Broadband News Update: Connecting Cumbria Meeting at Rheged

One man’s perspective of the recent broadband conference at Rheged

By Charles Paxton

MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart introducing the conference.

MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart introducing the conference with Julia Watts of Open Reach (by lap top), and Councillor Libby Bateman on far right,

At Rheged on Saturday September 28th, three years after his landmark first broadband conference, Rory Stewart (MP for Penrith and the Border) introduced a new phase of Connecting Cumbria Project to the gathered Broadband Champions (community representatives endorsed by their Parishes). The event began with informal discussions between Broadband Champions and Openreach representatives with a formal presentation by Councillor Libby Bateman on her progress at Fell End, Ravenstonedale.

After her presentation Rory chaired a Q&A session in which Openreach representatives and Cumbria County Council’s Jim Savege were available to answer questions.

A key outcome was that broadband champions need to formally ask CCC for an appointment with Openreach, then Openreach will share detailed information about the peculiar circumstances of their area.

Progress so far: The County has passed through bureaucratic, funding and tendering procedures and selected an infrastructure project provider – Openreach.

The Govt. has so far committed £90 million to Connecting Cumbria and is organising another £250 million. There have been a series of important breakthroughs that now mean we have a very real chance to enjoy high speed internet in our rural communities and we are really grateful to all the people who have struggled to make it possible.

In this new phase community level engagement with different people is necessary to help set up Openreach infrastructure that will serve our residents via different providers so that consumer choice is protected and this competition is expected to maintain fair pricing and ensure cutting edge offerings going forward for better parity of rural services with urban services.

Employment, Government services including emergency services, health/social care, and entertainment is increasingly dependent upon efficient communications.

This is for more than just email and browsing: It’s for the whole gamut of current and future offerings, whatever they may eventually be.

 

What is at stake?

Residents in villages with superfast enabled cabinets will be able to access high speed internet. Initially, we heard that those within 1.4 km of an upgraded Superfast Cabinet, as the wires run, can expect the fastest speeds over existing copper wire with the first 300 meters enjoying the peak speeds, but thanks to some clever research and development this range has been extended, meaning that more people can be covered with the minimum 30 Mbps download speed that warrants the name ‘Superfast’.

The speed drops off over distance ( attenuation due to signal degradation through copper metal ) and so other means would be necessary to reach outlying properties to provide superfast speed.

One such means is fibre lines run from the updated cabinets to the remote premises or to a wireless mast in a high place that can reach them. Fibre doesn’t suffer noticeable attenuation, so it is a liberating technology. One community that has benefited near here is Fell End, Ravenstonedale.

Councillor Libby Bateman explaining the Fell End community build process

Councillor Libby Bateman explaining the Fell End community build process

A replicable example of community build using fibre optic internet

We now have a replicable model of internet delivered by fibre to the premises at Fell End, where Councillor Libby Bateman (Cumbria County Council ) connected 58 properties with fibre to a modern Openreach cabinet. Communities can follow this example if we wish to go that route.

Their Parish (Ravenstonedale) is now the accountable body for the Fell end project.

1)      They talked with Connecting Cumbria: CCC, Rory, Openreach about the project in general terms and agreed that  the need was real and that the residents weren’t likely to get superfast service by other means and to investigate the feasibility.

2)       They gathered interested residents together in their local pub and asked people how they would choose to pass a fibre from their home to their neighbour’s and thus sketched out a sensible route for the duct. This gave them an idea of the amount of duct required. They then mapped the land-ownership of the route and talked with the land-owners to negotiate way-leaves.

3)      They put out a tender according to EU guidelines to establish pricing for duct itself and for the digging in of the duct and chose the best option.

4)      They applied for funds for the project using this pricing from various sources. Each funder helped spread confidence in the project with other funders and the whole thing gained respectability.  In their case the cost came in under £1000 per property (this ties-in with best-pricing efficiency as envisaged by Barry Forde of B4RN). Needless to say, such a connection enhances the real value of the property as a residence, so over time, it is well worth it..

5)      They notified contractors, and paid them for the work in advance of the main funding (this has to be so).

6)      The duct was laid down mostly by a mole-plough with a big drum on it ( the speed of laying depends upon the underlying mineralogy). Openreach then blew fibre down the duct and connected the properties with a face-plate, the work was completed.

7)      Ravenstonedale Parish Council then claimed money back to pay for the work.

8)      Now the community’s communications network is working correctly and is future-proofed. The initial 85% take-up expanded to about 90% because people who were reticent at first, joined later.

9)      Job done. Fell-end broadband infrastructure is sorted out now. The customers receive their choice of services from their choice of internet provider and pay for them in their own way.

The Fell End project success proves that even a very hard to reach place can get fibre enabled broadband, so there’s hope for many others!

Serving remote rural communities with superfast broadband relies upon communities taking care of the tasks that Openreach have major difficulties with:

  • establishing where the demand exists and matching the most suitable technology (different ‘sizes’ of cabinet suit varying numbers of premises)
  • negotiating with landowners,
  • mapping the optimum routes

and

  • digging in the duct work.

This significantly cuts costs to the point that such high speed connection can be possible and also de-risks the project from their perspective because this development is experimental.

In this phase communities need to register their interest with Connecting Cumbria, liaise with Openreach and then Openreach will share detailed information with us about what they can do for our respective communities. Openreach’s  detailed speed maps will help people understand what their property is likely to receive in terms of speed from an upgraded cabinet over telephone lines and possibly via other means, such as fibre to the premises.

What other high speed internet is available? Examples of totally private solutions:

Satellite 2 Way satellite broadband in our Parish has been clocked at 11 Mbps download, I have heard a good report of this service in our Parish and that it is fine for applications that don’t rely upon live-streaming, the latency (delay) between Earth and the orbiting satellite makes it unsuitable for video conferencing and other peer-to-peer services like live gaming. However, for people with a phone in a remote dell, this seems a very good option. You can still send recorded video messages via satellite if you wish.

Wireless

Lonsdale Network Services offer line of sight wireless connection if sufficient numbers of residents in the area subscribe to justify running of the service from a local mast. Apparently LNS have learned a good deal since they took over from NextGenUs and are expanding their area of service.

Unlike Openreach, LNS sell their service directly, there is no need for an additional Internet Service Provider. L.N.S subscribers can rely upon an assortment of online services for similar functionality. If you do want an ISP, AOL can serve as an Internet Service Provider over the LNS system.

LNS can provide Voice Over Internet (VOIP) telephony, a back-up battery powered box is necessary in the event of a power cut.

I have heard good reports of their service at Gamblesby.

For their latest news, please see their respective websites.

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