Thursday, April 15, 2010

New focus on community broadband opportunities?

A BBC article reports on Rutland Telecom's implementation of super-fast broadband in Lyddington (as mentioned in this previous post), offering speeds of up to 40Mbps. The article goes on to mention Alston in Cumbria and also Newton-on-Rawcliffe in North Yorkshire, where "the solution to slow broadband has come via fibre supplied to the local school. The 140 villagers will benefit from the fibre link via a wireless connection. The fibre has been supplied by NYnet, one of Europe's largest public-sector funded broadband infrastructures."

More from the Yorkshire Post:
"It's generally assumed the most modern technology for delivering broadband, fibre optic cable, is only available in urban areas. But step forward a "community interest company" called Nextgenus UK, run for the benefit of local people. It has got Sylvia Szejna and her neighbours around the villages of Newton-on-Rawcliffe and Stape online and up-to-date. Any profit Nextgenus makes has to be ploughed back into the community. Their approach is to piggy-back on the system which delivers the internet into North Yorkshire's schools, libraries and council offices. Technically known as a "Fat-Pipe", this is is the digital equivalent of a large water main. Called NYnet, this is owned by the county council, and cannot sell its services commercially. But NYnet can be made available to a company like Nextgenus who access the "fat pipe" to deliver a link to individual homes and businesses in out-of-the-way places."
And from NYnet:
“NYnet has provided optic fibre-based internet to within striking distance of the village, where it is beamed wirelessly to the rest of the village by community interest company NextGenUs UK CIC and community service provider Beeline Broadband. As a result of this initiative, residents will be able to access a broadband connection of up to 10Mbps.”
The European Commission's state aid decision on NYnet is available here. This approach echoes one of the recommendations set out in the Commission for Rural Communities' Mind the Gap report, published last year:
“The CRC wants to see rural communities have greater access to the broadband opportunities which schools can offer through the extended school services agenda, particularly the broadband infrastructure available to schools.”
The possibility of using existing education infrastructure was also flagged in the summary of responses to the interim Digital Britain report:
“The scope for using existing publicly owned infrastructure including JANET and NHS networks and making these available for commercial broadband operators; some responses also pointed to the ongoing value of using procurement of broadband for public use (including schools) as a way of providing local backhaul. The value of business to business specialist networks as a driver for new infrastructure rollout was also raised.”
This seems entirely sensible to me - it makes much more sense to consolidate and extend existing infrastructure than over-build, especially in the current economic climate. It's also good use of public money, to consolidate an existing public asset. This approach, where schools' and other institutions' last mile connections effectively become the middle mile, is also considered in the US National Broadband Plan (which describes schools as "anchor institutions" for facilitating broadband roll-out) and New Zealand's Rural Broadband Initiative.

So it's great to see things starting to happen in the UK too. Let's hope not only that others follow suit, but also that whatever administration is in place after May 6th recognises the huge potential existing broadband networks offer, in relation to both universal service and next generation access. 

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