A small company based in Hampshire proved last week that it's possible to bring broadband to rural areas even if BT struggles to provide the necessary high-speed connectivity.
On Friday, FDM Broadband turned on its wireless broadband service in Kingsclere, Hampshire. Sir George Young MP, who had been pushing the rural broadband agenda in Parliament, officially activated the network, and various businesspeople and activists agreed that the service would be a significant benefit to local commerce and households.
This launch looked to be in jeopardy late last year when FDM Broadband found it was struggling to get the high-speed backhaul connections it needed to offer its service in several Hampshire villages. According to the company, BT was up to six weeks late in supplying these links, while others weren't functioning properly.
After this situation came to public attention, BT apologised and fixed one connection that had been broken for almost a week. However, the telco did deny some of FDM Broadband's allegations.
These delays had led to speculation that BT might have been keen to slow down the deployment of the FDM service -- a rumour that gathered pace after a second community broadband project suffered similar problems, this time in Norfolk.
Last Friday, though, such concerns were put aside.
"Rural businesses are falling behind their urban competitors in information technology, and we can't afford to wait a couple of years to get broadband," said Steve Allam, a local businessman who led the Kingsclere Broadband Campaign, in a statement. Allam explained that BT's broadband trigger level of 500 people was unrealistically high for a village of just 3,500 people.
"We had to act fast, and FDM told us they could begin installation if just 50 people registered their interest," Allam added.
According to Sir George, FDM's launch in Kingsclere should encourage other communities who want broadband but find they can't get it from a major telco.
"I congratulate all those in Kingsclere who have put this project together. It is an excellent example to other villages who have found that that their exchange is unlikely to be enabled by BT or who would prefer wireless to the other available broadband technologies," said Sir George as he flicked the switch to launch the service.
These points were repeated by FDM Broadband managing director Karl Crossman.
"The big fixed-line providers have been reluctant to expand their infrastructure into many rural areas and have been very ambivalent in their dealings with rural communities like this one."
"If we want to avoid a major digital divide emerging in this country, wireless broadband is going to be essential to bringing broadband to the ten to 20 percent of the population who live in remote rural areas where other infrastructure is unavailable," Crossman said.