‘For­get BT, I’m the village in­ter­net provider’

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - MONEY -

“Big­ger villages nearby have bet­ter in­ter­net,” he added. “It wasn’t worth providers’ money to im­prove our connection, so they didn’t.”

Longer dis­tances to ex­changes slow down speeds, and rivers and hills make it more dif­fi­cult to lay fi­bre ca­bles in ru­ral ar­eas, in­creas­ing the costs to com­pa­nies of pro­vid­ing su­per­fast broad­band. Firms are not ob­li­gated to of­fer peo­ple in ru­ral re­gions the same deals and ser­vice as those in well-con­nected ar­eas, mean­ing that many cus­tomers find them­selves stranded with lit­tle to no in­ter­net or have to pay much higher prices than city dwellers.

Mr Bell runs his own soft­ware com­pany, which looks af­ter the IT of small busi­nesses. “Run­ning an IT com­pany with­out in­ter­net is pretty much im­pos­si­ble,” he said. “The lack of con­nec­tiv­ity was re­ally hit­ting my busi­ness.

“I had two phone lines in­stalled but the sit­u­a­tion was still ter­ri­ble. So two years ago I de­cided to buy my own di­rect fi­bre connection.”

Fi­bre wires al­low far higher speeds than tra­di­tional cop­per ca­bling. It cost Mr Bell more than £10,000 to in­stall his di­rect connection and he now pays monthly for its up­keep.

But he said: “The connection did won­ders for my busi­ness, and I re­alised that it might be pos­si­ble to share it out.”

Mr Bell man­aged to share the connection across Up­ton us­ing a mast on a hill on a neigh­bour­ing farm. His con­trol cen­tre, in his wife’s shed, is filled with routers on one side and gar­den tools on the other.

Of the 40 or so houses in the ham­let, more than 90pc are now con­nected to Mr Bell’s broad­band net­work.

For £45 a month plus VAT they re­ceive an in­ter­net connection of around 20 mbit/s, with tele­phone calls in­cluded. “I charge enough to cover my costs,” Mr Bell said. “Res­i­dents can now watch TV on­line, Skype their grand­chil­dren, do on­line bank­ing – all of which they couldn’t do be­fore.

“It’s very cheap to make calls through my connection, so for many their phone bills have gone down con­sid­er­ably. Ev­ery­one has been very grate­ful; peo­ple buy me drinks in the pub all the time.

“Good broad­band is like run­ning wa­ter: you don’t no­tice it when it works, but you re­alise just how im­por­tant it is when it doesn’t. I think of the in­ter­net as a ba­sic pub­lic ser­vice, on a par with gas, elec­tric­ity and wa­ter.”

Up­ton’s DIY net­work hasn’t just con­nected vil­lagers to the out­side world – it’s also re­con­nect­ing neigh­bours to each other.

Mr Bell said: “We try to be bet­ter,

Bri­tish vil­lagers are fighting back against poor broad­band, finds Mar­i­anna Hunt ‘Good broad­band is like run­ning wa­ter – you don’t no­tice it un­til it doesn’t work’

and more per­sonal, than BT. We have no for­eign call cen­tres. If any­one has a prob­lem they just pop round and knock on my door. I pedal around the village on my bike vis­it­ing my neigh­bours to con­nect up their routers, and climb on to their roofs to in­stall masts.

“We live in the ham­let’s old post of­fice, and most days I feel like a 21stcen­tury post­man, con­nect­ing us to the rest of the world.”

Up­ton is not the only ru­ral com­mu­nity look­ing for al­ter­na­tive ways to get bet­ter broad­band. Broad­band for the Ru­ral North (B4RN) is a non-profit so­ci­ety that aims to bring fi­bre-op­tic broad­band to iso­lated ar­eas of north­ern Eng­land. It uses com­mu­nity fundrais­ing to cover the costs of in­stal­la­tion.

A spokesman for B4RN said: “Res­i­dents of the towns that ap­ply to us all muck in for their fi­bre connection: they raise funds to­gether, help to dig the ground for the ca­bles, or bring tea and cake for those digging.”

Nick Bell spent £10,000 in­stalling his own broad­band and now of­fers it to neigh­bours

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