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/

 

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

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

Jump to Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

————Commercial Message——————-

Available alongside other fine fare at the Crosby Ravensworth Farmers’ Market, Saturday Septemebr 25 from 10 am till 3 pm. Come along and have a taste of Eden!

Beech Tree Farm Apple Juice

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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