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Rural broadband: Microwave radio link brings fast connection to remote village

A village on the edge of Dartmoor will be one of the first places in the UK to benefit from a new way to get superfast broadband to challenging areas.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

On the western edge of Dartmoor, the village Northlew will be one of the first in the country to benefit from microwave radio technology for broadband which can link the remote village to the broadband network.

Households and businesses in the historic village Northlew can now access broadband services at speeds of up to 80Mbps — thanks to a four kilometre microwave radio link, which has replaced the need for a fibre optic cable. According to BT, more than 120 customers — about half of the households and businesses in the village — are already using the technology.

A pilot scheme was made possible by the £94m Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme which is a partnership between BT and local authorities in Devon and Somerset.

Paul Coles, BT South West regional manager, said that getting broadband to Northlew had been, "an immensely challenging and satisfying project". He said that engineers had already decided that it would not be viable to lay a fibre optic cable to "such a small remote community", but instead BT said it would make the village one of the first places in the UK to try out a new microwave radio solution.

"The radio link connects to a new broadband cabinet near the centre of the village," said Coles, and that offers fibre broadband speeds. "We're more than four years into rolling out fibre broadband across the South West, whether through our commercial programme or with our public sector partners."

Graham Everitt, who runs a freelance consultancy is one of the residents who will benefit and said high-speed fibre broadband has made "a huge difference" to him both from a business and personal point of view. "For example, as part of my work I often send large files or images to newspapers, PR agencies and other organisations and in the past this has sometimes involved me having to drive seven miles to a Little Chef restaurant to get a sufficiently good connection."

Northlew has a long history. It is part of a community mentioned in the Domesday Book and its church, the Parish Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, dates from the 15th century.

And it's not the first time the village has persuaded BT to help out: back in 2009, BT took away Northlew's only public telephone line — a call box — saying that there was not enough demand to make it worthwhile.

The following year the phone box was recommissioned after locals agreed to fund £15 per month for its reconnection. Now, the residents say, it is the cheapest call box in Britain with, according to The Daily Telegraph, calls costing, "a minimum of 20p allowing the user to talk to someone anywhere in the world, including to mobile phones, for up to 20 minutes".

The charge is so low because the village has reconnected using a BT business rate landline and "is not seeking to make a profit on calls".

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