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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
A wireless solution to isolation
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online

For those living in rural or remote areas, away from local telephone exchanges, slow dial-up internet connections are often the only option. But, as David Reid discovers, one French hamlet is turning to new technology to provide a solution.

The village of Rieutort-de-Randon
A slow pace of life, does not have to mean a slow internet connection
Rieutort-de-Randon is the sort of place that never changes, where the war dead are still remembered, and where passers-by say "Bonjour" in the street.

Not so much stuck in the past, but like slipping into an old shoe, comfortable in it.

That is, until France's main telecommunications provider told the remote hamlet of 800 people that it could not have broadband. All of a sudden the village began to pinch a bit around the toes.

Time was when a ropey or non-existent internet connection was the same as being charmingly off the beaten track.

Now, however, so many businesses, transactions and services are conducted online that being badly connected is the same as being cut off without a cent.

At least, that is how it seems to the local tractor retailer, for whom the internet is an essential tool of the trade.

Gilbert Delor from Tractor retail and repairs says: "I think that if we want businesses to come here and thrive we have to have the internet. It is a method of communication. It is a road. It is as if today we refused to have a motorway leading here.

"Already we are out of the way. We don't have a local airport and we are not well served by the train. We can't be left behind in every field or there won't be anyone left in the countryside."

Infrastructure

A recent change in French law allows communities to be their own communications providers.

It does not stop telecom companies from failing to provide infrastructure, but it does allow people to do something about it.

School children using the internet
The fast connection means the next generation can get an online education
The problem is that the connection speed of DSL broadband decreases the further you get down the line from your telecom's central office.

While voice calls can be boosted, those same boosters block DSL signals.

Piped broadband is effectively limited to less than 3.5 miles (5.5km) radius and Rieutort-de-Randon is much more than that from the nearest exchange.

Mayor Francis Saint-Léger says: "The only solution that was possible to have broadband here was through the alternative solution of satellite and wi-fi.

"That means a dish that receives the satellite signal and then a wi-fi network which provides broadband internet on the ground to locals, businesses and schools."

It is good news for the tractor retailer, who can download repair manuals in PDF format and surf for second-hand parts, and also for the village shop owner who can check up on deliveries and the availability of merchandise.

Most importantly, the fast connection means the next generation can get an online education.

Long distance

Children's' surfing can be clumsy and high speed connections are more forgiving.

School teacher Véronique Surivet says: "Children don't find things immediately like an adult, but they discover.

"They search a lot, they grope around and it is difficult for them. With a high-speed connection we don't waste time, and that is wonderful."

This is more than the tale of the internet's late arrival to a one horse town.

Rieutort-de-Randon offers a model to other remote areas such as large expanses of the developing world, where laying cables or mobile networks might be too expensive.

Our networked world might have led to the death of distance, but geography is as relevant as ever.


Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.



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