Cybermoor to Fibremoor – Communications Workshop Illuminates

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On February 9th, I was kindly transported to and from a very nicely organised, well attended and highly illuminating event at Alston Moor’s Town Hall.

Fortified by coffee and biscuits from the local bakery we were treated to comprehensive coverage of the the Cybermoor Community Communications project.
Please see their site for more details and video links when they are ready.

I think that Daniel Heery and his Cybermoor team came across as very professional and polished, but it was clear from their presentations that they’ve done a lot of learning the hard way as pathfinders! 10 yrs ago was clearly a tough time to try and set up a Community Communications network. They may well be poised to reap rewards for their perseverance and years of accumulated experience, I think. They can manage and deliver community communications networks and maintain them with a convenient-looking electronic management system.
Thanks to the focus that Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border has brought to bear upon the subject through his Rheged Broadband conference and the continued efforts now reinforced by the Big Society paradigm shift – 2011 is a more favourable time for communities to upgrade to future-proof internet – I expect that Fibremoor will expand it’s customer base rapidly soon!

Alston Moor’s website strikes me as a very good example of a Community microsite, and they’ve got their act together with community transport too.

They shared detailed knowledge with us and encouraged us not to be discouraged!

This event has definitely confirmed in my mind that though wireless has its place, Fibre To The Premises is the way to go if we can.

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:

There is open debate on 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)

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 ( that was drawn to my attention on 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 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

For communities in the Upper Eden area there is


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

The Leith-Lyvennet microsite can be found at 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 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:

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?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


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.


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