Joining up the missing links

At Adrian Cowton's Derrings Boarding Kennels seven miles from Easingwold there are plenty of fields, little noise and, sadly for Mr Cowton, few of the distractions of modern life such as broadband internet access.

"I've applied to BT on three occasions and on the first occasion they said, 'sorry you're too far away from the exchange, try again next year'." He adds that his following two attempts were equally unsuccessful.

"I used to use 'dial-up', and it's seriously slow. The cost of it is between 40-50 a month in dial-up calls." He now uses a cheaper "dongle" for mobile broadband and pays 10 an month. This has cost him business opportunities.

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One of the local veterinary practices wanted to open a branch surgery at the kennels, but the lack of broadband put a stop to that. He would also like to sell pet supplies online, but would need a fast and reliable internet connection to do so.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) estimates there could be 10,000 rural businesses in North Yorkshire in a similar situation. Partly in response to these concerns, the Government recently announced Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) would be set up by the Department of Business, Industry and Skills (BIS) to get broadband into areas which were unattractive to commercial providers because of rough terrain or sparse populations.

Four pilots have been designated where solutions will be trialled – North Yorkshire, parts of Cumbria, the Golden Valley in Herefordshire and the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. Each will receive between 5m and 10m funding, part of which comes from the BBC licence fee.

Guy Jarvis who runs a community-interest company called NextGenUs UK, is no stranger to initiatives designed to get the country connected.

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"The first generation of various broadband projects put forward in this country were quite a mixed bag in terms of what was achieved for the several hundreds of millions of pounds that was put forward." He says the important lesson learned is that communities must be encouraged to participate in the design and the running of the schemes themselves.

The worry is that the new pilot schemes become endless committee discussions over protocols, procedure and organisation.

Charles Trotman of the CLA says: "We've had in the past this whole situation of too many consultants being involved. Too many reports have been published and nothing actually gets done on the ground."

John Hall is the chairman of Reeth Rural Radio Net, which is run by volunteers and has been striving to provide wireless broadband internet to some of the isolated communities around Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.

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"I have not seen anything that would suggest that the actual plan is to go beyond the level of market towns," he says. This may be all very well for places like Richmond and Leyburn but he also fears too much time will be devoted to making studies of what is needed when many people feel that the need for these services has already been answered resoundingly.

Guy Jarvis has already come up with solutions of his own. He built the high speed internet around Newton upon Rawcliffe and Stape above Pickering. He's particularly keen on something he calls "the digital village pump".

This takes a single high-capacity feed, known as a "fat-pipe", into a rural area from one of the commercial companies such as BT or Virgin or even North Yorkshire County Council, which has its own network.

Local people then set up a community interest company which accesses the "fat pipe" and uses methods tailored to the local topography to distribute the final mile of the internet to local homes and businesses.


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Sceptical campaigners say the project appears light on detail. The BDUK told us, "We expect work to begin laying the infrastructure to the pilots next year and will set out more details in due course." For those like Adrian Cowton, trying to run businesses in areas devoid of broadband, that can't come soon enough. "It's very urgent, as rural businesses we're trying to compete with people in the towns, but it's not a level playing field."

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