Superfast broadband within walking distance of new homes with slow connections
Kevin Slater recently moved on to a new home on the Summers Field housing development at Papworth Everard and was dismayed to discover it has extremely slow broadband connections.
An IT manager for Wisdom Toothbrushes in Haverhill, Kevin sometimes works from home and needs to be able to download and upload big files and offer out-of-hours online remote support to users. However, the poor broadband speed and poor reliability often make this impossible, which means he has to travel to get good internet access.
Kevin explained: “There is no fibre optic or cable broadband anywhere in Papworth Everard or Papworth Agnes even though we are right in the middle of areas that do have fibre such as Caxton, Cambourne and Huntingdon, some of which are frustratingly within walking distance of my home. “The broadband speeds are absolutely dire and rarely reach even 1mbps download on the new estate. Many properties in the rest of Papworth Everard also suffer poor speeds due to the long distance from the Papworth St Agnes telephone exchange and very old copper cables. If I had known it was so bad I would not have bought this house. I think they should have put the broadband infrastructure in place when they built the homes,” said Kevin, who is worried that the problem will affect his ability to sell the property.Kevin’s frustration with the situation prompted him to volunteer as one of the Broadband Champions for the area and he has distributed leaflets and posters to encourage other residents in the area to support the Connecting Cambridgeshire campaign.Kevin said: “I want to help to bring better reliable broadband to the growing community in the Papworth Everard area, which has been ignored by existing suppliers. We have a business park, a large hospital, professionals wanting to work reliably from home, and several schools nearby so it is essential to improve connectivity for everyone,” said Kevin.
“Working from home saves time and money and can improve productivity, but it is not going to happen without the right broadband infrastructure, which is urgently needed. You can’t do much reliably and efficiently without at least 5 mbps download speeds and looking to the near future I feel we are going to need at least 10 mbps or more download speeds (with higher upload speeds which is also important) to use the internet effectively.”
Better broadband will help with homework and home working
Helping children with their homework and being able to work from home are some of the key benefits that better broadband would bring families living in the village of Great Staughton.
Broadband Champion Roger Harding spoke to local parents about the problems they and their children have to contend with because of poor broadband connections…
Mr Mayes has two daughters, one studying at Great Staughton Primary and one at Longsands College, St Neots. Both schools have websites and e-mail that the students have to use almost every day to research information, produce and submit homework.
He explained: “Our cabling is old and very unreliable, when it rains we often lose the broadband connection entirely for hours and, on some occasions, for days. When this happens it is extremely difficult for my children to complete the required homework to the standard desired by the schools and to their own satisfaction. The loss of connection occurs at least two or three times a month on average.
“I am lucky that I have a job which could be done at least in part from home. However, due to the slow and unreliable connection, I drive the eleven miles to work in Huntingdon each day as the office broadband is much faster and more reliable.”
Mrs Sare’s three children at home also need to use the internet to complete school work and research homework – often simultaneously – which is hampered by slow download times. The problem is exacerbated during the holidays when an older sibling comes home from university also needing access to the internet to complete course work
Her youngest son is at primary school and struggles with English. She explained: “He finds working on the computer much easier than using a pen and paper, especially being able to access some of the online educational sites, which is beneficial to his learning process. However, this is hindered by the slowness of some of the programmes.”
The older girls are at secondary school and are increasingly expected to download homework and return it to their teachers for marking, usually within a short timeframe.
“My eldest girl is now starting her A levels and finds the slow download times very frustrating especially for power point presentations, and sometimes is unable to complete her work at home,” said Mrs Sare, who added that communication between parents and the schools is increasingly done online.
Mrs Sare is also the local Brownie Guide and Rainbow leader and needs to use the internet to access Girl Guiding UK for information, support and material, and to work with the girls and their parents.
She said: “Girl Guiding is an organisation that assumes everyone has access to adequate internet provision and some 80% of their material is only available online. Poor access is therefore hampering the valuable work we do with young girls in this area, aged from five to 25 years”
Grafham Water club will sail ahead with superfast broadband
Grafham Water sailors and windsurfers will be able to sail ahead if they can access superfast broadband to check weather conditions online.Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire is one of the best inland sailing and windsurfing venues in the country. The reservoir is home to the internationally known Grafham Water Sailing Club and the County Council’s Grafham Water Centre for activities and training, which both in the village of Perry.
The Sailing Club holds weekly races for members all year around and hosts national and international Open meetings attracting competitors from all over the UK and Europe, as well as national coaches looking out for promising young talent.
Sailors and windsurfers need to check the weather conditions before travelling so the Club has installed a video camera overlooking the reservoir and has also got permission to install a weather station in the middle of the reservoir.
But poor broadband connections in the area mean currently viewers can only see still photographs rather than live video images via the internet.
Heather Dance, Club Manager, explained: “If we can get superfast broadband to the sailing club, we would be able to reconnect the video camera so sailors can check out the wind speeds and the weather online before they race.
“The weather conditions can change very quickly and be very different out in the middle of the reservoir than those at the club house which is sheltered by its surroundings. If wind speeds increase, especially in junior races, we may need to stop the races for health and safety reasons.”
Heather added: “Race results and information could be transmitted from the race official’s boat out on the water back to the club house and seen by other sailors on the internet. We could also make wi-fi available so that parents can work while their children are busy sailing.”
“We need superfast broadband to maintain the Club’s position as the county’s centre of excellence, and to retain our reputation as an outstanding national sailing venue.”
Grafham Water Centre would also benefit from better broadband connections to support its busy programme of outdoor activities, watersports and training courses for children and adults.
GP practice in desperate need of faster broadband access
Dr David Roberts is the Senior Partner GP at the Great Staughton Surgery in Huntingdonshire, which is in desperate need of faster broadband access to improve its services for patients.
He says: “The roll-out of superfast broadband cannot come too soon for Great Staughton and other villages that currently languish with broadband speeds around the “snail” speed.”
Dr Roberts explains: “Many are the times when I have to wait for internet connection, not exactly the best use of my time, or that of the other GPs and members of the practice staff.
Our operating system will need to be replaced in the very near future, like most practices in the locality that are already using web based systems. If we need to wait 10 seconds for each page to load it will make this extremely difficult, and waste not only our time but be frustrating for the person sitting in the patient’s chair as well!”
“Fast broadband is really a prerequisite for a change of system. Accessing information and providing services for patients are heavily reliant on the internet, and the current tortoise service is extremely frustrating,” said Dr Roberts, who is also involved in clinical commissioning and health and well-being management groups at a local level, so is reliant on broadband to share documents.
The Surgery already positively encourages the use of technology with online appointments, repeat prescription facilities and letters from hospitals often emailed where possible.
Dr Roberts said: “We are are keen to consider the use of video conference consultations and feel that this will be the way of the future. This will enable vulnerable people to stay in their own homes, with links to their doctor, thereby eliminating the difficulty with travelling that so many of them suffer.
“Other patients are keen to consult on-line, and this will save on appointment times, travelling and time off work, contributing to environmentally sound and “green” improvements as well as work productivity. I am sure there will be many other new opportunities developed in the next few years for further improvement of our patient services.”
Getting better broadband to rural villages
Better broadband can’t come soon enough for some rural villages in Cambridgeshire that have been so frustrated by the lack of internet access they have sought their own solutions in the past.
Prickwillow is a village in East Cambridgeshire, close to Ely, that has suffered a series of setbacks to getting a reliable broadband service stretching back over many years.
The previous Internet provider went bankrupt in 2008 and the equipment was sold to a local resident. The current service is run on the good will and hard work of local residents to make sure the village has internet access but offers limited connection speeds compared to other neighbouring towns and villages.
Prickwillow is also the home to the Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards which monitors and maintains water levels for land drainage across the northern part of Cambridgshire. The Drainage B
oards use a system whereby engineers can monitor status from home during evenings and week-ends via the Internet. However, due to the unreliability of their Internet connection engineers often have to travel to their office in Prickwillow during these times thus incurring additional costs and inconvenience.
Arvind Shah is a web developer who recently moved to Prickwillow with his young family. Working from home means he needs to be able to access the internet throughout the day to communicate and exchange website data with his clients.
He uses a combination of mobile broadband dongles and other equipment to get network coverage and access the internet, but he is frustrated by costs, connection speeds and download quotas and is keen to bring better broadband to the village.
Arvind said: “The lack of mobile 3G coverage has meant that I have had to pay hundreds of pounds for equipment to achieve a reliable connection. However, the slow connection speed means that I still have to travel to complete some of the tasks that are required for my work.”
The situation prompted Arvind to become one of the village’s Broadband Champions and to set up the website www.broadbandcampaign.co.uk to encourage Prickwillow residents and businesses to support the Connecting Cambridgeshire campaign.
With help from other villagers, he has also distributed leaflets and flyers urging people to register to show they want better broadband and he hopes this time it will happen.
“There is a long history behind the movement for better broadband in Prickwillow which means people are not confident that anything will happen to improve our situation in the near future. We hope the Connecting Cambridgeshire campaign will help to show decision makers that broadband matters to our community,” said Arvind.
Community case study: The Alconburys
People living and working in the villages of Alconbury and Alconbury Weston have helped Connecting Cambridgeshire to make a community case study video to show what difference superfast broadband would make to them.
The short film was made with the help of Broadband Champions and founders of Alconbury Telecom group, Mel Bryan and Bob Powley, who are determined to bring better broadband to the area. It includes interviews with a local doctor, parents, home-based businesspeople, a student, and retired residents.
Mel Bryan says: “The film can only give a snapshot of the community, but it shows the enthusiasm for better broadband access and the benefits it would bring.
Watch the Alconburys community case study video on YouTube
The Alconbury villages are 4-5 kms from the old Woolley telephone exchange using copper lines, which means they have very poor broadband access with speeds of 1.5 mbps or less.
Two years ago, residents got so fed up with the situation that they formed a group called Alconbury Telecom to find ways to improve their internet connections.
With funding from the two Parish Councils, the group commissioned a feasibility study to look for solutions to the problem, however the cost of installing their own fibre-optic cables has proved prohibitive.
Over 200 residents have since responded to an online survey carried out by the group to assess local broadband needs, which shows that many people are prepared to pay more for decent broadband speeds and some are also interested in cloud computing.
The group are now supporting the Connecting Cambridgeshire campaign as Broadband Champions and are working to get more residents to sign up with help of a growing network of street champions going door to door.
Health care is hampered by poor broadband
Poor broadband is hampering a busy Cambridgeshire doctors practice’s ability to care for its patients and to access the latest health information.
The Alconbury Practice serves around 10,000 patients at Alconbury and Brampton surgeries, and has had longstanding problems with the poor broadband connection speed between the two sites, which affects the transmission of patient records and appointments.
Brampton village has recently been upgraded to superfast fibre broadband and the surgery has been selected as a pilot site for the NHS Next Generation N3 project using the latest digital technology to support healthcare. However, this has not speeded up the internet links with the surgery at Alconbury, which has not been upgraded and is at the ‘end of the line’ from the Woolley exchange.
Dr Francesca Lasman explains why the practice needs better broadband: “Letters about patients from the hospital are saved on patient records as image files, and these take ages to download to Brampton, which makes it very difficult in a time pressured environment.
“Not only is safety an issue but our consultations take longer and this means we may run late and have less time to attend to all the other things we need to keep up with such as administration, dealing with letters, chasing results which may be held on the hospital computer to which access is slow, and so on.
“We also need the internet to access patient information leaflets, drug information, resources for doctors, NHS mail communication, and the Hinchingbrooke and Addenbrookes GP sites with additional patient information, which is all essential to good patient care.”
Faster broadband speeds would mean the surgery could confidently guarantee an improvement by changing to a remotely hosted GP computer system, which would not only solve its connection problems, but vastly improve their service to patients with better access to shared health data.
It would also help to improve electronic communications with the local hospitals and people who look after patients with multiple health problems in their homes including district nurses, community matrons, Macmillan nurses, carers and social services.
Dr Lasman said: “This really hampers our ability to improve efficiency in healthcare, which is what the government says it wants, so anything Connecting Cambridgeshire can do to accelerate the introduction of faster broadband in Alconbury would be really appreciated by us and by our patients!”
Watch Dr Lasman on our Video Case Study of Alconbury (filmed in August 2012 before Brampton was upgraded) here.
How two of our Broadband Champions got their village behind the campaign…
When Chris Bulow and Alastair Brydon signed up as Broadband Champions for Grafham, in spring 2012, they admit they were driven primarily by their own selfish desire for superfast broadband. However, it has turned out to be a rewarding experience, providing the opportunity to learn more about their village, to meet new people and take part in local events.
The Champions have helped to encourage over 96% of the 266 premises in the village to register for better broadband as well as more than 30 home-based businesses in the area. They are now helping neighbouring parishes to support the campaign. Connecting Cambridgeshire asked them how they did it…
Chris says: “There is no silver bullet for encouraging people to register their interest in superfast broadband. The best approach is simply to take whatever opportunities present themselves to spread the word. In the words of a well-known supermarket: ‘every little helps’.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive from villagers of all ages and interests. In many cases they were already ahead of the game and had registered their details as soon as they heard of the campaign.”
Alastair explains: “We started our campaign with the obvious methods of communicating with people, including regular articles for the village magazine and web site. We have also become increasingly familiar with the streets of Grafham, where we have distributed the Connecting Cambridgeshire leaflets, as well as our own local leaflets, tailored to our specific requirements and progress in our parish. This provides the opportunity to chat with people about the campaign as we pass.
“A particularly enjoyable part of the task has been attending various local events, such as the delightful church flower festival, whose members had lots of ideas to further the cause. We also faced the arduous task of attending the inaugural Grafham Beer Festival to spread the word – and sample the produce!”
The Champions have found it particularly helpful working with a local groups ranging from Korean martial arts to line dancing to the allotment committee. For example, the local heating oil syndicate, used their extensive email distribution list to encourage members to register with the campaign, while Clint, a well-known local handyman, put the word out. They also acknowledge the enthusiastic support of County and District councillors, who have published regular reminders and progress updates in their monthly newsletters.
After hearing a range of excuses from people who supported the campaign but had not got round to registering, the Champions found the best approach was to carry a clipboard and to ask people to sign up on the spot with their postcode and landline number.
“Many people are happy to save themselves the effort and in addition we can offer the option of keeping them informed if they provide their email addresses,” said Chris.
Alastair added: “A bonus was that we found many examples of people running businesses from Grafham, or working regularly at home, who would be prime candidates for superfast broadband services and we have asked a number of these to act as business case studies.”
Village shops and pubs support the campaign
Village shops and pubs are doing their bit to support the Connecting Cambridgeshire campaign for better broadband across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
In Holme, the village shop has helped to increase the number of registrations by holding a ‘digital awareness’ fortnight to support the work of their local Digital Champions.
To get people’s attention, owners Clair and Mark decked out their shop with Connecting Cambridgeshire posters, banner and balloons borrowed from Huntingdonshire District Council.
They also provided a clipboard where customers could enter their details, so that the digital champions could register online on their behalf to help those who don’t use computers or may not have access to the internet.
Digital Champion David Milner said: “Holme Parish has extremely slow broadband performance and there is a determination to improve it to at least the minimum superfast broadband standards. When we started the campaign we had already achieved 56.5% of household registrations through a letterbox drop and, surprisingly, in the first three days of the shop’s efforts we achieved a further 13% and the number is still rising.
“We are grateful to our village shop owners, who appreciate the vital importance for the whole community to have acceptable broadband speeds both now and for the future. The village pub has also agreed to a campaign, to catch those who drink but don’t shop!”