Telecommunications Policy Research Conference 2016, USA.

On Saturday the 1st of October 2016 we will take part in the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC) panel ‘Rural Broadband Policies in a Cross-National Comparison’ organized by Bibi Reisdorf. TPRC is an annual conference on information policy that convenes researchers and policymakers from academia, industry, government, and nonprofit organisations. As our Access Denied study has also shown a number of highly technologized countries, such as the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, witness ongoing, if not increasing, digital divides between citizens who live in urban areas and those who live in rural and remote areas.  This is not only true for the general availability of Internet access, but also and especially so for high-speed Internet access via broadband connections. Despite different historical developments across these countries and a number of different policies that were specifically designed to reduce these divides, persistent urban-rural broadband divides appear to be a universal phenomenon that has so far not been addressed successfully by any of the here examined countries.

Comparing and contrasting the history and the current state of urban-rural digital broadband divides as well as the according policies and the issues with these policies across a number of countries, this panel seeks to enable an informative discussion that provides a way forward and formulates policy recommendations that can help address urban-rural divides. Topics that will be covered include, but are not limited to, the developments observed in each respective country:

  • The history of broadband adoption in urban and rural areas as well as the current state of urban-rural digital divides with a specific focus on broadband access
  • The history of policies and programs specifically aimed at reducing urban-rural digital divides and broadband divides
  • Issues in the implementation of policies and programs aimed at reducing urban-rural digital divides
  • “Best practice” examples of policies, programs, and initiatives that made a positive impact in reducing urban-rural digital divides
  • Recommendations for future policies, programs, and initiatives

A critical comparison of initiatives across four highly connected countries can shed new light on an issue that has been debated for a number of years, but that has not been addressed successfully so far. Including “best practice” examples from all four countries will enable new and innovative perspectives and ideas.

The panel will be moderated by Sharon Strover (University of Texas at Austin) and is comprised of four experts who have conducted extensive research into rural digital divides and rural broadband policies in the US (Bibi Reisdorf, Michigan State University), the UK (Anne-Marie Oostveen, University of Oxford), Canada (Catherine Middleton, Ryerson University), and Australia (Sora Park, University of Canberra). These experts span a range of disciplines, including communication, management, social informatics, and sociology.


Current alternatives won’t light up Britain’s broadband blackspots

Despite the British government’s boasts of the steady roll-out of superfast broadband to more than four out of five homes and businesses, you needn’t be a statistician to realise that this means one out of five are still unconnected. In fact, the recent story about a farmer who was so incensed by his slow broadband that he built his own 4G mast in a field to replace it shows that for much of the country, little has improved.

The government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme claims that it will provide internet access of at least 24 Mbps (megabits per second) to 95% of the country by 2017 through fibre to the cabinet, where fast fibre optic networks connect BT’s exchanges to street cabinets dotted around towns and villages. The final connection to the home comes via traditional (slower) copper cables.

Those in rural communities are understandably sceptical of the government’s “huge achievement”, arguing that only a fraction of the properties included in the government’s running total can achieve reasonable broadband speeds, as signals drop off quickly with distance from BT’s street cabinets. Millions of people are still struggling to achieve even basic broadband, and not necessarily just in the remote countryside, but in urban areas such as Redditch, Lancaster and even Pimlico in central London.

Four problems to solve

This cabinet is a problem, not a solution. mikecattell, CC BY

Our research found four recurring problems: connection speeds, latency, contention ratios, and reliability.

Getting high-speed ADSL broadband delivered over existing copper cables is not possible in many areas, as the distance from the exchange or the street cabinet is so far that the broadband signal degrades and speeds drop. Minimum speed requirements are rising as the volume of data we use increases, so such slow connections will become more and more frustrating.

But speed is not the only limiting factor. Network delay, known as latency, can be as frustrating as it forces the user to wait for data to arrive or to be assembled into the right order to be processed. Most of our interviewees had high latency connections.

Many home users also suffer from high contention, where a connection slows as more users in the vicinity log on – for example, during evenings after work and at weekends. One respondent pointed out that the two or three large companies in the neighbouring village carried out their daily company backups between 6.30pm-8.30pm. This was obvious, he said, because during that time internet speeds “drop off the end of a cliff”.

Connection reliability is also a problem, with connections failing randomly for no clear reason, or due to weather such as heavy rain, snow or wind – not very helpful in Britain.

Three band-aid solutions

With delivery by copper cable proving inadequate for many, other alternatives have been suggested to fill the gaps.

Mobile phones are now ubiquitous devices, and mobile phone networks cover a huge proportion of the country. A 4G mobile network connection could potentially provide 100Mbps speeds. Unfortunately, the areas failed by poor fixed line broadband provision are often the same areas with poor mobile phone networks – particularly rural areas. While 2G/3G network coverage is better, it is far slower. Without unlimited data plans, users will also face monthly caps on use as part of their contract. Weather conditions can also adversely affect the service.

Satellite broadband could be the answer and can provide reasonably high speeds of up to around 20 Mbps. But despite the decent bandwidth available, satellite connections have high latency from the slow speed of transferring data to and from satellites, due to the far larger distances involved between satellites and the ground. High latency connections make it very difficult or impossible to use internet telephony such as Skype, to stream films, video or music, or play online games. It’s not really an option in mountainous regions, and is a more expensive option.

A third alternative is to use fixed wireless, relaying broadband signals over radio transmitters to cover the distance from where BT’s fixed-line fibre optic network ends. These services generally provide 20Mbps, low latency connections. However, radio towers require line-of-sight access which could be a problem given obstructions from hills or woods – factors that, again, limit use where it’s most needed.

The only one that fits

All these alternatives tend to be more expensive to set up and run, come with more strict data limits, and can be affected by atmospheric conditions such as rain, wind or fog. The only true superior alternative to fibre to the cabinet is to provide fibre to the home (FTTH), in which the last vestiges of the original copper telephone network are replaced with high-speed fibre optic right to the door of the home or business premises. Fibre optic is faster, can carry signals without loss over greater distances, and is more upgradable than copper. A true fibre optic solution would future-proof Britain’s internet access network for decades to come.

Despite its expense, it is the only solution for many rural communities, which is why some have organised to provide it for themselves, such as B4RN and B4YS in the north of England, and B4RDS in the southwest. But this requires a group of volunteers with knowledge, financial means, and the necessary dedication to lay the infrastructure that could offer a 1,000 Mbps service regardless of line distance and location – which won’t be an option for all.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fieldwork in North-Wales

Last month we had a very productive week in North-Wales, talking to a variety of people who all struggled with slow and unreliable Internet access, both at home and at work. Of course the lack of fast Internet impacts differently on different people, but the main message is that it hinders people in achieving the things they need to accomplish on a daily basis. We found that a slow and unreliable connection can have serious implications not only financially, but also for health, social life, and family connections.

Twenty babies and toddlers are hiding under the parachute.

Twenty babies and toddlers are hiding under the parachute.

While we had a few interviewees lined up before we headed to Gwynedd, we still needed to find other people willing to talk to us. We used the snowball method, by which researchers find new participants through referrals from people they have already spoken to. But we also joined a baby and toddler singing group, where we met the parents and found some more willing respondents. We ended up humming along to Welsh children’s songs and waving a massive parachute. The things we do for our research!

During our fieldwork in N-Wales, the UK chancellor George Osborne came out with his Budget 2015 statement in which he pledged that Internet speeds of 100Mbps “should” be available to “nearly all homes” in the UK. In addition, the government’s digital communications infrastructure strategy has outlined an idea that will give customers the “right” to a broadband connection of at least 5Mbps in their homes at an affordable price. In reaction to this promise we wrote an article for The Conversation asking whether Osborne’s broadband promises will indeed bring about much needed change [spoiler:  5 Mbps is too little, too late].

This week the transcripts of our Welsh interviews have come back. This means that we can start analysing our data, compare it to our English data, and write up the results for academic publications. There are still some expert interviews to be conducted with FTTH advocates, representatives from local broadband providers, county councils, Ofcom, and other stakeholders to inform us on public policy and governmental interventions, but the bulk of the data has been collected. Newspaper and magazine articles, conference papers, and journal articles resulting from our research will always be uploaded to our project website, so do check regularly for the latest updates on our study!

North-Wales, here we come!

Only 2 more weeks until we will start our fieldwork in North-Wales. We are very excited about interviewing people in rural communities in Gwynedd. At the moment we are recruiting participants from Nant Peris and Mynydd Llandegai. We have been practicing our pronunciation and have our questions ready.

If you happen to live in the area around Llanberis, have very poor internet speeds (<2Mb/s), and are interested in taking part in our research do drop us a line. We will be residing in N-Wales from the 15th until the 21st of March. The interviews should not last longer than an hour and we are very flexible with our time (from early morning until late at night, at any location you prefer).

You can help us by mailing Anne-Marie at

Our Access Denied HQ

Our Welsh ‘Access Denied’ HQ

A visit to Korea: the country with the fastest internet in the world

As part of our study, we discuss our findings in academic forums and at international conferences, such as the Association of Internet Researchers‘ (AoIR) yearly conference, which happened to be located in Daegu, South Korea this year. I had the great pleasure of representing our team at this conference and to visit South Korea for the first time. According to the Akami Report on the State of the Internet, South Korea has, on average, the fastest internet in the world. Researching slow internet connections, this was an especially interesting point of my visit to Daegu, which is located about 240km south-eastern of Seoul.

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea

Apart from indulging in the Korean culture, I was particularly interested in experiencing internet connectivity in this apparent connectivity-“promise-land.” Wi-Fi was available quite literally everywhere in the country, including trains, all cafés, restaurants, malls, train stations, airports, etc. In most of these places, Wi-Fi was free and unlimited, and almost everyone we met used smart phones, including taxi drivers. All hotels, of course, had free Wi-Fi, but some of the older hotels were struggling with thick walls and unfavourable layout so that we encountered slow and unreliable connections in some of these older buildings. However, “slow” needs to be put in context here. As I wrote parts of this post (in one of the newer hotels in Daegu), my download speeds varied between 6.76-40.06 megabits per second, while upload speeds varied between 5.28-11.74 megabits per second, and this was in the middle of the working day, i.e. when everyone else in Daegu (and in the hotel) was online as well–speeds that most households in rural Britain can only dream of. According to a CNN report from 2010, South Korea is far ahead of most other developed countries as it set a plan to commit to fast internet speed in the 1990s–many years ahead of the United Kingdom. However, population density is a lot higher in South Korea (more than 1,200 inhabitants per square mile) than in the United Kingdom (around 650 inhabitants per square miles), which makes it easier to connect many more homes with fibre (Population Density per Square Mile of Countries).

A very jet-lagged Bibi Reisdorf giving our talk on rural broadband in Britain

A jet-lagged Bibi Reisdorf presenting our preliminary results at AoIR

The conference itself was focussing on Boundaries and Intersections, so that our presentation on initial findings fit right in. When we presented some facts and quotations from our first round of interviews, the reactions from the (mainly academic) audience varied from surprise to disbelief at the problems that our interviewees are facing with their patchy and slow internet connections. The feedback was extremely positive and supportive for this project, and we gained some nice insights into similar projects from other countries, e.g. Australia.

We are now extra-excited to go into our next round of data collection in January and February, so watch this space for more results from our fieldwork and insights from both affected Britons and expert interviews.

News Digest Rural Broadband: October 2014

This month saw a lot of reporting on inadequate internet speeds in rural communities throughout Great Britain. But the news items also show that alternative solutions do exist and provide hope for those who currently cope with slow and unreliable internet speeds.

29 october 2014 – Gigaclear activates rural Oxfordshire pure fibre broadband network
A new pure fibre optic broadband network is bringing ultrafast internet speeds to hundreds of properties in rural Oxfordshire. Uptake of the service has been strong, with over 40 per cent of residents pre-signing – a record for Gigaclear. Read more… 

29 october 2014 – Villagers clubbing together to bring superfast broadband to their homes
Neighbours are clubbing together to get superfast broadband because BT would not connect up more than 300 homes in Chalford and Bussage. Read more…

 28 october 2014 – Ireland’s future rural broadband speeds may leave Europe in the dust
Top telcos’ technical response to the Irish Government’s National Broadband Plan reveals an ambition to surpass proposed EU speeds, and even reach up to 2.5Gbps in rural areas in the coming years. Read more…

28 october 2014 – Here’s A Map Of Where People Struggle To Watch YouTube Videos
Despite living in an age where you can pay for a baguette with your iPhone, some people in the UK remain in “broadband blackspots” where even watching a YouTube video might be a struggle. While the average Internet speed in the UK is 17.8 Mbsp, many parts of the country suffer from speeds as slow as 4 Mbps to nothing at all. Read more…

25 october 2014 – Church tower project provides rural broadband boost for villages around Framlingham
Although the service does not meet the Government’s 24Mbps download target – which it wants to extend to 95% of the population by 2017 – Mr Leigh argues that speed is not decisive, but that what matters is a stable network with low contention ratios – potential maximum demand measured against actual bandwidth. Read more…

24 october 2014 – Rural broadband: Small providers offer best ‘bang out of your public sector buck’
Independent broadband network providers may be competitors but they are united by an aim to enhance the UK’s infrastructure, the head of a cooperative association has said. Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), said smaller providers are providing solutions to get fibre to difficult-to-reach areas, and so helping to provide the biggest “bang out of your public sector buck”. Read more…

20 october 2014 – Outside the cities and towns, rural Britain’s internet is firmly stuck in the 20th century
The quality of rural internet access in the UK, or lack of it, has long been a bone of contention. The government says “fast, reliable broadband” is essential, but the disparity between urban and rural areas is large and growing, with slow and patchy connections common outside towns and cities. Read more…

16 october 2014 – Internet should be ‘for everybody’ says rural broadband boss
The head of the only rural broadband altnet to secure both public funding and government grant support has discussed how the internet should be “for everybody” – not just those in high infrastructure urban areas. Read more…

14 october 2014 – Rural broadband: Microwave radio link brings fast connection to remote village
A village on the edge of Dartmoor will be one of the first places in the UK to benefit from a new way to get superfast broadband to challenging areas. Households and businesses in the historic village Northlew can now access broadband services at speeds of up to 80Mbps — thanks to a four kilometre microwave radio link, which has replaced the need for a fibre optic cable. According to BT, more than 120 customers — about half of the households and businesses in the village — are already using the technology. Read more…

11 october 2014 – Rural Scotland to lead with ‘white space’ internet
Research at a Scottish university could pave the way for a new “white space” communication network offering improved services to the remotest parts of the country. The University of Strathclyde is overseeing projects to run wireless internet technologies on ferry services and trials of “smart city” technology. It is expected rural communities may be able to use the “white space” to connect to faster broadband speeds. Currently, rural Scotland has far slower speeds than the rest of the UK. Read more…

8 october 2014 – Shropshire and Marches Campaign Gives up Hope of Better Broadband
The Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Rural Broadband has announced its withdrawal from the local county broadband partnership, with concerns over attendance, confidentiality clauses, pre-set agendas and politics allegedly hampering their ability to propose and devise new ways of match funding with the Government’s £11.38m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) grant. Read more…

6 october 2014 – Urban/rural broadband speeds gap ‘narrowing in UK’
The gap between broadband speeds in urban and rural parts of the UK appears to be narrowing, based on the latest figures from Ofcom. According to the media regulator, broadband users in the countryside saw a bigger increase in average speeds in the six months to May 2014 than those living in towns and cities. The average rural connection was capable of delivering 13.6Mb – up by 20 per cent on last November. Read more…

3 october 2014 – UK cable broadband internet speeds ‘faster than fibre’
Internet connections in cable broadband homes are faster on average than those using fibre, Ofcom research suggests. Average cable speeds were measured at 43.3 megabits per second (Mbps), compared with 42 Mbps for fibre. The most common type of broadband ran at 7.4 Mbps, however, and Ofcom found a big difference remained in the average speeds in cities and rural areas. Note: FTTH connections did not feature in Ofcom figures. Read more…

2 october 2014 – Pupils in rural schools in Essex at a disadvantage due to poor internet connections
Pupils are missing out on education opportunities due to poor internet connections in school – and rural Essex has been identified as one of worst regions. Half of pupils in UK state schools have slow broadband or unreliable Wi-Fi, according to a British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) report. Read more…


UK coverage of superfast broadband highest of “five biggest European economies”?

In a recent article, the BBC commented on the developments of broadband connectivity in the UK. According to the government, more than 1 million properties are now connected to the so-called superfast broadband, with connection speeds of 24mb/s or more. The government even claims that the “current UK coverage of superfast broadband is the highest of the five biggest European economies” (BBC, 2014). This statement, however, is vague at best, if not misleading. First of all, what is meant here by “biggest European economies”? Does it refer to size, population, or GDP? Secondly, does it refer to absolute numbers or to percentages? Thirdly, is this statement referring to potential connections or actual subscriptions? 

According to the latest OECD statistics (Dec 2013), the UK has 35.2% broadband subscriptions, which ranks it 8th within the OECD, behind 6 other European countries, including France (which would arguably be one of the biggest five European economies, regardless of the definition we choose to use). While these numbers reflect general broadband subscriptions (i.e. people subscribed to any type of broadband) rather than superfast broadband coverage (i.e. properties that have access to speeds of 24mb/s or more), a report from the European Union (May 2014) suggests that the UK currently ranks 11th in the EU (out of 28) in superfast broadband access with around 8% subscribers, ahead of e.g. Germany (17th) and France (24th). However, in terms of ultrafast broadband (100mb/s or more), which is becoming more and more essential to thrive in an evermore digital world, the UK is ranked in the bottom 6, with less than 1% of subscriptions; only Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Malta, and Poland have fewer subscriptions to ultrafast broadband. This is much in contrast to countries like Sweden (10% ultrafast broadband, 13% superfast broadband) or Latvia (9% ultrafast, 13% superfast). According to these data, the UK government seems to be overly optimistic in its evaluation of the current provision of superfast broadband across the country.

Another result the government should consider is the actual average connection speed in the UK rather than what may potentially be possible for 1 million households. Recent numbers from the Akami State of the Internet Report (April 2014) show that the UK ranks 15th globally and 10th within the EU with 9.9mb/s in the first quarter of 2014. While this puts the UK ahead of e.g. Germany (8.1mb/s) and France (6.6mb/s), other European countries are far ahead of the UK.

In addition, rural uptake is still an issue. While initiatives like the B4RN project (see our post from 12 July 2014) provide up to 1000mb/s (=1gb/s) directly to rural homes in Lancashire, the BT provision of broadband to rural homes is moving slowly. We are currently collecting data across four rural villages in England and Wales. Among other things, we ask our interviewees to perform Internet speed tests on their computers. In our first dozen interviews, we recorded speeds across an Oxfordshire village–the average speed is 0.39mb/s, none of the homes received more than 1.22mb/s, and some of them did not have any connection at all for several hours a day.

Both superfast–or even better ultrafast–broadband provision and general broadband provision to rural areas in the UK are important to the people and for the economy to remain globally competitive. The government’s work is far from done, and in comparison to other EU and global countries, the UK has its work cut out for it. It is certainly not (yet) time to sit back and pat each other’s backs for having the “highest coverage of superfast broadband of the five biggest European economies”, especially when this statement is questionable in the first place.

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:

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 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.


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.