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Lifeboat crew digs its own fibre broadband

The RNLI lifeboat crew stationed at Yorkshire's Spurn Point has installed its own fibre cabling after being stuck on dial-up speeds
By David Meyer, Contributor on
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1 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNET

Last Friday, the lifeboat crew at Spurn Point, on the tip of the Humber estuary's north bank, got started on installing their own next-generation broadband cable.

The seven-strong Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) crew and their families — Spurn Point is a full-time station — had been stuck on dial-up-quality radio connectivity, getting download speeds of just 44-150Kbps, superintendent coxswain Dave Steenvoorden told ZDNet UK on Tuesday, adding that the station was not even within range of 3G services.

"Without getting too political, we didn't get any help from BT," Steenvoorden said. "They were sending us all the advertising through the post for fast broadband, and each time we approached them they said we were not compatible, and they could only offer a maximum of 250Kbps. We're an absolute notspot."

Help came from Fibrestream, the company that supplies the RNLI station with its radio-based broadband. The firm, which has handled several community broadband projects, got together with its suppliers and provided the necessary materials for free, while the crew members and other locals provided the labour for digging the trenches.

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2 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNET

"We're pretty resourceful people," Steenvoorden said. "The technical people were there on the day — they said we needed a feed to each house, and we just set to and did it."

Spurn Point is a nature reserve, Steenvoorden explained, so all the new cabling had to be run underneath existing pathways with minimum disturbance.

"We did it last Friday — we started at 9am and we had all the cabling in by 8.30 at night," he said. "It was a total distance of approximately 300m, linking our seven houses and the crew training facility together. In the next week or two, we've got to run up through some ducting up to a control tower that's 400m away."

The fibre-based connectivity should go live within the next month — the fibre itself needs to be blown through the cables in the next couple of weeks, after which the switching equipment will be installed.

Spurn Point is getting fibre-optic connections to a radio station, with a microwave link to the mainland, Steenvoorden said.

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3 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNET

Having high-speed broadband will "improve the facilities for the station a hundredfold", Steenvoorden said.

"We do everything now through the internet — defect reporting, training etc," he said. "To have a faster connection is going to make that so much better for us. The crew members live at the station with our families.

"To be able to videoconference with family, send emails, video, stuff like that, will be a vast improvement on what we've got. The kids on the station are always moaning about connection speed.

"It's a project that has been done completely for free. As a charity, that's pretty awesome."

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4 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNET

The company behind the Spurn Point deployment, Fibrestream, is headed up by Guy Jarvis, an ex-director of the Community Broadband Network.

"We wanted to do this for them as a way of saying thank you to them for the work they do in terms of life-saving," Jarvis said.

He explained that Fibrestream had organised the deployment among its various suppliers, ranging from local companies to multinationals. "We came together originally back in May. We met the crew, and from that we pulled the project together."

Fibrestream has an unusual wholesale-style model, in that it keeps the fibres it deploys lit, but is "not interested in offering retail services" except in the case of market failure, Jarvis said.

"The community must own it," he added.

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