Rural villages could go-it-alone to boost Broadband speeds

Rob GarrattRural communities in East Anglia suffering from snail-speed internet connections have been given a call to arms as they are invited to follow the example of one village miles away and tackle the problem themselves.Rob Garratt

Rural communities in East Anglia suffering from snail-speed internet connections have been given a call to arms as they are invited to follow the example of one village miles away and tackle the problem themselves.

Vast swathes of the Eastern region suffer from notoriously sluggish internet access which is a perpetual frustration to families and a blow to businesses struggling to compete.

But a solution may be at hand as one East Midlands village has paved the way forward and set up its very own broadband company.

Villagers in Lyddington, Rutland, clubbed together and stumped up �37,000 of their own money to create Rutland Telecom, which launched yesterday, pumping information into around 50 homes at speeds up to 10 times the national average.

The community-spirited triumph has already been hailed as a significant milestone in telecoms history, and the company has been inundated with calls from other rural communities hoping to follow their example - including two enquiries from Norfolk.

Communities in East Anglia suffering a similar plight have been urged to stop waiting for a miracle solution and take their future into their own hands.

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After news broke off the company's launch yesterday morning one of the first people to contact them for advice was Norfolk telecoms consultant Andrew Stoddart, who is so sick of slow browsing speeds that he is researching the possibility of following Rutland's lead and launching a company in Banham, near Attleborough.

The 30-year-old said: 'Broadband round here is ridiculously slow, which is particularly bad for local businesses.

'It's not going to get any better because the government are cutting funding and I'm interested in the whole idea. There are advantages in a community being responsible for its needs.

'Even if we could double the connection speed we currently get I think people would want to do that - it's just about finding enough people to put their names down.'

Slow download speeds affect internet shoppers, online gamers and anyone wanting to use services like YouTube or BBC iPlayer to watch videos online.

But more importantly a lacklustre connection curbs local businesses' ability to utilise the ever-important medium of the web.

Rutland Telecom was formed four years ago when a group of residents who, fed up by the fact no provider could bring them fast internet speeds, realised there was nothing to stop them setting up their own telecoms firm.

Phillip Duigan, chairman of Norfolk County Council's Broadband Working Group, hailed Rutland's success as a 'possible solution' for the region.

He added: 'Here's a group of people who've got together and sorted out their broadband problems, we could definitely learn from this.

'In this part of the world we've had a series of promises but we're getting nowhere fast - communities can get out there and do it themselves.'

Improving broadband speeds in the region is one of eight issues the EDP is calling on an incoming government to address, following the election on May 6.

The funding for Rutland Telecom works by individual investors getting an annual 10pc gross return for three years, after which time their capital is fully refunded.

The cash was used to set up a fibre-optic network into the village, which has been supplied by Openreach, the BT spin-off which looks after the UK's phone network.

Employee and villager James Lewis said: 'If you're struggling to get speed it's a good idea to get the community together and do something about it. It's a case that companies are not interested in serving the rural areas because it's not financially viable for them

'I think we can offer an inspiration to other villages. It's quite simple to do but it takes a bit of work, and a lot of community spirit.'

Last November Peter McCarthyWard, East of England director for BT, told an audience in Norwich that it could take five years for broadband connections in some parts of Norfolk to reach a speed of 2Mbps, when the current national average is around 3.2Mbps, and even that would be dependent on government funding which is expected to be cut following the election.

In January the BT announced 63 telephone exchanges to be upgraded to offer broadband at speeds of up to 40Mbs, of which none were in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Last month representatives from more than 25 local authorities met at a broadband summit in Newmarket, hosted by the East of England Development Agency, to ask a number of questions and examine the way forward for the region.

Mr Duigan added: 'A fast broadband connection will be almost as important as having good roads in the future. Norfolk is getting left behind and we need to catch up.'