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Plans for high speed broadband across Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is leading the way in pushing forward with plans super fast broadband. On Tuesday 17th April, I joined members of other local digital businesses at an event at the Think Tank, Lincoln to find out more about the plans.
Proceedings were started off with an introduction by Stuart McFarlane, a CDI Alliance Digital Sector specialist. Stuart introduced the concept of high speed broadband and congratulated Lincolnshire Council for getting their plans approved. This was followed up a great talk by Councillor Richard Davies who represents Grantham North West but is also on the Lincolnshire Digital Strategy Group.
High speed broadband, but not for everyone.
Richard explained that Lincolnshire contains approx 670,000 people and has few major population centres. This means that the population is scattered over a wide area that creates difficulties when it comes to connectivity online. Although money is now being allocated from the BBC license fee to help with the costs of high speed broadband rollout, the council has had to make cuts of 28% so financing this scheme has been difficult. Despite this Lincolnshire has 57m to achieve a target of 90% of businesses and homes to have super fast broadband by 2015.
However, there is a problem. European community funding can only be used in areas where normal market forces will not provide the service. This has the knock on effect that large population centres such as Lincoln will not get the upgrades but the rural, less populated areas of the county will.
Making the case for rural broadband
Richard was followed by a talk by John Popham, a campaigner for Rural Broadband and social media 'expert'. John made the case that the Internet isn't just for geeks, it has now become an essential service. However, due to financial constraints Rural Broadband isn't going to be implemented just by companies, it needs to have community action.
John has been touring the country as a part of the 'Can't get online' campaign. In a series of events John met members of rural communities and talked about their efforts to get online. We heard stories of people driving to town to use broadband. Other people driving around country lanes in an attempt to get a signal. Its not just leisure Internet either, we heard stories of people who can't get online to use government services like submitting tax returns and children who can't do their homework as this is issued online. John made the case that only with community support will companies listen and start to provide Rural Broadband services. So you need to find people who can become digital campaigners to encourage users to register at www.onlincolnshire.org. This is crucial to the success of the project as evidence of demand gives strength to negotiate with suppliers.
Sounds good but is this just words?
John's talk was followed by a session by James Saunby from the Grey Sky Consultancy. James outlined some of the benefits of access to high speed broadband but I have to say his examples were not what I would have chosen. I find it more likely that communities with newly installed broadband will enjoy accessing services such as iPlayer, Skype and online gaming rather than marvelling at the works of Rembrandt or getting their fridge to tell them when they out of chicken. This might be blue sky thinking but this does bring into focus an important issue; the disconnect between providers and users.
For rural communities, they have had many years of advertising saying that 'broadband is available' but when you get to the small print, they find out that it is only available in 'selected areas' or that 'performance may vary'. How can we then expect those communities to lead the way in campaigning for rural broadband? Is this expecting too much?
Lincolnshire high speed broadband trials
James went on to explain that high speed broadband will be trialled in one of three areas, The Wolds (east of Market Rasen), The Coast (north of Skegness) and the Fens (near Boston). Unfortunately, although all three areas definitely require broadband access, only one of these is going to be chosen in the initial trial and one of the major criteria for this selection will be gauging demand through registrations on the www.onlincolnshire.org website.
So a very interesting and informative event which confirmed the message that if you are out in rural Lincolnshire and you shout loud enough about Internet connectivity. You might just be heard. However, if your not in the chosen pilot area, you might have to be shouting for a long time to come.
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