News Digest Rural Broadband: August 2014

It has been a slow month for news on slow internet connections. But we have still managed to collect a few articles related to rural broadband.

28 August – Rural broadband: still life on a branch line
The UK now boasts some of the best average broadband speeds in Europe, but this still leaves a large number of businesses in the slow lane. Read more…


27 August – Fibre broadband arrives in Isle of Wight’s rural communities
Residents in rural parts of the Isle of Wight will now be able to connect to fibre broadband. The first cabinet to be ‘switched on’ as part of the Isle of Wight’s multi-million pound rural broadband project is now serving 240 homes and businesses in Shorwell. Read more…

See also: http://onthewight.com/2014/08/27/first-rural-broadband-cabinet-goes-live-today/


21 August – Is FTTC enough for the UK’s future superfast broadband needs?
The short answer is not with current technology. However there is a lot of research work going on to increase FTTC capacity. In contrast, FTTH networks obviously have the capacity to carry this growth in traffic now, providing comparatively unlimited bandwidth that scales for the future. In the US, Far East and other parts of Europe, more and more FTTH networks are being deployed, with a huge impact on the economy, public services and the daily lives of citizens. The risk is that many places in the UK will slip behind international competitors if they don’t have the networks in place to underpin growth. Read more…


15 August – Rural broadband reaches West Oxfordshire with a little help from the PM
The West Oxforshire parish missed out on nationwide broadband funding last year because of limited budgets. The community lobbied for two and a half years to secure funding from the state to help implement the new network. Speaking on behalf of the parish, local resident Graham Shelton told The Telegraph that this project would never have come to fruition without the Prime Minister. “None of it could have happened without his personal intervention, just at the moment when the project could have floundered,” he said. Read more…


12 August – Thousands of rural homes have access to faster broadband
Almost 22,000 homes have been given faster broadband access thanks to the Superfast Northamptonshire project, according to the county council. Fifteen roadside fibre broadband cabinets in these communities have just ‘gone live’. Read more…


8 August – One million UK properties on ‘superfast broadband’ after investment
The UK’s culture secretary has said that more than a million properties now have access to “superfast broadband speeds” as a result of a government-backed rollout of the tech. But many have questioned the quality of access and speeds advertised. The government has also set aside millions to improve broadband access in rural areas. But BDUK, the group set up to spend the £530m of government money for the rural internet initiative, has come in for criticism for delays in distributing funds to councils and for awarding every contract to BT. Read more…


7 August – Wales is ‘bridging the gap’ with superfast broadband coverage – but still lags rest of UK
Wales is catching up in the rollout of superfast broadband, new Ofcom research has revealed. But the research also shows that, despite the increase in the availability of new broadband services, the proportion of adults in Wales who had signed up to broadband (71%) was six percentage points lower than the UK average. And many small firms and rural residents reported problems with poor mobile phone coverage and unreliable internet. Read more…


News Digest Rural Broadband: July 2014

Another month has gone by with again lots of media attention for slow Internet connections in rural areas. This time the news brings us: how Scottish independence might benefit rural broadband services, disgruntled BT customers, B4RN’s hyper speed broadband, and a breakthrough technology that will squeeze 10 gigabits per second down old-fashioned copper wires (or not?). Enjoy!

31 July – BT forges on with fibre roll-out but customer uptake weak
BT is rolling out fibre optic broadband across the UK at a steady pace, but only 15% of fibre-ready premises have signed up for the superfast internet service. BT is at the centre of some controversy over the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas. Read more…


23 July – Broadband roll-out ‘poorly managed’, says rural activist
The UK government-led roll-out of broadband to rural areas has been poorly managed and failed to consider a wide enough range of technologies to solve access problems in the maximum possible number of areas, one rural activist has told UKAuthority.com. Read more…


22 July – Rural anti-BT backlash may halt expansion of pioneering West Country broadband project
The UK’s first state-funded broadband project may not be extended after councillors branded BT’s speed promise for rural users ‘a nightmare. ‘Local organiser Geoff Preston said: “The whole thing is a bit of a scam. All BT are doing is connecting up the green box in the street to superfast broadband, but if you live more than a couple of hundred yards away, or have old wires to your house, your speeds won’t improve that much.” Read more…


21 July – Anger over the reality of ‘super-fast’ rural broadband for West homes 
Tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being given to BT to provide rural counties across the West with superfast broadband, but after realising the broadband either would not reach them or would not be that much faster even if it did, more villages are signing their own deals to get high-tech wifi transmitters installed instead. Read more…


18 July – UK Broadband — Not Fit for Purpose (Blog Post by Lindsey Annison)
It would seem that far too many people are happy to skirt around the issues, to deliver platitudes and sound bites to willing journalists who don’t actually feel like investigating the truth or facing the elephant in the country. Particularly in the countryside. I was brought up in Yorkshire where a spade (particularly when used for a fibre dig) is a spade. UK Broadband is quite simply not fit for purpose. There – a trunk, 2 flappy ears and a long memory. See it?! Read more…


17 July –  Rural businesses suffering from poor broadband service
A Europasat survey of rural residents last month highlighted the frustration felt by many when trying to use the internet. The survey showed 36 per cent of rural residents felt let down by the Government on their service, with a third having being promised a superfast broadband scheme which they were yet to receive. Read more…


14 July - UK broadband not fit for purpose, says business group
UK broadband is not fit for purpose and a major government rethink is needed, according to a business lobby group. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says that the UK’s broadband target is simply not ambitious enough when compared to other nations. It is calling on the government to commit to delivering a minimum of 10Mbps (megabits per second) for all homes and businesses by 2018/19. Read more…


14 July – Scottish rural broadband will strengthen under independence
A GROUP will be set up to consider how to improve issues such as mobile and broadband coverage, postal services and transport links for rural communities if the country votes for independence in September. “Too often people who live outside urban areas poorly served by the market and the UK Government when it comes to services vital in the 21st century. With independence, we will have the powers to regulate these crucial services and to remove barriers which are holding back rural areas from achieving their full potential”. Read more…


11 July - Villagers dig their own superfast broadband network
Villagers became so fed up with their slow internet connections they dug trenches and laid down superfast broadband cables to each property themselves. Now residents of the hamlet of Dolphinholme, Lancs, benefit from one of the fastest broadband networks in the UK with speeds of up to one gigabit per second (Gbps). Read more…


10 July – Disgruntled BT customer complains of connection woes at her rural home
Disgruntled BT customers have spoken of their annoyance at the poor internet connection at their Edingthorpe home. “They think I am being greedy but I just want a little bit of what I pay for. I don’t think it is a big ask. We shouldn’t have to live like this because we may be a rural community but we do exist.” Read more…


10 July - Broadband breakthrough could bring super-fast internet to every home in UK
Boffins test new technology and manage record speeds never though possible through existing phone lines. A team of broadband experts have managed to achieve lightning speeds of 10 gigabits per second in a groundbreaking test. Sadly, some experts are warning broadband customers not to get too excited by this news. The test performed in Belgium used a cable just 30 metres in length. This would only allow customers near their local telephone exchange recieve these blistering speeds. Read more…


10 July - More homes set to receive superfast broadband
Farmers increasingly rely on the internet, both on-farm and in the field. An additional 1,700 New Forest premises are to receive superfast broadband following a successful £1m bid to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Read more…


8 July - Superfast broadband lease of life for 25 rural communities in Devon & Somerset
Another 25 rural communities have been connected to superfast broadband as part of a £94 million programme. The Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme signed a deal with BT last year to deliver high-speed broadband to 90 per cent of premises in the two counties by the end of 2016. Read more…


7 July - First rural broadband cabinets installed
The installation of the first cabinets for the Isle of Wight’s multi-million pound rural superfast fibre broadband project is now underway. Once completed in Autumn 2015, the overall project will have enabled around 20,000 premises in the largely rural parts of the Island to access high speed broadband – making the Island one of the best connected areas in the UK. Read more…


1 July – Gigaclear speeds up broadband programme
Gigaclear, the UK telecoms group, is accelerating the pace of its rural broadband programme. Gigaclear provides broadband to rural villages, towns and business parks that have struggled to get high-speed broadband. It identifies gaps in the coverage being provided by BT to rural areas, which means it can connect specific villages in the countryside with its own fibre broadband. Read more…


1 July - Satellite broadband pilot scheme to take place in Devon and Somerset
A pilot scheme of high-speed satellite broadband is to take place in Devon and Somerset. Satellite broadband operator SES Broadband Services is to carry out a pilot scheme in Devon and Somerset as part of a government-funded push to bring faster internet speeds to the UK’s most rural communities. Read more…

Fieldwork in B4RN land

On the 9th and 10th of July we travelled up North to meet the people of B4RN, a community-owned fibre network in Lancashire providing future-proof full fibre connections to rural villages. The B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) network is totally inclusive: every property - no matter how remote - will have an opportunity to get a Fibre To The Home (FTTH) connection. However, it does depend completely on active involvement from the community to implement the infrastructure and reduce the costs. A core group of incredibly enthusiastic volunteers has done a tremendous job in setting this up. They have combined (technical) knowledge, dedication, and hard graft to make B4RN a success. Their parish-by-parish approach started in 2011 with the plan to deliver fibre to 8 communities, and has since been rolled out to 23 parishes, with more queuing up to also be included.

Our interviews with members from the B4RN management team show that an initiative like theirs needs to overcome a multitude of obstacles. One of the major obstacles is of course the financing of such an initiative (e.g. equipment, dark fibre lease, third party insurance). But the physical landscape also comes with plenty of challenges such as rocks, bogs, bridges, roads, and train tracks, while bad weather can make access with equipment into muddy fields almost impossible. However, all the effort does pay off. The villages that have gone live are now enjoying upload speeds unimaginable to most of us – rural or urban!

B4RN Current Internet speed at the Bridge House Tearooms in Wray

Village BYOD Evening
Besides interviewing experts we also visited the village of Dolphinholme where the fibre connection has just been introduced.  Both the BBC and the Telegraph report  how the villagers have taken matters into their own hands. Coincidently, an information evening was organised on the same day we were doing our fieldwork. The community had been invited to bring their own devices to the Village Hall to see what a superfast connection can do. Information was also given about how to set up VoIP phone service (using existing telephones), TV, and cameras for rural security applications. A second similar information meeting was scheduled for Saturday the 12th just before the Sheep Racing (we kid you not!)

sheep racing Poster on the door of Dolphinholme Village Hall

Show and Tell Day
When a community project is as successful as B4RN, it is only to be expected that other rural communities are keen to follow suit. To help them accomplish this, B4RN regularly organizes ‘Show and Tell’ workshops together with Emtelle to share knowledge and experience.

The meeting we attended attracted participants from all over the country eager to copy B4RN’s best practice.  Different speakers provided information about the financing of community-led projects, customer relations, product selection, and a hands-on product demonstration.  ‘Fibre blowing’, ‘splicing’, ‘fusion’, ‘ducts’, and ‘access chambers’ are all part of the vocabulary of B4RN volunteers and these words had cropped up throughout our interviews. The product demonstration helped us to better understand the actual meaning of these terms.

To illustrate everything that had been discussed during the workshop, we were taken on a field trip into the wilds of Lancashire to see the active B4RN installation (approx. 300 km of fibre has been laid so far). This field visit emphasized the scale of the operation and the enormous accomplishment of all the volunteers.

B4RNcollage

From top left – clockwise: 1. Fibre cables are covered with caution tape to stop anybody digging them up by mistake (e.g. while fencing or ploughing); 2. The workshop participants are shown B4RN installations; 3. The moveable maintenance ‘shed’ that allows people to work on the fibre distribution cabinets in all kinds of weather; and 4. Drums of duct waiting to be put in the ground.

News Digest Rural Broadband: June 2014

Here it is… June’s overview of all the need-to-know news on inadequate internet connections in rural England and Wales. Featuring this month: sluggish speeds, rural broadband nightmares, and balloons to the rescue.

26 June – Teesdale farmers’ broadband concerns raised in parliament
Although advances are being made with regard to the rollout of high-speed broadband to the more rural communities of the UK, farmers in the Teesdale area have been left frustrated by their lack of an adequate internet connection. Read more…


19 June – Broadband companies pocket £10m share to end rural web nightmare
If you live in a remote part of the UK where fibre is still something that’s listed on the front of a cereal box, listen up: the Government has announced the potential saviors to end your rural broadband nightmare. Read more…


18 June - Ofcom points out sluggish speeds and broadband divide in UK cities
Generally when we talk about the broadband divide, we’re talking about the have-nots out in rural or remote areas who are stuck on very slow connections, but the latest piece of Ofcom research has highlighted the disparity which can occur within cities themselves. Read more…


17 June – Google’s Project Loon edges closer to reality
Google officially announced its Project Loon balloons last June with the goal of bringing Internet access to every corner of the Earth. And now, with one year under its belt, the project has ironed out a lot of kinks, amped up balloon strength, and extended field-testing to places like Campo Maior. Read more…


16 June – 28% of rural UK population unhappy with broadband
In response to the activity regarding rural broadband schemes, satellite broadband provider Europasat have conducted research to find out the opinions of UK rural residents in regards to the state of the broadband they receive, how it affects their area, plus their opinion towards government schemes. Read more…


6 June – New high-speed satellite broadband will help bridge Scotland’s digital divide
Leading ISP Broadband Everywhere has launched a new high-speed satellite broadband service in Scotland to help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural communities. A range of packages with download speeds of up to 20Mbps will be available to anyone living in Scotland with costs starting from £13 a month.  Read more…


 

Progress Bar Blues

Internet users living and working in areas with slow Internet speeds are per definition overly familiar with the ‘progress bar’. Wikipedia describes the progress bar as: “a graphical user interface used to visualize the progression of an extended computer operation, such as a download, file transfer, or installation”.

Progress_Bar_preview

 

 

 

 

Progress bars come in many different shapes and sizes, but will be seen by those in Internet slow spots as a visualization of their frustration.

progress-bar-y-u-no-display-actual-progress-instead-of-jump-half

Interestingly, there is a whole UX (user experience) science behind the design of progress bars. Researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon University note that human perception of time is fluid, and can therefore be manipulated [1]. Several design considerations and tricks can make progress bars appear faster and thereby improve users’ computing experience. UX Movement summarises the above mentioned study as follows (providing some clear illustrations in their post):

  1. Ribbings that move backwards and opposite to the progress direction feel faster to users.
  2. The more revolutions an activity indicator has, the faster loading time will feel to users.

Another study [2] found that:

  1. Pauses at the beginning of a progress are more tolerable to users than at the end. According to the researchers, a progress bar can cache progress when the operation is first starting to mitigate negative progress behaviors such as pauses or slow-downs later on. When you downplay actual progress in the beginning and then accelerate it towards the end, users have the feeling the process is speeding up, leaving them more satisfied.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers argue: “By minimizing negative behaviors and incorporating positive behaviors, one can effectively make progress bars and their associated processes appear faster”. Yet, no fancy designed progress bar – however cleverly manipulated – will reduce the frustrations felt when it takes up to 5 minutes to check a bank statement online due to inadequate broadband speeds. We can clearly use our time in far more satisfying ways…

progressbar

 

REFERENCES

[1] Harrison, C., Yeo, Z., and Hudson, S. E. 2010. Faster Progress Bars: Manipulating Perceived Duration with Visual Augmentations. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Atlanta, Georgia, April 10 – 15, 2010). CHI ’10. ACM, New York, NY. 1545-1548.

[2] Harrison, C., Amento, B., Kuznetsov, S., and Bell, R. 2007. Rethinking the progress bar. In Proceedings of the 20th Annual ACM Symposium on User interface Software and Technology (Newport, Rhode Island, USA, October 07 – 10, 2007). UIST ’07. ACM, New York, NY. 115-118.

 

News Digest Rural Broadband: May 2014

Keeping abreast of developments related to rural broadband is difficult when you are suffering from slow Internet access. Therefore we do all the hard work for you and bring you our easy to digest monthly news overview.

28 May – UK broadband speeds impress Europe’s digital denizens
The UK has been praised for its digital advances and broadband network in the latest European Union 2014 digital scorecard. The annual scorecard creates a yardstick that the EU uses to measure local performance in a variety of areas. Read more…


20 May – Why is my Internet so slow?
A new report has revealed areas with the fastest and slowest broadband speeds. The figures are the result of nearly two million speed tests conducted by UK broadband users over six months. Read more…


19 May – BDUK Fibre Rollout Reaches 508,000 Properties
More than half a million homes and businesses can now receive superfast broadband as a result of the government-funded Broadband Delivery UK initiative. The rollout of fibre by BDUK projects has accelerated over the past 12 months. It is expected that there will be 40,000 new connections being completed each week by this summer. Read more…


16 May – Residents ‘didn’t realise’ how important broadband speed would be when they turned down cutting edge cables 20 years ago
Two decades ago, residents in Welshwood Park turned down the chance to have cables laid in the area to boost Internet speed. But now fresh efforts are being made by residents amid fears that low broadband speeds are affecting their property prices. Read more…


9 May – Broadband-speed inquiry into Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru programme
An inquiry is under way by public spending watchdogs into the Welsh Government’s investment in super-fast broadband across Wales. North Wales AM Antoinette Sandbach urges people with issues about access to broadband to contact the audit office. “There are a lot of people who can’t access super-fast broadband, even though they are already in an area where it has been rolled out. It is really important that people share their experiences with the Wales Audit Office.” Read more…


6 May – Up to speed: Why poor Internet can be a matter of life and death
Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team depend on an internet connection to run systems which help to locate missing people, pass vital information between agencies, and call volunteers to a rescue. But problems with poor internet connection at the team’s Nant Peris base have frustrated volunteers, who can be called out to hundreds of incidents a year. Read more…


1 May – Up To Speed: AM reveals map of broadband black spots
An AM who started his own survey after receiving complaints about broadband speeds has produced a map showing North Wales’s hot and not-spots. Try the interactive map to see broadband speeds in your area (if your speed actually allows you to do this…). Read more…

Inadequate Broadband Access in Rural Britain

Welcome to the ‘Access Denied’ project. Whether you are a rural Internet user, an Internet service provider or a policy maker, our research is aimed at you. This project examines how people living in rural areas are affected by the unavailability of (adequate) Internet connections.

The UK government defines adequate broadband as speeds of at least 2 megabits per second. Whether this is still sufficient for the use of high bandwidth applications such as video conferencing or TV streaming is debatable. Although the government has committed funding to improve broadband in rural areas, it has had to delay its initial target of universal availability of at least 2Mb/s by 2015 to the year 2017. This is problematic, as Ofcom reports that 8% of the UK population cannot currently access broadband of at least 2Mb/s.

Over the course of the coming months we will interview people living and working in rural communities (two communities in England and two in North-Wales) to gain an understanding of the problems surrounding inadequate Internet connections. We will also organise focus groups in each location with teenagers. These 4 focus groups will inform us how adolescents in rural areas cope with slower Internet speeds and whether it affects their personal lives and their schoolwork. Finally, we will talk to representatives from local broadband providers, county councils, Ofcom, BT, and other stakeholders to inform us on public policy and governmental interventions.

GET INVOLVED
Are you living or working in a ‘slow spot’ and struggling with your Internet? Let us know how it affects you. Has your community found a good solution, or have you opted for an alternative technology yourself to get online? Do tell us about it!

If you have a story to share, we would love to hear from you. You can leave a reply on the ‘Your Stories’ page or mail one of the researchers and we will add your experience to our site.