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Working Lunch Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Getting connected
Monmouth landscape
Rural areas are in danger of falling behind
While getting broadband is good for people who want to have the internet on all day, it can have wider applications.

In Caerphilly, it's seen as a vital tool in helping to create employment in an area still struggling after thousands of steel jobs were axed by Corus in 2001 and other big employers shed labour.

Helping with costs

Caerphilly County Borough Council has secured 350,000 from a Corus regeneration fund and is offering to help businesses with the first-year costs of broadband.

Simon Berry Jones
Simon: Big plus point for Monmouth

The council accepts that it can't replicate the lost jobs, but hopes that broadband can be used to encourage businesses to expand and develop new opportunities.

"The days of the big companies are gone," says councillor Rob Gough.

"It's small and medium-sized enterprises that are now the backbone of communities.

"If we can persuade them to take a step and employ one extra person, there's the potential to employ a total of 5,000 people."

Regeneration

Neighbouring Monmouthshire is looking to follow in Caerphilly's footsteps.

The Welsh Assembly has earmarked 400,000 in an attempt to regenerate the area's jobs market.

The county council is currently deciding how best to use the money and is bringing in consultants to advise on the most effective way of introducing broadband.

Many businesses in Monmouth itself say they would benefit if broadband were available.

Now, after a successful campaign, BT is bringing broadband to the town and a switch-on date of 25 June has been set.

Angie Sayer
Angie: Quicker download times

For potter Angie Sayer, who works from a studio in the hills above Monmouth, it will make life easier.

"When I e-mail clients, I have to send them photos," she says. "With broadband they will be able to access them much faster and I won't have to spend so much time at my computer."

Boost for small business

That shift towards small businesses is evident on the Wonastow Road industrial estate in Monmouth.

On the Singleton Court Business Park, 35 companies are crammed into one large building.

"We are obviously in competition with surrounding areas, so having broadband is an extra incentive," says the park's Simon Berry-Jones.

How the town qualified to have its exchange upgraded is a classic example of a broadband campaign.

Last summer, BT replaced its rollout programme with a registration scheme.

Broadband trigger

Customers are asked to indicate that they would like broadband in their area and a trigger level is set - that's BT's estimate of the viability for the service at each particular exchange.

Once the trigger level is reached, the exchange is added to the list and normally comes onstream within 10 weeks. So far more than 300 have qualified.

Not all exchanges are suitable for upgrading, but where there is lots of interest, BT will carry out a cost analysis.

While 66% of the UK is suitable for broadband, the figure in Wales is only 30%.

Campaign

Monmouth's campaign has been driven by photographer and former music PR Alfie Goodrich.

Alfie Goodrich
Alfie: "Someone had to do it"

He set up a website last September, when the town's trigger level was 400 but only 20 people had registered.

"Someone had to do it - I was fed up doing everything over a dial-up line," he explains.

"I thought I might as well design a website and use my local connections and PR skills."

In January, BT dropped the levels for rural exchanges across the UK - Monmouth's fell to 300.

Broadband campaigning
Monmouth lamps from pottery
Take the initiative - someone has to get the ball rolling; why not you?
Set up a website. Let people know what you're doing.
Contact the local media to get coverage. Ask them to join your campaign.
Talk to local businesses about sponsorship.
Ask BT for help. They can supply material for you to distribute.
Get the local council and MP on board.
FACTBOX

"It was clear there was a groundswell of people wanting to put their names down," says Alfie.

He got the local paper interested and also persuaded two companies involved in broadband to set up a demo in the town centre.

And he got children involved. Frustrated at the time taken to download games, they were only too happy to spread the word and deliver leaflets.

Largely as a result of Alfie's efforts, the countdown to connection has now begun.

"There will be individual economic effects which will add up to a bigger impact for the town," he believes.

Potter Angie Sayer is also looking forward to the big day.

She says: "More and more people want to work away from the cities in cottage industries and have the advantage of lovely surroundings with birds singing and yet have the high-tech equipment and use it in a proper way."

Satellite link

There are other ways of getting broadband. Just up the road from Monmouth is the village of Shirenewton, which has used other technologies.

"BT has no plans to deliver ADSL into Shirenewton, so a small group of villagers formed Big Dragon," explains villager Andy Williamson.

"We built our own broadband network using wireless technology and share the cost of a broadband satellite link to the internet."

It's not always as cheap - although in this case Welsh Development Agency funding was available - but shows that where there's a will, there's a way.

  • If you want to check the status of your local exchange, go to BT's website. You will also find advice on running a campaign.

  • If you're interested in getting broadband over the cable network, check out NTL and Telewest's websites.
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