Step back 6 years. I was a busy lawyer living in a small town in the North West of England, addicted to my expensive Virgin Media broadband connection. I used it for email, internet, keeping in touch with friends around the country/world and all sorts of television-related goodies. I’d become dependent upon it, and couldn’t imagine enjoying life without a fast broadband connection. At the same time, I loved walking and camping with pals in Cumbria, Yorkshire/North Lancashire and Scotland. I’d get out as often as possible with my tent and my dog and spend a weekend away, and then I’d drive home and fire up the computer to catch up with pals, the world and the TV I’d missed over the weekend. Everything seemed sorted.
My perspective changed fast, though, when my mother died very suddenly. I realised I wasn’t entirely happy in my work, and I began to fantasize about chucking in my high-pressure job and moving to live in the sort of place I’d spent 20 years driving to at weekends. I was no longer tied to my small town, but could the move be done? My problem didn’t lie in the reduction of income, but in the virtual impossibility of finding the sort of internet access I’d become accustomed to in the kind of place I wanted to live. It’s said that broadband has become one of the essential utilities, and I certainly agree. I don’t mind having to drive 5 miles to the nearest petrol station or cash machine, or even 15 miles to the nearest town, but I can no longer live from daytoday without a decent internet connection.
I spent many, many hours on the internet after work, searching for places I’d like to move to that had houses I could afford. One day I saw an advert for a tiny cottage in Wray, and booked a viewing. I researched Wray, and found that it was part of a broadband experiment involving Lancaster University. It sounded as though this might be the kind of place I was looking for, and when I saw that Wray was planning to stream a cricket match (#twicket) across the internet I knew this was the place for me! My decision was made.
Fast forwarding, I moved to Wray mid 2011. Not long after I arrived I heard about B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) and became very excited. The proposal was for the local community to cooperatively dig a fibre connection across the moors and into the village that would enable us to have one of the fastest broadband connections in the world. Wow! I was instantly hooked, and extremely excited! I’ve had a commercial broadband connection since I moved here, but I’ve had to pay an enhanced rate because I’m living in a rural community. Also, there was no possibility, preB4RN, of being able to upgrade that connection to fibre, as the commercial operations were not willing to invest the money required to do the job.
I immediately expressed an interest in B4RN and joined in the community effort to spread the word and encourage local residents and landowners to sign up. I’ve known that it was coming for a couple of years now, but four days ago superfast broadband finally became a reality for me when I got home from work to find that local volunteers had blown in my connection. Dog fed, I went to the new router to check my new password, and less than a minute later I was connected, on my iPad, to one of the fastest internet connections in the world! Amazing!
Having finally arrived at the weekend, I’ve been able to spend all morning updating things around the house. B4RN is now feeding not only my iPad and Macbook but also (and wirelessly) my PC desktop upstairs. Not only that but it’s also driving my smart TV! No more frustrating pixelated interludes while my commercial broadband struggles to catch up with iPlayer and Lovefilm.
My next step will be to organise a B4RN telephone service (and I’ll be able to keep my existing number). That means I’ll be able to have a phone that uses B4RN fibre for a fraction of what I currently pay in monthly landline rental charges, and I’ll be able to run my mobile off it too while I’m at home. When my number has been ported over I’ll cancel my existing commercial broadband and telephone connections. I’ll be paying approximately the same price (maybe a little less), but for a vastly improved service.
B4RN has made all the difference in the world to me. If it hadn’t been available then I wouldn’t have been able to move to the countryside. I need a fast broadband connection to live my life in the way I’ve become accustomed to living it over the course of the last 20 years. When I was a teenager the ultimate in technological sophistication was a digital watch, but the world has moved on and few people can manage without email and a decent connection to the internet. Certainly I can’t.
What sort of a daily difference will it make to me? Well, for a start I’ll be able to communicate with the local Parish Councillors in email, in my role as Parish Clerk. Not all Councillors had internet connections before, but they will when the village dig is complete. I also hope to be able to keep local residents in touch with what’s going on via an email circulation list. I’ll be able to read and respond to my work-related emails at home (um… not sure whether that’s a good thing or not!) Mainly, though, I’ll be able to surf the internet super-quickly and stream TV and films via my television. I’ll have a super-fast connection to all of the internet sites that I’ve become used to using since I first bought a laptop 20 years ago and became dependent upon broadband.
I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” to all of the local volunteers who have made this possible for me. I’ll pay for the connection, but volunteer villagers have come to my house and drilled holes to bring the fibre through, routed the wires through my house and also installed the router for me. They’ve been available at the end of a phone to advise me on how to get things going. Does that happen with commercial providers? *insert hollow laughter here* I don’t think so ?
Thank you, B4RN. You’ve made it possible for me to change my life and enjoy the benefits of the city and town without having to live there.