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Bringing high speed broadband to a rural village

June 2017

High speed broadband is increasingly essential for accessing many opportunities, but it’s not always readily available to people in rural areas. In a village in Derbyshire, Big Local has helped to establish an innovative solution.

By Geoff Cutts, resident, Elmton, Creswell and Hodthorpe Big Local

Email, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, FaceTime, banking, shopping, studying, homework, booking a holiday, catch-up TV, online TV and films, storing huge numbers of photographs, surfing, blogging, YouTube and more! It would be easy to use up most of this article with just a long list of application that require fast, reliable and secure broadband. Businesses, especially small businesses, need high speed broadband to compete and grow in the ever-developing digital environment.

There is no doubt that access to high speed broadband makes a very significant difference to the quality of life and the economy of an area.

Elmton, Creswell and Hodthorpe Big Local initiated a project in early 2016 to look into bringing high speed broadband to our three Derbyshire villages and allocated a small budget for a feasibility study. Creswell and Hodthorpe are larger villages, whilst Elmton is a small village with a church, a pub, just 25 homes and a few outlying farms.

Sheep passing through the village of Elmton.
 

The challenge in Elmton

Broadband services are generally delivered over a landline, a copper cable that runs from your home to an Open Reach green cabinet which in turn is connected to the telephone exchange. Many cabinets have been connected to the exchange by optical fibre which is up to 100 times faster than copper cable. It was soon established that all of the green cabinets in Creswell and Hodthorpe had fibre, either funded by Open Reach or by Digital Derbyshire. This makes high speed broadband available throughout Creswell and Hodthorpe.

It was Elmton where we faced the biggest challenge. Elmton households are connected to cabinets in Creswell or Clowne both several miles away. This means there are still long lengths of old, degraded cable between the home and the cabinet and the broadband was still very slow and unreliable.

We approached Open Reach for a solution. They proposed the installation of a fibre connected green cabinet in Elmton. This would only serve the Creswell numbers and would have to be paid for by the residents. In early 2016 Open Reach were asked by the residents to quote for the installation.

Discovering air fibre

In early summer, with no quote on the table, Elmton started to look for alternatives and were pointed towards air-fibre by one of the residents. Elmton residents approached Pine Media, a local provider of air-fibre.

Pine Media suggested connecting a fibre optic cable into a green cabinet in Clowne, that fibre cable would then run to a small aerial on a nearby barn. From there, the signal would go by wi-fi to a house situated up a farm track about half way to Elmton. An aerial on the house would retransmit the wi-fi to a dish on the village pub which would be connected to an aerial from which all residents could receive the wi-fi, via a very small dish on their house. In this way, high speed broadband could be brought to all homes by a mixture of fibre cable and wi-fi, air-fibre.

Elmton’s village pub, the Elm Tree.
 
The receiving dish and transmitting aerials on the rear of a barn behind the pub.
 

From skeptical to convinced

Elmton residents were very sceptical. This is where Big Local made a significant difference. Big Local contributed around £500 to install a temporary set of aerials to take the service as far as the pub. The target was ten households signing up to the service after the temporary trial. This was the minimum that Pine Media would need to be able to provide the service permanently.

The temporary aerials were installed and the residents gathered in the pub, iPads and iPhones at the ready to try out the new system. It was fast and it has turned out to be very reliable. What’s more it does not rely on a landline so the service is available to both Creswell or Clowne landline homes. The cost to residents is a £60 one off set up fee and £25 per month for a guaranteed 20Mbps download and considerably improved upload speeds. Speeds up to 100Mbps are available.

Clinching the deal

Meanwhile Open Reach emailed their quotation: £30,000 to install a fibre connected green cabinet in Elmton which would just serve the Creswell numbers. This would provide increased speeds but no guarantee was given as copper cable would still be needed from the new cabinet to each house. The timescale for installation, around 15 months. Elmton did not accept the quotation.

Very, very soon over 10 households signed up with Pine Media and just a month later households were all connected. It works, it’s very fast, it does not degrade with more users and it has proved to be reliable.

It’s a massive improvement for a relatively small investment by Big Local. What’s more, for an additional £8 per month you can connect any telephone number to the air-fibre broadband which means there is no need of a landline. Many households in Elmton no longer pay for a landline but they have kept their landline number. Compare the costs and the timescales.

The outcomes are all positive, high speed broadband has been brought to a rural village with just a modest injection of funds from Big Local and super teamwork by Big Local, Pine Media and the residents of Elmton.

 

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