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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 11:15 GMT
DIY approach urged for rural broadband
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online technology reporter

Rural areas which are missing out on broadband via BT lines need help to create their own networks, say experts.

Country road
Getting broadband to rural areas can be a long journey
But people have to be shown why high-speed internet access can make a difference to them, argued community leaders at a major industry conference in London on Wednesday.

A website launching in a couple of weeks called Community Broadband Network aims to help overcome the divide between town and country by offering advice about DIY broadband.

About 80% of the UK can get broadband via phone lines, but it is concentrated in towns and cities.

See for themselves

"The net and broadband are experience technologies," Professor William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute told the Broadband Stakeholder Group conference in London.

"There is a need to get people using it in order to overcome fear of it," he added.

This means letting people see the individual, social and community value of broadband.

But what was also needed were local champions, who could push broadband community projects where there is no ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) or cable access.

Telcos won't go into rural areas unless it is commercially viable
Chris Scott, Beacon Broadband
The Community Broadband Network (CBN) website aims to offer a collaboration network for those trying to set up community-owned projects driven by need over profit, said Simon Berry of RuralNet, one of the groups involved in setting up the site.

"CBN will create the marketplace to help people share links with others in their region who can help them."

"Community is about relationships and collaboration requires relationships," he said, which is what he hopes website will encourage.

The initiative was announced by the UK's minister for e-Commerce Stephen Timms last week and launches mid-November.


Currently, the roll-out of ADSL and cable broadband is patchy with villages and rural areas are missing out.

Community leaders say the problem of broadband roll-out is not to do with technology, but to do with commercial potential.

Computer cables
Many communities have binned the cables
"Telcos won't go into rural areas unless it is commercially viable," said Chris Scott from Beacon Broadband in Belfast.

He said communities need to club together to come up with ideas that will give businesses and service providers a reason to set up in the area.

There are many success stories of rural communities who joined together to find alternative ways of getting broadband into the area.

Some have used satellite signals and wireless, or wi-fi, technology which transmits broadband through the air.

These include Cybermoor, which set up its broadband network for the community using wi-fi.

But many people in the UK are still making the "digital choice" not to go online at all, said Professor William Dutton.

Recent research by the Oxford Internet Institute showed that 59% of the UK had access to the net.

Of those, only 11% had broadband while 24% were not thinking of hooking up to broadband at all.

CBN is supported by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and will also provide links to toolkits for communities setting up DIY broadband networks.

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