After four years of searching for solutions West Witton parish council and village residents witnessed the official opening of their LN Communications microwave broadband network by Rishi Sunak MP on Friday, November 6. This is a first for Wensleydale – which like many other dales suffers from a “postcode lottery” when it comes to the provision of super fast broadband.
John Loader explained: “It was realised a couple of years ago that the BT fibre to the cabinet paid for by BDUK via SFNY (Superfast North Yorkshire) would not be any use for us as our cabinet was in Wensley and, therefore, too far from us to give any better speeds than we were experiencing – around 2 MB/s down to 0.75 with irregular down times.
“In June 2014 I spotted in the trade press that BDUK was sponsoring six trials of solutions that would enable super fast to reach the last five per cent of the population. With a great deal of help from North Yorkshire County Council and SFNY I managed to get one of the two North Yorkshire trials in West Witton, an ideal example of a linear village.
“From then it took until October 18 to get the first person connected via a chimney mounted book sized aerial to a mast in the pub car park to a mast a few hundred feet further up Penhill to an access point to the Virgin network in Darlington. I had the first installation and this was used to test the installation process using contractors. “
Dramatic increase in broadband speed
Since then, he said, the hard to spot rooftop aerials have been sprouting. Those who have benefitted include a graphic designer who now has 10 times the upload speed for his creations, an internet wholesaler of football souvenirs who has over 30 times the previous speed, and a B&B owner who wants his guests to get the same speeds as they do at home. In addition the Fox and Hounds pub is now a free WiFi spot.
Two of those who have signed up for this new service, including an 80-year-old, had not even had computers before let alone broadband. At least 28 have signed up for this improved broadband service so far but a lot of people are stuck with long contracts with wire-based companies that they can’t get out of*.
It is now planned to extend the microwave service to the North side of the river (Preston under Scar and Castle Bolton) and from there back to Swinithwaite possibly by the end of 2015.
LN Communications, trading as ilovebroadband, has now replaced Airwave Solutions as the provider of this microwave broadband service. LN Communications is funded by David Hood, the entrepreneur who started the set top box maker, Pace, and now has an executive jet and helicopter business.
The following is from the brief that Mr Loader gave Mr Sunak:
This village is around 8km from the telephone exchange in Leyburn which has meant historically poor speeds. The equipping of a fibre cabinet at Wensley had no effect as we are around 5km from that and BT has a policy they call “sweating the copper” which means that they have tonnes of cable in the ground they want the last penny from.
Service has also been generally unreliable given the length of lines and their age. BT did trial a cut down version of their one solution fits all of fibre and copper called Fibre to the Remote Node, getting the fibre closer to remote customers, and a pilot was installed at East Witton. However for the limited number of customers to be served, it proved very expensive.
DCM&S had recognised that getting high speed broadband, thought essential to rural and isolated communities, would probably not be possible using the current virtually 100 per cent BT solution and around five per cent of properties would miss out. So they announced in June 2014 that six different technology trials would be held around the UK and North Yorkshire would trial microwave to the property which was capable of speeds similar to fibre systems and £1.5m was allocated.
I immediately lobbied Ian Marr at North Yorkshire Council who oversaw their Company, NYNET, and Superfast North Yorkshire, and although he had no direct involvement as this was a BDUK rather than SFNY managed project, I think influenced the decision for West Witton to be one of the sites. Airwave Solutions, the provider of communications to the emergency services nationwide were the chosen network suppliers.
All started well and survey teams scoured the village and a presentation was made to the village in February of the solution. This required four masts and would be rolled out by May and triallists would encouraged to join with free access.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park wanted to refuse planning permission for two of the masts but with our County Councillor and District Council chair on the planning committee plus strong support from the then District Councillor and many residents, we won the day.
The first install, mine, took place on November 15, 2014, with a phone service included in the package. They are offering a choice of 10, 20 or 30Mb/s at increasing prices plus their phone service where existing numbers can be ported and very low call charges. Thus I pay £19.99 per month for broadband and £6 a month for “line rental” for my phone with called display included.
Town dwellers and those with a cabinet nearby can get Superfast speeds relatively cheaply comparatively with or without BDUK funds. And even, as with us, when this subsidy is provided, the cost of joining the internet Superhighway is a postcode lottery – West Burton, Kettlewell and Thoralby for example all have fibred cabinets that they can connect to at far lower cost than West Witton. BDUK should look again at this lottery and make it fair to all.
*Mr Loader was informed by BT when he terminated his agreement: “We can’t refund your upfront payment for BT Line Rental Saver. If you’ve paid up to £194.28 in advance for 12 months’ line rental, we can’t refund any of it as it was a special discount for paying upfront. Thanks for being a BT customer.”