless, and then there’s optical fibre offering blisteringly high speed. Rory wants to get universal access of 2Mbps and above by the end of 2012, and Next Generation Access to as many people as possible by the end of 2012. He explained that we could expect 70% of the constituents to be connected by a large commercial provider, but the remaining 30% will probably be served by a community broadband project. He reminded us that we have a very good model in Great Asby (they’re currently upgrading for 30-50 Mbps  symmetrical service, I’ve just heard!) he said that we need community champions to step forward to help spread the word and enthuse their communities and there’d be a meeting in Great Asby that will serve as an opportunity for them to witness successful Community Broadband in action to report back to their communities to help get their projects rolling.

He finished off his inspiring speech with the reminder that his informal working group would be convening soon and that we could expect a report from them within two or three months and that we could reasonably expect to hear then more precisely how our population will meet and in some cases exceed the universal service commitment speed of 2Mbps!

Then ensued an interesting opportunity for speakers and audience members to have a lively chat over drinks and snacks and a colloquium at Penrith’s The Lakes Hotel.

I left Rheged with the confirmed impression that we have the right man at the helm for this project and that he has the right people on his side, and that competent agencies are rallying to turn these possibilities into reality. Our constituency is fortunate in having a man of his quality helping us make the breakthrough into the fast lanes of the information superhighway. I have an excited feeling that it will be one of the best moves that we ever make and will lead to some wonderful quality-of-life altering developments. More anon!

Things move fast in this field, Guy Jarvis of NextGenUs has recently told me the following: “(GAB) Great Asby Broadband CIC is without doubt the leader for actually delivering community interest broadband in Cumbria and a great exemplar for how other communities can rebalance the terms of trade for telecoms in their favour.

NextGenUs is working with GAB right now to upgrade their FiWi system to provide 30-50Mbps of symmetric service and, in partnership with AFL Fujikura, we are completing the detailed design of a full FttH 4th Utility deployment so that every home and business in Great Asby can have effectively unlimited speeds beyond 1Gbps (that’s 1000Mbps).”

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