Carlisle Conference Heralds Paradigm Shift Toward Localism!

By Charles Paxton (Broadband Champion for Lyvennet Valley Community)

Better communications are increasingly being seen as essential for appropriate societal response to some important challenges of our times. Inclusive information exchange is critically important for:

More effective local government, Rural business development, Community health care outreach, Neighbourhood, Farm and business security, Regional renewable energy target obligations.

On Saturday, January 17th, 2011,  interested members of the public participated in a conference at Carlisle Racecourse, hosted by Carlisle Parish Councils Association and sponsored by British Telecom plc. that as Ronnie Auld Chair of CPCA pointed out effectively heralds a paradigm shift away from traditional top-down, Big Government – Small Society,  toward bottom-up, Big Society local empowerment. Better communications are being seen as an essential element in the transition toward greater inclusion and participation. Make no mistake, we’re not just talking about modernising technology here, a crucial element of localism is the Big Society ideal of greater public engagement in our society in multiple ways, including frank and open public dialogue and debate about the way we would like things to be. The effective exchange of ideas, perspectives and factual information is naturally expected to communicate, refine and improve ideas that can then inform practice to help steer progressive development.

As resources aren’t infinite, an important motivational factor for us is efficiency, making the most of our available resources! This is true in all matters, but especially relevant when it comes to our communications infrastructure.

BT will be making the single largest private investment of all time into upgrading British Communications infrastructure in the UK! Two and a half billion pounds.

However, unless we act in a cleverly coordinated fashion to gain maximum leverage from our existing resources, then our remote rural areas, often referred to as “the final third”, are likely to be the last areas to be connected to future proof Next Generation Access speed broadband. That’s generally considered to be symmetrical broadband at over 50 Mbps download and upload (fast enough for telemedicine applications).  Ironically, it is just these remote areas that most need connectivity to overcome the challenges represented by geophysical rural isolation, according to recent reports:

http://leith-lyvennet.broadbandcumbria.com/2010/12/09/reports-show-importance-of-rural-broadband/

There is open debate on BroadbandCumbria.com about how best to go about achieving an Eden-wide network and I recommend that you join the site, read up about it and have your say. It’s particularly important that you read The Eden Declaration (a credo statement for a desired level of service throughout Eden), and sign it too, if you agree with its contents.

The scale of the task is epic, the complexities are “eye-wateringly complex” (quoting Rory Stewart, our  MP for Penrith and The Border) but the impact is likely to resonate far into the future, promising a broad range of benefits.

The Localism Bill, likely soon to become an Act, promises to give the most local of our authorities, our Parish Councils, far greater say in many of the matters that concern us most – our local ones. This is both a momentous development and a very necessary one to help our communities cope appropriately with the current and future challenges of modern life, and just as crucially, to make the most of the opportunities.

Click here to view a digest of new powers that will help increase the influence of local authorities Localism digest

Ronnie Auld, Chair of Carlisle Parish Councils Association opened the conference with an introductory speech explaining the format of the conference, the first half examining the current problems associated with broadband in Carlisle District and its surroundings and the second half examining the likely impacts of the Decentralising and Localism bill currently before parliament. He pointed out that both the broadband problems and the localism agenda warranted an issues-based approach on the part of Parish Councils. He said Parish councils will be playing a very important role in the improvement of broadband in keeping with the Localism agenda. He drew attention to a Carlisle area survey document in our conference pack and said that alongside quantitive data about the speeds that people reported getting, there were comments that reflected that their broadband services left a lot to be desired, and compared very badly in some cases to conditions in other countries. He cited several examples of disastisfaction, one experienced problematic disconnections and just 0.39 Mbps of speed. He talked of the importance of including broadband in Community Planning.

See his speech below (kindly made available by John Popham)

http://www.youtube.com/p/0FB6CCA183CA70A6?hl=en_US&fs=1

He introduced the next speaker, Rt. Hon. Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and The Border, as our Broadband Champions’ Champion!

Rory Stewart, Broadband Champions' Champion emphasises that people inlocal communities know more, care more and can do more than remote officials.

Rory sits on the Localism Bill Committee and is one of the prime forces in the movement to bring more powers to the most local levels of government. He explained in no uncertain terms that community involvement would be essential in the effective roll-out of broadband throughout Eden and that unless there is seen to be a very good reason to stop them, the assumption should be to let each Parish or group of Parishes drive their project forward. He urged us to move away from the old state of affairs where Parish Councils  could only suggest things or be consulted to one where it is assumed that they know what they are doing.

He says “Let’s create a situation where people want to sit on Parish Councils because they know that they’ll have the power, the responsibility and sometimes the financial authority to bring about change.”

The necessity for popular local participation is partly due to financial considerations. In order to connect the 27,000 homes in Eden by conventional methods (@about £5000 per household) we’d be looking at a total of around £135 million.

He then explained that  funds have been allocated for a pilot study to help kick start the process, but that these funds were going to be spread thinly – “a proportion of £10 million” will come to Eden. This is where community support comes into it’s own. If we are prepared to gather, to define the demand and to aggregate it, to say that 70-80% of the community are prepared to use fast broadband then the economics become favourable for provision, if land owners are prepared to fore-go wayleaves, if communities are prepared to engage imaginatively and to use local assets, then the cost per premises could be reduced dramatically! Perhaps reduced to about £1000!

( Re asset sharing, please see this encouraging document (http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/business-sectors/docs/b/10-1308-broadband-deployment-sharing-infrastructure-summary-of-responses.pdf) that was drawn to my attention on broadbandcumbria.com shortly  after the conference!)

Barry Forde has since proposed a hypothetical plan that would employ great leverage, please click here to view

This is fascinating, we are now starting to get an idea of the potential tangible value in pounds of effective local democracy at Parish and Neighbourhood level and the potential value of intelligent mutualism within a competitive business framework! This is aside from, but would be compounded by the massive benefits to be derived from the better communications technology itself!

Localism clearly has major implications for our economic and social development.

Rory Stewart explaining how local community support can make fast internet accessible to Eden residents

Rory Stewart explaining how local community support can make fast internet accessible to Eden residents

Rory then said that if the Government were prepared to make patient finance available (perhaps via Parish Councils) that could be paid back at say £60 per year, then fast broadband service would seem far more attainable.

He then talked of the need to overcome a series of obstacles in technology, existing technical infrastructure and regulation. In order to make sure that the taxpayers £10 is used as well as possible then there’ll need to be an enormous amount of work done by government and civil servants. We’ll probably have a mixed solution. He cited the enormous amount of enthusiasm that was emerging in Parishes such as Crosby Ravensworth for super fast fibre to the home and said that while this unparalleled speed suited some people, he realises that other people may find a slower service acceptable.

He then introduced Bill Murphy of BT as the second guest speaker. His speech will be the subject of my next article.

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Two new reports highlight the importance of fast broadband to our rural prosperity

By Charles Paxton

To put this whole article in proper context, let us begin with some interesting factual snippets about the Penrith and the Border area taken from a handy fact sheet put together with the help of ACTion with communities in Cumbria and distributed at our MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart’s September 18th Rheged Broadband Conference.

Half of our 86,277 population live in villages or hamlets, 97.5% live in areas classified as ‘rural’, three quarters of the population live in Eden District which has the sparsest population of any District in England and Wales. About 20% of our working population is self-employed, 18.3% work mainly from home, 15.9% of jobs are tourism related, 9.8% are in agriculture. 80% of our VAT registered businesses have fewer than five employees, 92% have less than ten. Just 1.7% of people are registered as unemployed. Over half of Eden’s people live more than 2.5 miles away from a GP, more than 4 miles from a bank, library or Secondary school and 11% of households don’t have a car or van.

72% of Eden’s communities (LSOAs) have been designated ‘red’ areas, the 5% of UK households considered least likely to receive very fast broadband provision by 2017.

The two new reports linked below, are helping to focus attention on rural broadband as an important potential stimulus to England’s rural economy, and as our countryside currently contributes about 20% to England’s overall economy, this subject can be seen as having considerable national significance.

These reports have strong relevance for our Penrith and the Border constituency of Cumbria, about 75% of which is encompassed in the very beautiful, but relatively sparsely populated Eden Valley district, an area selected as one of the four Big Society ‘Vanguard communities’ and an area of intense focus at the moment for Community Broadband pilot schemes.  There are two up and running already, one in the Alston area run by Cybermoor and another in the Village of Great Asby, run by Great Asby Broadband Group with the help of NextGenUs (Community Interest Companies both). There are, however many more new fledgling groups in various stages of establishment and coalescence – stimulated by Penrith and the Border MP, Rory Stewart’s  September 18 broadband conference and November 6th Broadband Champions’ meeting at Great Asby.  The word is out that fast broadband at Next Generation Access (NGA) speeds (generally considered to be over 50 Megabits per second symmetrical, i.e. upload and download) can help boost the competitiveness and market reach of rural businesses while enhancing the quality of life of our widely distributed population – a population that has been hitherto disadvantaged in various ways by the remoteness of rural living.

While the first report Rural Broadband, by Hilary Talbot of The Centre For Rural Economy focuses on the broadband gap between rural and urban areas, highlighting the fact that “87% of rural areas would be at high risk of not having NGA in 2012 compared with 22% of urban areas”, the second report by the Commission for Rural Communities makes a frank assessment of the comparative costs of urban and rural living, arguing that though a few things are cheaper in the countryside, on the whole life in the countryside tends to be between 10 and 20% more expensive than life in an urban setting and that costs generally increase in inverse proportion to the size of the settlement, with the relatively highest costs being incurred by families with multiple children who are living in the remote hamlets, it can cost them £72.20 more per week than the equivalent urban family. When you consider that rural incomes tend to be lower than urban equivalents you can understand the nature of the rural ‘squeeze’. Now add the spectre of public spending cuts – concentrated populations are easier and cheaper to serve.

While rural communities have ‘deep wealth’ in the form of clean air, sweet drinking water, space, closer connection with nature and seasonal change, peace and quiet, low crime rates, an absence of chavs, street gangs and low levels of juvenile delinquency,  close neighbourly and community relations etc., the disposable income does tend to be in shorter supply and distance to work, shops and services translates into higher cost in terms of time, effort and money. Urban living tends to be more convenient and cheaper, with more options, greater leverage from economies of scale and higher monetary returns.

What can fast broadband do to help rural communities? Simply put, its main virtue is the effective negation of distance in communications, the expansion of opportunities in studying and working from home, access to information and services, the expansion of options for marketing goods and services, for shopping for them, for entertainment, booking holidays and for socialising. Fast internet access brings the world to you and you to the world. It virtually concentrates our population, enabling greater efficiencies in many government, private and voluntary services with associated savings. A comprehensive list of benefits can be found at the broadbandcumbria.com website.

Having seen these benefits and in light of the above-mentioned rural ‘squeeze’, the broadband gap may now seem to have more serious implications than one might first suppose, and you can see why Eden’s broadband champions have drafted and are signing up to The Eden Declaration . There is a great deal at stake and it is well worth striving for, not just for the applications that most appeal to us, but for all the potential applications that will appeal to younger, older and future generations.

At this juncture I return to Talbot’s Rural Broadband report. The report sheds light on some of the complexities and explains why the universal service commitment of access to a minimum of 2 Mbps for all by 2012 is problematic, “Even understanding which areas are currently provided with less than 2 Mbps is difficult. The available national data from OFCOM obscures the position for more rural areas by showing the percentage of premises connected to a DSL-enabled exchange (with the potential of delivering a 2 Mbps service). Significantly for rural areas, premises at a distance from an exchange are unable to realise this potential.” This is because copper wires lose speed over distance and because heavy use ‘contended lines’ divide available bandwidth between the users at any given time. “So while OFCOM data for 2008 showed that 99.98% of UK households were connected to a DSL-enabled exchange, suggestive of no rural broadband shortfall, the Commission for Rural Communities in their 2009  report ‘Mind the Gap’ claimed that 42% of those in rural areas could not connect to a 2 Mbps service.”

Talbot describes the rural-urban broadband gap as “dynamic” and in need of ongoing interventions and commonly agreed definitions. The report looks into ways to encourage alternative suppliers and identifies community broadband projects as an area of potential expansion and explores the opening up of existing and expanding E-Government fibre networks. Importantly, the report culminates with nine specific suggestions about ways that ought to close this broadband gap. They are:

“• Visualise the gap as dynamic and in need of on-going interventions
• Define target speeds and quality that address future needs
• Develop accurate mapping of the quality of broadband provision
• Continue to encourage new suppliers
• Encourage and support community broadband initiatives
• Exploit government buying power when procuring e-government fibre networks
• Build in, and sell on whenever possible, spare capacity on e-government networks
• Develop effective organisational models and guidance over state aid permissions that enable
such activity
• Instigate a presumption of rural broadband gain across all government departments and tiers
of government. ”

I would urge all Eden residents to see CumbriaBroadband.Com and to read The Eden Declaration and if you are in agreement with it, to sign it also, because the more people who call for better service then the more likely we will be to get it. 100 mbps fibre to the home connection for most residents and fast wireless service for others might mean that the bandwidth on the remaining copper lines could be sufficient to allow the very remote residences a considerably higher speed than is currently available with our contended lines. It would be great if the rising tide could lift all boats – at least to the level of Universal Service Commitment of 2Mbps. We need to close the broadband gap. There are various ways that we can achieve this.

For those people in the ecclesiastical parishes of Crosby Ravensworth (Maulds Meaburn and Reagill), Morland (including Newby, Sleagill, Kings Meaburn), Great Strickland, Little Strickland (Thrimby), Cliburn and Bolton there is a dedicated website to help us communicate about fast broadband development at http:leith-lyvennet.broadbandcumbria.com

For communities in the Upper Eden area there is http://uppereden.broadbandcumbria.com/

 

The Eden Declaration – Rory’s Campaign For Fast Broadband For Cumbria Gains Momentum

broadbandcumbria.com home page

broadbandcumbria.com home page

by Charles Paxton

BroadbandCumbria.Com is an exciting new communications hub set up to help communities find out about fast broadband opportunities and to talk to each other about plans and developments in their immediate and wider area. We’ve never seen anything quite like this before. It really is quite a revolutionary social experiment in community communications. Community broadband champions from villages across the Upper and Lower Eden Valley and beyond are gathering online under the banner of Rory Stewart’s campaign for better communications in his Penrith and the Border constituency. The rapidly increasing membership is hoping that fast broadband will help connect many communities (that have really hitherto seemed fairly geographically isolated dots on the map) both to one another and then on to the wider world with the powerful advantage of very fast speed!

To my knowledge this is the first time that this sort of campaign has ever been organised and it is very interesting to see how it is developing. The benefits for us could be very far reaching in terms of enhancing our quality of life, not least in terms of the new friendships and contacts being forged every hour, between many people who otherwise might never have met.

There has been a flood of interest in the evolving website, which is in effect a cluster of community microsites joined to the central hub of broadbandcumbria.com. Membership is free and takes just a few moments to complete. A list of communities that already have a microsite and those that have been offered one are visible here:  http://broadbandcumbria.com/community/

The Leith-Lyvennet microsite can be found at http://leith-lyvennet.broadbandcumbria.com This is for people in the ecclesiastical parishes of Crosby Ravensworth (Maulds Meaburn and Reagill), Morland (inc Newby, Sleagill, Kings Meaburn), Great Strickland, Little Strickland (Thrimby), Cliburn and Bolton. Let us know what you think of it so far, it’s a work in progress, and if you see opportunities for improvement, then please let me know.

The Eden Declaration

One of the most important results to emerge so far is the communal development of a document that succinctly and powerfully condenses our needs and desires in respect of improved communications infrastructure. It cuts to the chase. I urge everybody in Eden to read The Eden Declaration and, if you agree with its content, to sign it as soon as possible!

To sign the petition, please go to cumbriabroadband.com and register. Then go to ‘your account’, click on ‘profile’, click on ‘edit profile’, and scroll down until you see a ‘sign the petition’ box.

Tick this box and your name will appear on the list of signatories on the petition page: http://broadbandcumbria.com/sign-the-petition/

Current non-members have the option of signing the petition when they create an account on the site. It’s free to join. So, please pass this news on to your friends and neighbours by word of mouth, email, post, Facebook, Twitter, door-to-door at Church or at socials – any way that you can!
The more who sign-up, the merrier.  It will naturally be seen as a gauge of our collective enthusiasm and desire for improved communications services.

People new to the Internet may be interested to know that there is a very user-friendly training service available locally called Myguide. I have seen my elderly father using it and he is rapidly gaining confidence and facility with the system that provides a safe and gentle introduction to browsing the web and emailing.

Why does Cumbria need fast broadband?

Many of us already get a lot of information and entertainment from the internet – so why do we need faster broadband? This page attempts to explain the expected benefits of Next Generation Access to the internet.

With all this talk about fast broadband nowadays, you may be wondering first, what it is and secondly whether you already have it. The answers to those questions are first, that it is internet access at Next Generation Access Speed (over 50Mbps upload and download speed) and secondly that unless you happen to live in Great Asby or Alston area or are a student at an institution served by the CLEO project, then the chances are that you don’t have it yet. This is a situation that could improve over the next 6 to 12 months because the upper Eden area is fortunate enough to have been selected as a Big Society Vanguard Area and our MP and others have been working very hard to make it possible for us as part of a pilot scheme – from which lessons will be learned to replicate in other areas of the country. Are we just lucky? There’s no ‘just’ about this,  we’re very lucky that we’ve got a dynamic representative in Parliament and as for the luck, well, let’s just say that the harder our MP and the gentlemen from BDUK work the luckier we all get!  I think it will be fascinating to see how our communities would develop with such an advantage. I’m anticipating a rush for beginner-friendly computer classes such as MyGuide and then a growing buzz of interactivity and unleashed creativity that will make the average beehive look lackadaisical in comparison. It won’t just be a consumptive frenzy either – our area has a greater proportion of self-employed people working from home per capita than anywhere else in the UK. If you can work in an area as beautiful as ours then why on Earth would you want not to? Cities have their charms too, of course but I’m saying that we may well soon be enjoying some of the prettiest countryside in England without so much of the rural isolation. Quality-of-life altering stuff!

The Community Interest Company NextGenUs is working to set up the village of Great Asby with superfast internet, when their network is paid for then the bulk of the profits generated by the local project will return to the Parish Council council coffers for community projects. How sweet is that? Very! And very necessary

What Have We Got Now In The Way Of Broadband?

Up to now many, but not all of us have been fortunate to use BT or Virgin Media broadband service down BT’s copper wires. The download speeds vary from between about 1 and 8 Megabits per second (Mbps) and the upload speeds are much slower topping out at about 350 Kilobits per second (Kbps) depending upon various limiting factors such as your package, your distance from the exchange and how many other people are using the service simultaneously.

“I know a Megabyte, but what’s a Megabit?” I hear you ask. While we store data in Megabyte measurements, data transfer is measured in Megabits (a smaller unit of data). A Megabit is 8 times smaller than a Megabyte. So one Megabit per second transfer is equivalent to 125 Kilobytes (the equivalent of a medium-sized photograph).

What Is Our Current Broadband Good For?

Except in the places where broadband cannot be enjoyed, our current provision is fine for simple emailing and internet browsing of fabulous light sites such as Wikipedia (online encyclopedia), local and national government websites or indeed your community website, and is generally good for multiple small or single medium file transfers either by email or downloading from websites. However when engaged with heavier multimedia sites, especially at times of peak use or for uploading large data files it can seem very slow or just plain impossible. A lot of time is wasted hanging around for stuff to upload or download and our current lane in the superhighway is looking congested. We can’t email files larger than 20 Megabytes. Our Community Plan report is one notable example of a file that is currently too large to email.

If you have several individuals using internet services simultaneously in a household then activities can quickly become seriously impaired or even grind to a halt. We are using the internet more and more intensively these days – its not unusual to have parents working, some children doing homework online while others want to watch videos or play games. Then Auntie Joan tries to video call from Australia via Skype and the screen freezes.

What Might We Do With Fast Broadband?

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The slideshow above from Simon Jones’ Presentation (Cisco Systems UK) indicates potential providers for our use

Our Government would like us all to have access to Next Generation Broadband (NGA) by the end of 2015 because it is expected to have significant positive impact on our quality of life. Everything that we currently do can be done faster and by more of us at any one time. Fibre-optic cable can carry vastly more data than copper wires or satellite transmissions (at a fraction of the cost of in the case of satellite) this will enable a correspondingly huge amount of choice in transmitted services.

Social Networking

Individual and group communications are likely to be greatly facilitated. Virtual attendance at meetings, conferences and parties would be possible via high definition video conferencing. With distance barriers being virtually negated, rural isolation in Eden Valley will become optional.

Business and Tele-employment

With teleconferencing and desk-top sharing we are likely to see more opportunities for employment from home and greatly expanded market reach for our businesses. We might work for clients in far-flung locations or just down the road with equal facility. English is the international language for business. You might attend or hold job interviews as part of a global workforce. The opportunities for professional training are as extensive as the scope for professional development itself. More small businesses can be expected to seek attractive rural locations for their bases of operations.

Telemedicine / Telecare

Imagine consulting a medical or care professional from home. Imagine telediagnostics (heart-rate/ temperature/ blood pressure / skin salinity) that could allow appropriate rapid first response or not as the situation dictates.  The implications for Care in the Community are far-reaching. Easier private access to health specialists is an obvious benefit.  The Alston area is introducing telemedicine already in concert with their Cybermoor fast broadband system. Eden Valley Counsellor and Pyschotherapist Dr. Rosalind Niedt has worked for years for  NHS and private patients – her practice can already deliver services by video conference now with obvious advantages in terms of convenience and privacy.

Tele-counselling has some obvious advantages.

Education

Life-long learning and testing from home or local academic institutions would be greatly facilitated. Imagine extra-mural and distance education facilitated by virtual attendance at lectures, classes and tutorials. Imagine access to a vast and ever-expanding array of academic resources. Study languages where they are spoken natively. The opportunities to study a greatly increased range of courses, or tailor made courses composed of course modules from multiple university faculties.

Entertainment

It would be possible to experience richer multimedia applications without delays: High Definition (HD) TV and HD Three Dimensional (3D) TV will be delivered online, effectively meaning that anybody with NGA can enjoy multi-channel cable TV via a service named YouView (currently being developed in the UK). TV on demand is likely to become the norm – watch the programs that you want, when you want ( families can view multiple channels in different rooms simultaneously), pause for comfort breaks, rewind to repeat the best bits etc. Other applications may include Virtual reality experiences (tourism, museum, sports and concert experiences) and High definition games.

With Next Generation Access our long winter evenings may not seem quite long enough!  In the video below shot by John Popham at Rory Stewart’s Broadband Champions’ meeting in Great Asby, Simon Jones of CISCO Systems UK  talks about “the human aspect” what we can do with the fast broadband when it is established. “We need to make sure that the Internet is meeting human needs in the way we want to take it.”

Simon Jones of Cisco Systems drops in on Crosby Ravensworth, King's Meaburn and Longsleddale table to join the brainstorm

£10 Million for Cumbrian Fast Broadband! Champions Meet MP and Experts At Great Asby

Broadband Champions

Broadband Champions at Rory Stewart's Gt. Asby Meeting. John Popham Photo

This is the first draft of my account. It’s written from my point of view as Broadband Champion for the Lyvennet Valley villages of Crosby Ravensworth Parish and will be fleshed out with more interesting detail in due course between bouts of Website design and maintenance. Any errors are likely to be my own, are unintentional and will be subject to later correction and your patience is much appreciated with this work in progress. Here will follow a blow-by-blow account in the days to come.

Hard on the heels of his very dynamic and crammed-to-capacity Big Society Meeting at Gt. Asby on November 5th, our Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart followed up his successful Rheged Broadband Conference with a meeting of local community Broadband Champions and Community leaders at Great Asby Village Hall on Saturday, 6th of November.

It was a well organized event that enabled important ideas to disseminate and coalesce.

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These ladies and gentlemen, drawn from Parishes all across the constituency gathered to achieve three purposes:

1) to hear, from Rory, the latest developments in the campaign to connect our rural populations with super fast communications that are becoming increasingly essential for our future prosperity and improving the quality of life. He has managed to secure more than double the amount of funding that we’d hoped for in order to help connect rural Cumbria to the fast lanes of the information superhighway!

2) to be brought “up t0 speed” about community fast broadband by leading experts including Dr. Barry Forde (founder of the CLEO  fast broadband network for Schools),  representatives of the Great Asby Broadband Group, Mike Kiely & Robert Ling of Broadband Delivery UK, Mr. Simon Jones from the UK Division of the Cisco Systems communications giant and Ms. Nicky Getgood of Talk About Local .

and

3) for a focussed discussion of key questions in smaller, local working groups of Community Broadband Champions. Our summarised findings were then delivered to the whole gathering so that we could share information.

A fine account complete with associated video and nice photographs can be found at Citizen reporter, John Popham’s weblog.

Broadband Champions engaged in brainstorming!

Here in the days to come, will follow a blow-by-blow account.

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

Jump to Comments

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).”

Opportunity knocks: Affordable Housing Project In Crosby Ravensworth Advances

Important news has just broken from the Lyvennet Community Trust in regard to their development of affordable homes in Crosby Ravensworth, one of the prettiest parishes in the Eden Valley with an active friendly community, within easy walking distance of a good school, Anglican Church, Methodist Chapel and cozy pub, also within easy access of both the M6 and A66.

The first point of note is that the LCT is now pre-qualifed as an investment partner with the National Affordable Housing Programme. I understand that this is an important step in securing grant funding and from here on in, the project is expected to advance rapidly. For more information on this please click here.

The second item of news, of more direct interest to those readers who are looking for affordable homes at the moment or in the near future is that the LCT are now inviting formal notification of interest in the project. In plainspeak, this means that if you are interested in getting one of these affordable homes then you should apply now. The architect is currently working on the outline layout for the site, which includes:

  • 8 self build plots
  • 9 affordable rented
  • 3 shared ownership

Opportunities like this are very rare. Please click here to view the LCT’s announcement and for access to the registration of interest form.

Penrith & The Border Broadband Conference Report Pt.4 – Community Development

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 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 IV  Building Community Broadband (fourth in a series written between bouts of Apple Juicing)

Having reinforced the crucial importance that broadband is thought to have in providing a prosperous future for society and telling us about some recent and ongoing American innovations, the expert American guest speakers yielded the podium to loud applause followed by another panel of British experts for the “Community Build Out” part of Rory Stewart’s conference. In this section we were shown demonstrative examples of Community Broadband projects, Big Society solutions to bridge the high speed broadband gap.

Malcolm Corbett, Chief Executive of Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) spoke first. INCA was established to bring together the many diverse broadband initiatives that are taking place, to ensure that common standards of practice are being followed, to make sure that islands of non-connectivity don’t exist,  to look at the development of common services and to promote the whole sector by organising conferences nationwide, such as a forthcoming one in Cumbria that’s scheduled for November. He began by talking about the impact that people can have in their local communities, his first slide showed words associated with Jeremy Hunt’s website organised in what is known as a ‘category cloud’ with key words shown relatively larger or smaller according to their frequency of use within the website. Malcolm noted that Broadband and local stood out prominently and this represents its perceived importance to the government’s aim to have the best superfast broadband infrastructure in Europe within the space of this parliament, without having to put a huge amount of money behind that commitment. Malcolm declared INCA’s support of that aim and reiterated the position that the big providers, BT Open reach, Virgin Media and Kcom(based in Hull) are not going to be able to connect all of Great Britain’s “final third”and described the new situation using the analogy of a patchwork quilt of provision across the country involving lots of different local solutions.

Patchwork of broadband provision

Malcolm's patchwork of broadband provision. John Popham image

This complex patchwork is constantly updating as new community projects and private initiatives launch across the country. He noted that valuable lessons are already emerging about what works best in different places. He emphasised the diversity of partners and perspectives and said that we can learn from all this to help us roll-out broadband quickly and effectively in Cumbria.

He focused on some example projects:

First, was the community of Skellefteå in Northern Sweden, with a population of 70,000, widely dispersed, 10 people per square Km, where 80% of people have fibre connections. This was achieved by working with a local utility company that dug in and lit the fibre and the community that sorted out the administration and financing, commitment coupled with creativity achieved success there.

Secondly, he looked at GEO’s Fibrespeed project in North Wales, where a partnership between the Welsh Assembly Government and Geo, a private enterprise provided high speed fibre connection to 14 business parks on an open access basis (they can choose their Internet Service Providers) to boost economic growth there at the same prices that people are paying in the South East.

His third example was the South Yorkshire Digital Region, a public sector funded project intended to prevent further economic decline in the region by running fibre to 54 exchanges, and 15,000 street cabinets effectively connecting over half a million people to high speed broadband.

He finished off his speech by noting the huge amount of energy embodied in the Rheged conference audience and speakers to address the broadband expansion issue and welcomed the next speakers who were leading their own community-based projects to loud applause.

Malcolm Corbett, Chief Executive of Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA)

The first of whom was Lindsey Annison. Lindsey lives in Warcop, is a web consultant and author, and was one of the first in Britain to set up an internet marketing company.  She lived up to her promise to be diplomatic and delivered a lively and interesting account of her local initiative to connect 110 households with Optical Fibre To The Home (OFTTH) in Warcop. This topic is covered in far greater detail in her new paperback book JFDI Community Broadband , probably essential reading for rural communities who want to start up their own fast broadband project. You might also be interested in her other books.

Fifteen years ago, frustrated by the limitations of dial-up, Lindsey sought the fastest technology then available, a T1 line, and many thought her “completely mad” to be so eager for more speed than they could conceive back then that anyone would need, she now feels totally vindicated as people are beginning to recognise that in many areas of the country fast broadband access is the “biggest issue now even above affordable housing”.  Fifteen years after her start-up her children have now grown and moved away in order to study the subjects that most interest them, she suspects that they may never return, and might be part of a generation lost to Cumbria that need not have been if such courses could have been taught extramurally from the college or university. Fast broadband would certainly enable both remote group and individual tutorials, large file transfers and even live feed or recorded video lectures.  Students could conceivably take their 9 o’clock lecture in bed, or at 1 o’clock for that matter. One day fairly soon, it may be feasible to enroll and sit examinations at a local academy and pursue course modules and receive tuition from other ones entirely! The internet nullifies distance, digital publishing vastly magnifies access to research resources and introduces great leverage through economy of scale. The fourth utility indeed! But I digress.

Lindsey then shared her experience of establishing a community broadband network in her village of Warcop to enable possible replication within our own local communities. She first explained the Warcop context; while the village is made up of 110 homes, there are about 300 altogether throughout the Parish. Warcop has a history of innovation. Something in the water you might be thinking? Maybe so, because two doors down from Lindsey lived Ted Stone, later Lord Glenamara, the former head of Marconi, a man of great perspicacity who turned a small-pox crisis into the opportunity to bring renewably sourced electricity to local homes, watch the video below to hear how Warcop village enjoyed electric lighting before the City of Manchester did! In short, he jfdi!

She wants our communities to do the same with broadband; she talked about Rory Stewart’s plan to introduce digital village pumps, saying thats what we need, the fat pipe into the village that we can all connect to either through Fibre To The Home or Fi-wi (Fibre wireless) depending upon the location of each home. She anticipates problems with the NGA terminology (describing 10, 40 and 100 Mbps speeds) because some people already have 1 gigabit per second connectivity and our rural areas are looking a bit ‘third world’ in comparison. She quipped that we should really discard the terms megabits and megabytes (as they cause confusion) and instead think in terms of enabling megabuckets! She produced a tea cup and a bucket and stressed the need for communities to make a future-proof investment and not to be short-termist and aim for a tea-cup when our children and theirs will be needing bucket-sized broadband access.

She then raised the point that in the interim period, before people in remote homes can get their megabuckets, for those people who need access to broadband right now, it is already possible for them to enjoy satellite service provided by firms like Beyond DSL. The people using wireless internet at the conference did so courtesy of joint provision from Beyond DSL (who’d fixed up two 4 Mbps satellite dishes on Rheged’s roof) and Nextgenus (who provided the wireless transceivers).

When, with the aid of American Consultant Tim MacNulty , she assessed the projected cost of connecting every person in Eden with FTTH  they arrived at a figure of about £1000 per person, so over £50,000,000. Break this figure down over a period of  20 years though and you’re looking at £50 per year or just £1 per week – certainly not out of reach. She’s thinking in terms of  ” a fiver to the home”.  If, as has been suggested, the average household saves between £600 and £700 per year from being online, and if teleconferencing with a hospital specialist could help extend your life or the life of your loved ones, then it is obviously a good deal for you, factor in potential savings from the County Council, NHS and our education system and the financial argument for everybody to be on fast broadband becomes simply imperative. We need to flip our perception of the issue to reflect the reality that it’s really expensive not to have fast broadband.

Lindsey then shared her wish list. She would like to see:

  • Proper cooperation from everybody – she stressed that there’s a piece of this pie for everybody.
  • A five year waiver on the fibre tax. It is inhibiting development.
  • Access to existing infrastructure.
  • Affordable prices.
  • Symmetrical service ( equally high powered upload and download)
  • She wants us to expand broadband connectivity in “the final third” first. “The further away I live from services, the more I need the internet.” The argument that remote areas are in most need of connection is a compelling one.

She argues that “we need Fibre To The Home or Fi-Wi, if we have to do Fibre To The Cabinet, then at least make it part of an upgrade path.” She feels that “the killer ap is already here” in the form of social networking and that as we get more tools (live video streaming was introduced very recently on Youtube) there will be ever more extremely heavy utilisation of bandwidth.

She completed her speech by answering the 1997 question “Who’s going to pay for my internet super driveway?” she argues that we will, that we should stop just talking about it and JFDI! Loud applause ensued.

Daniel Heery of Cybermoor was next to speak and he did his best to condense ten years of work into ten minutes of speech to give us an overview of how Community broadband has been successfully deployed in the Alston area by his organisation. At the start of his presentation he asked the audience whether we felt that we could enable NGA in Eden District and about a third of the hands were raised.

Daniel identifies three distinct phases in any project to bring NGA to your community.

1) Establishment of Community Support

2) Organisation of the finances

3) Selection of technology and related services

He stressed that these processes are not straightforward, you get so far and then in light of developments have to take a few steps back, he likens the process to a game of Snakes and Ladders. For example, imagine that you organise a meeting to establish support for a community broadband project, lots of people turn up, excitement rises and everybody leaves fired-up with enthusiasm. Then a few days later a newspaper publishes an infomercial saying that a large Telecoms provider is planning to run a pilot technology program in the area ‘soon’. What happens? The enthusiasm that your meeting generated is eroded as people say,”Well, lets put the community project on hold for a bit and wait and see what BadgerTelecom has to offer.” Your project slips down the snake, you have to regroup and start again.

Then there are also snakes on the financial organisation side, say you’ve been approved a large grant and that’s great, but you have to produce match funding generated from your community, that will take something of an act of faith. Someone (who is unlikely to have a complete grasp of all the technological aspects involved) has to sell the idea of the community paying up front for something that promises to pay dividends later. Deferred reward can be a tough thing to sell and personal exposure to risk is always uncomfortable.

In the technology selection phase, one possible snake could be that even if your excellent MP has opened access to the CLEO or NHS network, it could be the case that your Council has outsourced its IT matters to some private company that will seize the chance to ask for unreasonable charges for access to infrastructure that is publicly funded, or that they don’t want to let an unregulated Community body access the resource.

These are the sort of problems that we can anticipate in our own Community led initiatives – Daniel advises us to expect that things won’t be as straightforward as we might hope at the outset, but being forewarned is to be forearmed and Alston’s Cybermoor project is living proof that a good result can be achieved with perseverance and above all, diplomacy. Daniel stresses the need to remain diplomatic, because you never know whether you’ll have to return to some organisation who may have frustrated you earlier and ask them to cooperate in some other fashion in which they might very willingly oblige you. His motto is keep everybody on board.

What does each Community need to make this work? You need a core team of enthusiastic people (not necessarily all technologically knowledgeable), some ‘doers’ and some ‘talkers’ as well who can tell everybody what’s happening and you need technical input. Daniel says that it has been interesting with these projects that 90% of the early discussion is technology focused and about 10% is focused on the politics of it and how its all going to work, and then at the end of the project upon reflection you see that 90% of the time has been expended upon  working out how it is all going to work and managing people’s expectations and that the technology has been the relatively easy part of it. Daniel stresses that experienced help is at hand, Cybermoor can provide some help to communities that would like it.

He notes the three key ingredients that have contributed to Cybermoor’s success: Innovation, delivery and inspiration.

Innovation is about taking the ideas that people are talking about and putting them to work for your community to deliver the service. Financial innovation is about raising the money on the Community side and involves some lateral thinking. It’s very important to turn the ideas into a visible reality on the ground that confirms to people that it’s really happening. The promises must translate into real delivery, or unhappy customers will make their feelings felt in no uncertain terms. The final ingredient of inspiration, comes from perseverence and harnessing energy, creativity and enthusiasm and showing others what can be achieved. The Alston Community isn’t very large (about 2,500 people), but when Cybermoor harnessed their ideas, energy and enthusiasm they could achieve a huge amount. They are very keen to share their ideas with everybody and Daniel extended an invitation to welcome everybody to come and see what they’re doing in early December .

More details on that will follow.

Nicholas James, CEO of UK Broadband spoke next and he began by saying that he and Daniel represent something of a double act, if Cybermoor can be seen as a local facilitator, someone who’s done it before, can talk you through it, even build a network and manage it for you, then UK Broadband (the single largest holder of commercial spectrum in the UK) can be seen as the other part in the equation, a new (2010) national provider of backhaul, with 130 MHz of contiguous spectrum capable of rolling out 4G services in addition to lots of other spectrum, providing businesses that can’t access ‘fat pipe’ (core internet speed optical fibre) with wireless backhaul of up to 100 Mbps! Next year, new technology will enable speeds of up to 1 Gbps! He asks us to think of them as providing wireless fibre. This has only just become available recently. UK Broadband sees itself as a national supplier that serves a regional solutions provider that serves local community projects. It is currently doing some work with Daniel in Weardale, and working with people like Daniel in Teesdale, parts of north Wales and various other places.

Nicholas then talked about the expansion of Broadband UK’s 4G (Fourth Generation) Wireless data networks. He told us that the key advantage of 4G is that it’s really the first IP Wireless technology, in other words its wireless protocols connect directly with the core internet at full speed.

Starting this year UK Broadband is building 4G data networks including a test program with the NHS that will enable e-health care provision, health care workers can go out into the community in Glasgow, see patients and access the servers back in the hospitals without having to go physically back and forth. This is the beginning of what will be a more widespread projection of health care into the community. Experimental programs in Birmingham and some London Boroughs with local councils are currently exploring ways in which these authorities can save money, ‘spend to save’ incentives are likely to drive the expansion of 4G data networks. Local councils will be increasingly encouraged to adopt wireless data networks to optimise their efficiency.

For us, it means that if we wanted to connect our communities to a 4G wireless network today, at speeds of between 4 and 10Mbps, we can. This can be increased later, as there is a future-proof development path. Nicholas says that there are currently about 500 4G networks in use worldwide. UK Broadband is selling a package through regional service providers like Cybermoor called 4G in a box. It contains everything you need to get your local network established and they’re prepared to deliver this “at cost” and on a revenue share basis if necessary. Nicholas pledged to make his whole spectrum available to the people of Cumbria, alongside the advantage of scale and his expertise, just the sort of pledge that our MP was hoping to obtain for us on the day. He said that while 4G isn’t the only solution, and fibre is a viable alternative in many cases, we should remember the distinct advantages of mobile access. Looking at Asian models, he says it is the mobile access to the internet that is serving as the main economic driver, the trend is that TV is merging with the internet, 50% of people in Hong Kong get their TV entirely via the internet, that’s where we are heading. Nicholas emphasized that a wireless element should be considered in community schemes if we want to truly connect them with the rest of the world. We should avoid installing an incomplete solution. His age advice was “If you build anything today allow it to move forward”, if you put Wimax in today, or LTE make sure that your vendors are tied in to deliver you an upgrade option to LTE advanced in the package, or that they are obliged to pay the penalty of swapping it out in the future.

Nicholas reminded us briefly about Daniel’s advice on getting the community activated, then focused upon what you need to think about using a model practical solution for an example community in Eden – he had worked up a hypothetical solution for Gamblesby. His advice came thick and fast. “You need to think about how to engage the community, yes, but more importantly how to engage the community down the road, because the chances are that your solution can help provide their solution.” “Plan for fixed and wireless broadband, and for some additional 3G and make sure that your wireless network supports roaming service” this is because you’ll want to be able to use it with equal facility in the next village or in London. The wireless aspect needs to be part of a national tie-up. Your solution needs to be open and competitive to allow different services through it. You can put a service at the end of it, but you have to allow others to do the same in order to keep prices competitive and to allow diverse direct content provision. You have to think separately about the broadband service you’re delivering and the backhaul. The backhaul is likely to be subsidised by public money and must remain open – but your community can decide who is to use it and how much they should pay for the privilege. (NB the community scheme can thus contribute financially to your community coffers) Try to retain control of the flow of income from backhaul.

Looking at Nicholas’s Gamblesby case scenario, it assumes they have little to no ADSL , 80 households, one non-farming business and 206 outlying farms. (207 businesses, thank you Lindsey)

He and Daniel worked up this hypothetical solution, see image below.

a solution for melmerby by Cybermoor and UK Broadband

A solution for melmerby by Cybermoor and UK Broadband. John Popham image

A lot of the time, the customers would get more than 4 Mbps and its upgradable to 20Mbps. In parts of Germany Vodafone is offering up to 70Mbps through LTE advanced, so that confirms the need to have a cheaply and easily upgradeable service. There’s no church, and no fibre, so a pole is required and BT wireless ethernet is used for the backhaul in several hops, including one to the top of Fiend’s Fell to access BT’s Backhaul and two from there to Penrith.

What do customers need to connect?

Customers' equipment

The customers' equipment. John Popham image

Customers have a choice of installing indoor wireless modems or Mobile hotspot units for use indoors or to take with them for mobile use.  For the outlying community – there are exterior mounted subscriber units to put on chimneys. You can also use USB dongles and Mi-Fi devices, Nicholas rates the Mi-Fi as better performers.

He moved on to a break down of costs. Assuming a 50% uptake, 148 households with a subsidy of £475 per household for installation, the annual cost of the service would be £98 annually, (so there’s scope for a profit margin on a monthly charge of £10, some of which should be banked to pay for future upgrades) in addition customers would pay for their personal equipment, modem, Mi-Fi unit or USB dongle. A local provider like Daniel could charge for use of the equipment on a monthly basis (funded by UK broadband) and there’d be a small margin of profit there too. These costs don’t reflect what Daniel would make on top.

A rough breakdown of costs to connect Melmerby

A rough breakdown of costs to connect Gamblesby. John Popham image

Now compare that slide above with the one below, a cost estimate with some economy measures applied. The prices look far more attractive. If we could sign up more customers, and if we used a Church spire so we didn’t need a 12 m pole, and if we had another source for the backhaul and so didn’t need to use the BT one, and if we didn’t need two hops for backhaul and if we shared the costs of backhaul with the nearby community of Melmerby and if we put a bit more 3G into the village and then rented backhaul to mobile phone operators then we might bring the costs down as the above slide shows. With a 60% take up the £475 start-up cost per household is reduced to £292 and the operating expenses could fall to £2 per household per month. If you charged £10 or £12, then you will be able to bank the rest to pay for the future upgrade and any repairs or to contribute to defraying other community costs like heating, lighting and insuring public buildings.

It’s possible to roll out a Wireless network very quickly, he concluded – if you wanted this in Gamblesby you could have it set up within three months. You could start your project with wireless initially to get it up and running fairly quickly and then swap it out with fibre connections later. (This is the plan in Great Asby)

The same plan with cost reduction measures applied

The same plan with cost reduction measures applied. John Popham image

The final speaker Chris Conder, advisor on Community broadband, treated us to a video of her ‘fibre dig’ and it speaks for itself, very eloquently, on how she arranged Fibre To The Home, in this case a 1693 home (it was the first DigitalBritain Fibre To The Home Installation) and to a nearby farm in Wray, in May 2009. In all 1.2 km of 12 core fibre was lain over a period of 18 hours by a digger crew, Fibrestream (who brought the fibre and Lucid (who lit it). Chris says they wanted fibre, they JFDI and so can we!

The above video indicates how fibre could be laid from one of Rory Stewart’s green cabinet ‘parish pumps’ to your home or farm, and it shows just how little disturbance of the ground is involved. The Mole plough digs the trench so deep that the soil above the fibre and green warning tape can be ploughed. They make the process look distinctly feasible.

I hope that this report has made sense so far, if not the videos should help clarify matters. I shall cover the final part of the conference “The Action Plan and Conclusion in Part 5 of this series soon. First published on the Lyvennet Valley Community Weblog