LLBG Community Broadband Gains Public Support In Morland Meeting

Lance Greenhalgh explaining our options. Catherine Anderson Photo

Lance Greenhalgh explaining our options. Catherine Anderson Photo

About 100 people attended an event at Morland Village Hall on Wednesday evening that was both educational and interactive. Through some informative speeches and a clear, concise slide presentation there emerged a clearer understanding of the issues and of residents’ options on the matter, and also a clear mandate for the group to investigate the establishment of a Community owned broadband project.

Freddy Markham, Chair of the LLBG introduced the meeting with some essential general background information about the need to connect the final third (our rural communities) through a community driven project because the large providers are preoccupied with the cities and the rural areas would be too expensive to connect without spirited cooperation of the community and the granting of free wayleaves by landowners. He introduced Louis Mosely, aide to Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and The Border.

Louis introduced the idea of the Eden Declaration as an important statement of desired service and talked about the possibility of long-term low interest loans from the Big Society Bank.

Tom Lowther, our Cumbria County Councilor then explained Cumbria County Council’s desire to get the best value for money for Cumbria as a whole and said CCC was working with Mike Kiely of Broadband Development UK to seek the best way of serving a great number of people and organisations, he admitted that though the FTTC approach with BT didn’t match the specifications demanded by Champions through the Eden declaration, it could happen with the assistance of public funding from Broadband Development UK and by going through thorough public procurement procedures.

Lance Greenhalgh then delivered a concise and comprehensive slide presentation offering an overview of technological options for digital services – he emphasised that there was more to this subject than broadband itself .

He didn’t rule out satellite, wireless and fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) as each service may suit certain circumstances, but reinforced the position that Fibre to the home/premises (FTTH/P) was the best value future-proof solution available to us at this time. (NB because it’s future proof we can proceed with confident belief that it isn’t: likely to become obsolete / likely to be superseded anytime soon).

The Great Asby Group advised the retention of at least one normal phone line with plain ordinary telephone per village for emergency use in power outages. Lance mentioned the Femtocell solution for getting mobile signals into our homes via broadband and the usefulness of wireless service for Caravan parks and for remote outliers. He briefly covered who might deliver our services and finished off with a speedy overview of the considerable anticipated benefits of fast broadband.

Questions from the floor followed: how would video on demand TV work over FTTH? Extra equipment would be necessary : A YouView set-top box could be connected via ethernet cable and thence to a TV.

There was a question about whether way-leaves had been agreed yet. Mr. Markham answered that he had contacted, and was awaiting responses from, various parties.

There was a question about the sort of structure necessary to provide the Community service, Community Interest Company or Industrial Provident Society, but this was agreed to be a subject that would be better explored after establishing the extent of demand.

Our collective response to various questions, using Cumbria County Council’s electronic voting system brought the event to a conclusion. The voting system allows public opinion to be expressed collectively with anonymity.

For more on the subject please see the results and associated commentary at  www.broadbandcumbria.com and www.Leith-Lyvennet.broadbandcumbria.com

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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.

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/

 

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

Big Society Exemplified In Grand Visions For Fast Internet In Rural Cumbria – Part II

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.

For Rory Stewart’s Website, where there is a rapidly expanding range of broadband related resources   please Click Here
Many, many thanks to our citizen reporter John Popham for filming and mounting his video on Youtube

PART II  SOLUTIONS TO THE BACKHAUL (second in a series written between bouts of Apple Juicing)

The second part of Rory Stewart’s broadband conference at Rheged focused upon solving the issue of getting backhaul in rural areas. To read Part I please click here.

The problem of getting backhaul (the power to upload data back onto the internet) was examined by the next series of speakers. There is a concern that the big providers like BT and Virgin may be very preoccupied with speeding up services for our urban populace and that our small remote communities are likely to get left behind.  Barry Forde (NGA advisor to the government and key brain behind the CLEO network for schools) explained why it was necessary to break with that pattern and how it could be done. He pointed out that though Eden is 97.5% rural with half our population living in small villages and hamlets (so we’re not all likely to be covered by the big providers), we are blessed with three potential sources of public access to the core internet via fibre-optic cables, the Network Rail optical fibre network that runs alongside the Carlisle Settle railway track, and the CLEO network – a very forward-thinking program to connect our schools (Primary at 10 Mbps and Secondary and higher at 100 Mbps) and finally our NHS medical centres at 100 Mbps. While it could cost upwards of £40,000 to get 100Mbps backhaul independently, it would cost very much less to connect to the existing infrastructure provided that it was opened up. He advocated liberating that potential in unused bandwidth and sharing the costs in return for the access – boosting up the Primary schools’ backhaul to 100Mbps and sharing that cost with the local community users, tapping in to the Network rail and NHS networks too where that was feasible and likewise defraying costs.  See his speech below:

Chris Smedley (Chief Executive of GEO) introduced his company as an optical fibre specialist working at the infrastructure level behind the scenes (along gas pipelines) across the country, that would be able to help some Cumbrian communities connect to the core internet. Geo has 3000km of fibre network nationally and supplies businesses with connections speeds of up to 20 Gigabits per second. They have optical fibre running through Kendal all the way to Carlisle. He warned that there would need to be a lot of infill build between the core network and the end users over the next two years and he said that Geo can help people to complete their connection.

He advocated building capacity with a mixture of technologies, using the CLEO network, but also looking at masts with unused capacity (Wimax and 3G) and even looking at improving service through the copper wires as BT were doing, by basically moving the end of the fibre connection as close to the customers as possible. He finished off his speech with an appraisal of what sort of service rural Cumbria needs – as the fourth utility it has to be: high quality, long-term infrastructure, capable of repair,  capable of cycling through upgrades every 5 years or so, it should not be a ‘stranded investment’ and should be open to all – and not monopolised. He stressed that it should  be optical fibre all the way to residences and masts. The speed targets should be ambitious because we’re building this to be useful for future generations and applications.

Mr. Smedley said that we can predict the future of high speed broadband – because there are existing models in use in different places today such as The Netherlands, including, but not limited to:  High Speed Symmetrical Internet (upload and download), Video conferencing, Cloud Computing, On demand content delivery, Virtually unlimited bandwidth, Smarter transportation grids, Multiple media streams- including HD and in future 3DHD (I’m looking forward to that), in-home health service, Local mobile and wireless services, Environmental benefits, Less road/parking congestion, Smart energy grids, Smart monitoring, Working from home.

Chris went on to say that market forces will connect the urban populations, but they will fail to connect the rural communities, a larger proportion of the estimated £20-30 Billion overall cost to attain NGA would be entailed in connecting the last third of the nation, the rural populace and the profit incentive for business investment isn’t sufficient, so there will need to be government assistance – probably to the tune of about £5 billion on top of BT’s £2.5 billion to roll-out a cheaper intermediary phase of development.  This intermediary (cheaper) phase would yield ‘future-proof’ (upgradable  to NGA quality) backhaul of between 2 and 20Mbps in the short term, but for this to happen we need access to existing core internet optical fibre networks and telephone poles and ducts now.

This cheaper pre-next generation access phase will be realised faster, because:

a) it’s more affordable, therefore more people will sign up for it and open wider competition which will drive down prices,

b) more different operators are actually capable of delivering the solutions so more can happen simultaneously across Cumbria

(It’s possible for revenues from the intermediary development phase to help pay for the upgrade to the following NGA phase – in essence this is what The Great Asby group appear to be doing – it’s a self-sustainable development path)

However, for this plan to work, it is important that the public sector continues to use the networks and doesn’t tax the private use of them (tax payers have already paid for them).

Understanding the ‘final third’

Aidan Paul (Chief Executive of Vtesse Networks) spoke next, and he described how Vtesse was concentrating specifically on serving ‘the final third’ and that they have been very busy learning about issues involved – particularly the barriers and threats to achieving the 2Mbps universal service provision standards. He illustrated their activity by talking about their pilot scheme in a place called Hatt in Cornwall, undertaken in partnership with Virgin Media.

Vtesse have discovered that final third settlements are fairly evenly distributed across the nation. Mr. Paul remarked that Lincolnshire’s relatively small population (for example) is due to the absence of large cities, not due to a proportionally larger number of  smaller communities. This has helped them to draw conclusions that have relevance to Cumbria from a number of studies conducted elsewhere in the country. Nationwide, they have identified between 12,000 and 18,000 settlements in the ‘last third’, there are 12,000 settlements that are between half the size of Hatt and twice the size of Hatt, representing about 11% of the population, and there are 18,000 settlements that are between half the size of Hatt and four times the size of Hatt representing 23% of the population.  Soon they will have passed 2000 homes above the 2mbps threshold and they’re aiming to pass a million.

BT Data from Aidan Paul's Speech

BT Data from Aidan Paul's Speech

Aidan explained by use of the above slide, that in order for Vtesse to serve the final third under current rental prices (@£127.61 per connection) they would have to pay over £2 billion to BT for use of their sub-loops. That’s fairly prohibitive. He went on to show that there is space within a BT duct for more fibre, but explained that the configuration of cable would need to be adjusted for optimal use.

Historical reason for high business rates

Historical reasons for high business rates explained by Mr. Aidan Paul of Vitesse

High business rates were identified as another impediment to rolling out broadband to the ‘final third’. Apparently this chain of events was a consequence of King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, because the resulting absence of Alms Houses necessitated the introduction of business rates by Queen Elizabeth I through her Poor Law.

Finally Aidan provided us with a wish list that would enable provision of high speed broadband to the final third of homes in time to meet the Government’s Universal Service Commitment target of 2Mbps broadband access for everyone by the end of 2012.

Vitesse wish list

The Vtesse 'Shopping list'

The above slide shows the shopping list of conditions that Vtesse believe would enable achievement of the USC in the ‘final third’, in short cheaper access to poles, fibre and ducts, cheaper rental of BT sub-loops, access to black fibre for backhaul, equitable business rates, revision of code powers and prevention of extortion by landowners, and cooperation from local Councils vis a vis planning for digging up roads, crossing bridges etc.

It now only remained for the last speaker from this panel, Mr. Gareth Davies (Competition Policy Director OFCOM) to explain how OFCOM intends to “establish a regulatory environment that will foster innovation, investment and competition”. Where OFCOM finds ‘market power’ it can impose obligations on the dominant provider in a way that fosters investment and competition to take place. It does this by conducting market reviews, and OFCOM’s in the process of completing two that have a bearing on broadband provision in rural Cumbria, the first review concerning infrastructure access is due to be published at the end of September and the second, concerning wholesale broadband services that are made available to Internet Service Providers for retail to end users will be published in October.

We learned from Mr. Davies that OFCOM has found that BT has market dominance in terms of access and so will be obliged to (unbundle) open up its local loops; in over 70% of the country BT has unbundled its local loops thus providing room for competition to develop, and where that has occurred OFCOM has been able to deregulate the downstream wholesale market because BT no longer has dominance in the face of strong competition. However in Penrith and the Border constituency only one other provider has stepped forward and this one only in Penrith (out of 30 exchanges), which means that for 75% of the population the only provider is BT. We were also informed that factors that negatively affect the performance of the network – such as topography and distance from the exchange are notable in our area and that prices tend to be higher for slower service. However there are options when it comes to retail service providers – customers do have a choice of ISPs.

To address this situation OFCOM is adopting two strategies, the first is VULA (Virtual Unbundled Access) and the second is called Physical Infrastructure Access, primarily dealing with ducts and poles. BT has promised to deliver NGA to areas that represent 66% of the national population, and in the areas where it does that, OFCOM has asked it to provide VULA to enable competitors to compete in the retail market. OFCOM won’t regulate the price of VULA initially, in order to encourage BT to roll out the service as quickly as possible.

OFCOM has asked BT to open up use of its ducts and poles, and in some areas this will allow competitors “to get there first”, Virgin Media has expressed an interest in using this infrastructure to expand its area of coverage beyond its current 50% of the country and this sharing of infrastructure is expected to make it feasible for new market entrants – like community based schemes.

BT has already begun looking into opening up this infrastructure and some workshops have been held with interested parties to develop the facilities. OFCOM would like the OCA (independent adjudicator) to oversee this process of opening up BT’s infrastructure. BT will produce a draft reference offer for the new service early next year for service launch in mid 2011. Public funding will be necessary and OFCOM will keep an eye on developments. OFCOM is particularly interested in seeing that the Internet Service Provision is openly competitive at retail level and don’t want to see a host of small monopolies develop. Where state funding is involved State Aid rules will ensure that providers provide wholesale services so that others can compete. OFCOM will also ensure that BT will provide unbundled access from street cabinets to premises – they have been offering this service for some time already, but uptake as been low. This has been changing with groups like Vtesse becoming involved. An industry group has been set-up to develop this product further and it’s trying to improve the pricing.

BT is obliged to provide wholesale broadband in areas where it has market dominance (Much of Penrith and the Border), OFCOM is proposing price control in such areas to make sure that services aren’t overpriced and to make incentive for development of the ADSL 2+ technology that can provide speeds up to 24 Mbps. In November the details of the proposed control will be published.

Gareth Davies explaining OFCOM’s regulatory environment

This completes part II of this coverage. Part III will cover some solutions that have emerged in the USA.

————— Lindsy Annison has kindly provided the following very interesting information ————-

The firm is called Vtesse not Vitesse as I had earlier said.

“BT need to be forced to sub loop unbundle. Loop unbundling means that many exchanges have multiple providers; sub-loop unbundling brings that choice closer to the home and right into the first mile.

However, we should not get lost in sub-loop unbundling where regulation will undoubtedly become a barrier to FTTH and Digital Village Pumps, as will negotiating details with the sub-loop owner (s) – mainly BT but others KCOM f’r instance have cabinets.

You don’t actually need to use BT infrastructure at all to get FTTH or even FTTC (Curb or Cabinet, pick your poison).

Long discussions were held at and post-colloquium about what a ‘cabinet’ or DVP should look like etc. (The inclusion of the arts projects made for a truly exciting discussion on that issue!)

And it is easy enough to build your own as Ashby in Lincs have just proven, following many other communities elsewhere who have circumvented the need to use the incumbent telco by building their own exchanges and cabinets.

BT are extremely worried about this turn of events, as they should be, because if I, for instance, got access into backhaul, why would I then complicate matters by involving BT when a nice local farmer has said I can build my own cabinet on his land, in a much more convenient place to reach as many in the community as possible, and hence bypass BT entirely?”

Thank you very much, Lindsey.

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Big Society Exemplified In Grand Visions For Fast Internet In Rural Cumbria – Part I

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.

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 I The Introduction and overview

(first in a series written between bouts of Apple Juicing)

Living near Penrith as I do, I’m used to seeing grand visions in the Rheged Visitor Centre’s excellent Imax auditoria – super high definition (and 3D) films of Ancient Egypt, The Kingdom of Rheged, Rainforest life, The Himalayas and Dinosaurs being notable examples, but I scarcely hoped to see the complexity of connecting our remote rural communities to high speed broadband covered so comprehensively and with such clarity as I did yesterday. It’s an interesting observation that the very conditions that make high-speed connectivity rather tricky around here are the ones that make it so important – anything that facilitates business, education, social networking, security and telemedecine development in remote rural areas has got to be a very good thing. I, for one, am counting on Rory’s initiative to work – because I sell and maintain websites, I like them to be visually attractive and to load quickly for my customers and their customers. That’s me – always wanting the moon, but I was gratified to learn at Rheged yesterday that it wasn’t just me who wants this moon – the reason that the Cumbrian networks are slowing down is that we Cumbrians are heavy users. We are prosumers (producer/consumers) exchanging large files on a regular basis, slapping up our Youtube and lapping up our iplayer video, TV, movies and on-line gaming. The great advances that Cumbria made in first generation access (99% availability by 2008 according to Richard Walters, CEO of Commendium) are starting to feel ready to be expanded upon. It’s not just our younger end that are sucking up the bandwidth now – the silver-haired web surfers are increasing in number, and why not? There’s just as much for us all on the net – and traders are fully cognisant of where the greater spending power resides.

A glance at some of the name badges in the foyer confirmed that this was an event of consequence – Rory Stewart’s Broadband Conference had gathered key figures in Government, the private sector, Education and Cumbrian communities and even some American experts, including some of the worlds ‘black-belt’ gurus of high speed connectivity under one roof in an event that was as well-planned as it was smoothly executed. Rheged made a fine venue for the conference.

Now follows a very brief and consolidated digest of what ensued in the first part of the conference, written to the best of my understanding which is admittedly incomplete ( a great deal was said and most of it was new to me and weighty) – I’ll attempt to complete it in later articles and I’d welcome any additional information that will beef-up or correct my account where necessary.

Our MP kicked off the conference with a punchy welcoming address to prepare us for the day ahead – he reminded us of the growing necessity to provide all our communities with access to realistically affordable future-proof broadband for lasting prosperous regional, national and international interactivity. He stressed the crucial element of community involvement, and the ‘do-ability’ of the task despite the complexity of the issues. He  promised to fight hard to facilitate community access to existing bandwidth through a shared enhancement of the CLEO fibre-optic network (established by CLEO from The University of Lancaster) via a Parish pump analogy. If government provides the green cabinets in the communities, it’s up to us to complete the last mile, i.e. get the fibre to our residences or to a transmitter that can send and receive wireless internet signals from devices in or on our homes and public buildings. He identified successful local models in the form of the Great Asby Broadband group and the Alston Cybermoor group and emphasised the likelihood of the need to employ multiple solutions within most communities. He also anticipated that things may become a bit heated at the conference as there are competing interests in terms of provision, but his hope that this wouldn’t become acrimonious was realised as speakers made their points positively and presented their own cases constructively. No mud was slung and at 5 o’clock I was impressed by the fact that it wasn’t all going to be about wires, fibres and fibre served wireless and that satellite will doubtlessly serve some remote homes, and if you are in one such now and you want your broadband very soon – then you may be prepared to pay the £25-£50 a month to secure a satellite service. For Next Generation Access by 2015 (speeds in the region of 50 to 100 Mbps that can handle anticipated future demands for very heavy data transfer) however, it is extremely likely that an optical fibre network will be doing the work.


Rory Stewart (Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border) Introductory Speech

and

Ministerial Address by Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries

Our Minister of Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey MP, was the first guest speaker and he set the scene for us presenting a clear correlation between fast internet access and improved business and cultural activity. Referring to work that he had completed in a July 2010 consultation paper he stated that it was very necessary to open up existing public infrastructure in order to reach the government’s 2015 targets of universal service provision of Next Generation Access. He alluded to considerable spectra of unused bandwidth that could be efficiently used and the savings that could be achieved by communities laying their own fibre optic cables, costs of £120 per meter could be reduced to £20 per meter – and you’ve got local employment as a serendipitous spin-off.  Shall we dig out our spades? Some of us can, others may prefer to hire a friendly neighbouring Farmer’s Mole plough. More on that in a later article!

Furthermore, he announced that some of the £200,000,000 ‘underspend’ that had been earmarked for the national digital TV switchover could be employed to Cumbria’s benefit in public-private partnerships if people in communities demonstrated sufficient enthusiasm and engagement. Eden’s relatively small population might reasonably expect help to the tune of about £4 or 5 million – which might be sufficient if we’re fully engaged, make the wisest decisions and do our bit.

We next heard from a series of expert panels who guided us through the fascinating areas of: existing coverage (patchy and unlikely to meet govt. targets without a major effort), rural needs (increasingly heavy) and the potential that the technology offers (quality-of-life altering). Broadband was introduced as a fourth utility – increasingly essential in modern life, soon to be seen as equally essential as piped water. In many areas, the number one concern after affordable housing, in others out-ranking affordable housing. Adrian Wooster (Director of JON Exchange) told us about ‘Not Spots’ (places with no broadband access) and ‘Grot spots’ (places with slow broadband access). A series of maps showed the low number of providers (Penrith had 2) and where fast internet could not be found in the constituency. Most of Eden was pictured in red with a series of green circles showing communities that had some broadband access. The needs for fast broadband hinged upon potential impacts on shopping for goods and services, lifelong learning, social networking, telemedicine, business communication and connection to services – 89% of government services are available on the internet currently. These needs and potentials were further expanded upon by successive speakers and will be covered in greater detail in Part Two. It was later apparent that some of the maps could already be updated (this showing the mercurial realities of the issue).


Adrian Wooster (Director of JON Exchange)


Dr. Stuart Burgess (Chairman of The Commission for Rural Communities)


William Davies (Vice President of Technology Policy Research In Motion)

BT’s Bill Murphy, the managing director of Next Generation Access BT described what BT has achieved so far (running 5500 exchanges nationwide, all but 26)  serving millions of customers directly and millions more through 1400 communications providers) and what they hope to achieve yet through a £2.5 billion investment (the largest single private sector investment in broadband anywhere, ever), aiming for 70-80% coverage at 2Mbps or more by the end of 2012, and alluding to R&D in progress aiming for speeds of up to 40 Mbps over existing copper wire and hinting at hitherto untapped potentials in the use of Ethernet. Undoubtedly BT will be playing a part in speeding up connectivity for a lot of our communities, but what of the remaining 20-30% of people? And are they likely to be … you?


Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director of Next Generation Access BT

The problem of getting backhaul (the power to upload data back onto the internet) was examined next, and in detail. Many people feel that the big providers , BT and Virgin are understandably likely to be very preoccupied with speeding up services for our urban populace and our small remote communities are likely to remain in the slowest lanes of the superhighway. That’s been the pattern so far and the next speaker, Barry Forde (NGA advisor to the government and key brain behind the CLEO network for schools) explained why it was necessary to break with that pattern and how it could be done. He pointed out that though Eden is 97.5% rural with half our population living in small villages and hamlets (so we’re not all likely to be part of BT’s 70-80%), we are blessed with three potential sources of public access to the core internet via fibre-optic cables, the Network Rail optical fibre network that runs alongside the Carlisle Settle railway track, and the CLEO network – a very forward-thinking program to connect our schools (Primary at 10 Mbps and Secondary and higher at 100 Mbps) and finally our NHS medical centres at 100 Mbps. While it could cost upwards of £40,000 to get 100Mbps backhaul independently, it would cost very much less to connect to the existing infrastructure provided that it was opened up. He advocated liberating that potential in unused bandwidth and sharing the costs in return for the access – boosting up the Primary schools’ backhaul to 100Mbps and sharing that cost with the local community users, tapping in to the Network rail and NHS networks too where that was feasible and likewise defraying costs. He was very persuasive and witty.


Barry Forde (NGA advisor to the government and key brain behind the CLEO network for schools)

Rory Stewart pointed out the usefulness of overlaying the maps that had been shown so far, so that we could all see how this was all fitting together.

I shall continue this account and tell you some of what the following speakers said in part 2 on another day.

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