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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 12:37 GMT
Eden offers taste of rural broadband
Sheep grazing in Cumbria
Foot and mouth-hit Cumbria needs cheap broadband

BBC News Online looks at how one woman is trying to turn the promise of fast internet access into reality in a rural area of northwest England.

As the hype about broadband dies down and the dream of a truly wired nation starts to become reality, the real heroes of broadband Britain are emerging

Grassroots campaigners have been quietly spreading the word about fast net access and making sure that areas previously untouched by fast internet get the services they deserve.

In rural areas, campaigners have abandoned BT's ADSL and other technologies that cannot reach them in favour of community networks that are faster, cheaper and more reliable than those any large telecoms can offer.

Lindsey Annison has led the campaign for broadband in the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria and so far has achieved a remarkable level of success.

Walled garden of Eden

We have been labelled as the walled garden of Eden

Lindsey Annison, EdenFaster
With a 150,000 grant from the North West Development Agency, her project EdenFaster is planning to introduce a high-speed wireless network in the Eden Valley in Cumbria.

One poster has already generated 200 registrations from local people keen to get their hands on fast internet connections. They will begin to be available from January.

It will be fast, offering up to 40 megabits per second compared to BT's 0.5 megabit ADSL service.

Ms Annison believes that such high-speed broadband should be standard as it is in South Korea.

"In five years time ADSL will have become like dial-up internet is today. We won't know how we lived without real broadband," she said.

To make sure all the information is secure, the service in the Eden Valley will be offered on an internal network with limited access to the external world wide web.

"We have been labelled as the walled garden of Eden," said Ms Annison.

Community run

It is communities, word-of-mouth, that drives broadband not 33m advertising campaigns,

Lindsey Annison, EdenFaster
The most important thing will be to make sure the service is affordable. At 15 a month, it is within the reach of local families devastated by the foot and mouth epidemic in Cumbria.

The other vital element is that the services will be community-based ones.

"The advantage is that it is run by the community for the community," said Ms Annison.

"We will deliver the content, network and services that local people require which is something that telcos just can't do," she added.

E-mail alerts on recycling days, linking up the shops in the two market towns in the area and public access TV are all projects under discussion at EdenFaster.

Setting agenda

BT has been keen to promote its broadband achievements, recently heralding 500,000 connections and spending millions on advertising.

However it is groups such as EdenFaster and the other 25 community networks around the UK that have really driven their agenda said Ms Annison.

"It is communities, word-of-mouth, that drives broadband, not 33m advertising campaigns," she said.

"Community groups are invaluable and grassroots action is changing the way incumbent telcos are thinking," she said.

A service like EdenFaster is estimated to only needs between 50- 65 people on board to make it financially viable.

"We don't have the overheads of the large telcos and we don't have to please shareholders just the local community," said Ms Annison.

Light my fibre

If you gave me a billion pounds I would connect the whole country,

Lindsey Annison, EdenFaster
She is sceptical about the government's commitment to broadband and is not convinced the 1bn Prime Minister Tony Blair recently pledged to wire all the nation's schools, universities and GP surgeries will be spent wisely.

"After over-paid consultants and marketing budgets, as the money trickles down to those who need, it peanuts will be left," she said.

The government needs to do more to ensure that fast net services reach every part of the UK, she argues.

She believes the 1bn would be better spent in creating a network of cables across the country to allow local communities to take greater control of services.

"There is a network of unlit fibre in the country. That 1bn should be spent lighting it," she said.

Using a variety of innovative technologies she is convinced that the entire nation can be wired to broadband.

"If you gave me 1bn, I would connect the whole country," she said.

"Community networks prove it can be done cheaply with a better connection," she added.

Providers such as BT should to take note from the achievements of local groups and never underestimate local determination.

"Rural areas are fast to take up new technology as we have nothing else to do with our time," she joked.

Click here to go to BBC Cumbria

Click here to go to BBC North Yorkshire
See also:

05 Dec 02 | England
04 Dec 02 | Scotland
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