From poor internet, to great connections
by Christine O'Grady
My poor internet connectivity led to great connections in my village!
Community Champion Alastair on making friends with the neighbours and how his Dorset village got together to get ultrafast broadband to homes and businesses.
Returning to the UK after 13 years abroad, Alastair and his wife came back to rural Dorset as their chosen place to live. They purchased their house in Waddock in 2013.
As the couple (who have 4 grown up children) settled into their lovely new home, they soon discovered how bad their internet connection really was. Alastair, a retired Financial Director soon found himself researching the detail and discovered that they were in fact 9 miles away from the nearest BT Green cabinet situated near Wool. Realising this was the reason for his poor connection and no amount of fiddling with copper connections was going to improve the speed to anything acceptable, he chose to sign up to a satellite provider to get a better reception.
“Between 2013 and 2020 I have upgraded the satellite service twice. It is amazing how much data gets to be transmitted for housekeeping services such as AntiVirus, operating system updates and software upgrades. Things which you don’t see but which are essential for the health of my home network. Before WI came along I was paying for 40 gigabytes (40GB) a month with 20 megabits (Mbps) download and 6 megabits (Mbps) upload but in reality, was only getting 12 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. When the children came to stay they are used to streaming and just did what they normally do, which just blew my data limits in one go!”
It proved to be a very expensive experience for the couple. Each time they went over their data limit they were forking out up to an extra £10 per GB to extend it.
“Fran and I were living in a 1990s world of connectivity. Web surfing, emailing and online shopping was as far as we dared to stretch to! My provider was taken over by another company – and instead of being charged extra if I went over my limit – they replaced this system by offering no cap – but a slower speed. A different solution to the same problem!”
“I just gave up in the end and resigned myself to the fact that there were no other options available to me. Then, one day I noticed that there was a van from Wessex Internet outside my property. They were working on wireless installations at the time and I encouraged them to use my driveway in order to view the nearest mast to see if I could be connected. Due to the amount of summer foliage on trees a line of sight connection was not possible at the time but the guys made an impression on me and a few years later, when I heard that WI were getting involved to bring fibre broadband to our area I got in touch. Along with 4 other “Community Champions” in the village, I learned about the Rural Gigabit Connection Voucher (RGCV) – something which the government was offering on a group basis to areas like ours and which WI were using to help fund the installation cost to bring fibre to our homes. At first, we were a bit unclear as to the criteria that WI would apply in order to green light the actual work but with the help of Alice at Wessex Internet – whom I phoned religiously every week to get updates – we got a list of properties within the Waddock area that WI would connect and from our list of 39 properties that could take the service, we managed to sign up 28. Everyone had a free installation via the voucher scheme and are now the recipients of an ultrafast reliable internet connectivity. From start to finish, it only took us about 6 months.”
We asked Alastair how easy he had found it to be a community champion:
“The most challenging part was persuading people to sign up. Like me, many people were not technically minded – some didn’t even know that they were entitled to government funding for installation. Naturally, everyone had lots of questions. So, I produced a handy guide of what was involved and what benefits we would be getting over a copper based connection as well as pinching the list of commonly asked questions from the WI website. I kept a progress update on a spreadsheet. I got to know more of my neighbours relatively quickly and came across a mix of needs. Some were running businesses or working from home; others were in multi-use households; some had children – and one or two didn’t own a computer”.
Returning to Alastair’s personal experience, we asked him how things have changed now that he has ultrafast broadband.
“I am getting exactly what I ordered. 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload with an unlimited data allowance. When I last measured that speed, I also had 4 video streams running on a Zoom call at the same time. That really shows we have a much better connection now. Things like back-ups have improved immensely and my internet landline works so much better. It’s inspired me to look into my home TV and entertainment packages, music downloads and streaming services.
“After nearly giving up, the most pleasant surprise of all for me is the fact that Wessex Internet took the time to actually came round to our small village and get us connected to the 21st Century - there was no question about it being too small to consider or not being viable whatsoever.”
And does Alastair have any tips for anyone else in a rural community looking to get FTTP?
“My advice to anyone in a similar position to me a few years back is that it is well worth pursuing. Talk to neighbours, friends, businesses, your parish council – it’s amazing how the momentum gathers and there is always somebody in the neighbourhood willing to help. The hard work was meeting and explaining the benefits and what we were entitled to – Wessex Internet made the rest really easy!"
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