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.