Being a Broadband Champion brings rewards

Broadband Champion Phil Holley has become a familiar figure in the rural village of Woodhurst in Cambridgeshire whose outgoing approach to keeping people informed about the arrival of fibre broadband has paid off.

Woodhurst does not have a pub, a shop or a school as a focal point, so Phil relies on going door-to-door and chatting to residents at village events to spread the word about the Connecting Cambridgeshire superfast broadband roll-out programme.

Phil has been round the village’s 200 houses at least three times delivering Connecting Cambridgeshire leaflets and his own newsletters. He also uses the village notice-board, website and Facebook page to counter any misconceptions and answer queries.

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Broadband Champion Phil Holley

“When we first moved to the village 12 years ago I was part of the battle to get dial-up ADSL! I became a Broadband Champion because I was interested in improving Internet access for the local primary school in Somersham and I wanted to make sure that our ‘sleepy’ village got superfast broadband, “said Phil, who is married with two young children and is a school governor.

“I work from home and was really suffering with slow broadband speeds – so much so that I considered renting an office in St Ives to get a good broadband connection. There are a number of home-based businesses in the village. A sizeable number of people work from home full time and most of the others commute to London and other places and work at home part time, so access to faster broadband is vital.”

As a result of his enthusiasm, a high percentage of residents registered their demand for superfast broadband in 2012. Woodhurst was scheduled to have fibre broadband installed in the second phase of the intervention programme between June and September 2014.

Phil recalls: “People can get a bit sceptical and discontented if they think nothing is happening. I tried to keep things positive with upbeat messages but you also have to be careful not to raise people’s expectations too early!”

“Everyone got excited when the new green cabinet went up, but it turned out there were some power issues, which meant it did not go live until the end of the phase. The Connecting Cambridgeshire team kept me informed of what was happening, which was very important because it meant I could counter any doubts and reassure people it was on the way,“ he said.

The cabinet went live in September 2014 and Phil was among the first to upgrade to fibre with his internet service provider bringing superfast speeds of 35 mbps, with some households getting close to 80 mbps on faster packages.

Phil said: “It has completely changed now we have superfast broadband. The biggest impact for us has been not having to worry who is using the Internet elsewhere in the house. I used to warn my wife not to go online when I was on a conference call because only one person could use it at a time and we had to switch everything off to stream video!

“Cloud services are another big hit with automated back-up for files, online applications and we can now upload and share holiday photos via Dropbox,“ he added.

Phil estimates that more than 30 of the 200 premises in the village upgraded to fibre broadband immediately, and engineers are a frequent sight putting more connections in to the new cabinet.

One of more than 120 Broadband Champions supporting the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, Phil has enjoyed sharing ideas at Broadband Champions events and has found feedback from fellow champions particularly useful for answering frequently asked questions.

Phil sees his role as the village broadband champion continuing by helping people with queries about upgrading to fibre broadband and advising other residents how to get online. He has recently helped to get together a focus group of local residents to help researchers gain valuable grassroots feedback about broadband for the Government body Broadband Delivery UK.

He said: “There is a bewildering choice of broadband packages from different providers and whilst I cannot recommend which one to use, I can help people find what they need and try to solve practical problems.

“I have found it very worthwhile being a broadband champion. Getting to know people where I live and meeting champions from other areas has been great and seeing the project from the inside has helped ease my frustrations with our old provision. My biggest piece of advice is to give incremental updates to your community and to take a positive approach to counter people’s concerns.”