Community project brings faster internet access to rural areas

Poor phone and broadband signals plague parts of Suffolk Coastal Aldeburgh is a particularly bad are

Poor phone and broadband signals plague parts of Suffolk Coastal Aldeburgh is a particularly bad area with no signal - left to right, Susie Medland, Rob Mabey,Harry Barclay, Annette Mason-Gordon - Credit: Archant

A Community Interest Company has been set up to bring affordable broadband to to rural “not-spots” in the Suffolk Coastal area.

Councillors – who have supported the project with £12,000 of enabling funds – teamed up with community representatives to tackle widespread concern that certain parts of the district would still not benefit from the countywide Better Broadband project and would still receive lower than expected network speeds.

Following a review three years ago by Suffolk Coastal’s scrutinty committee, a broadband project in the Wilford Bridge area showed how church towers could be used to relay the wireless signal and deliver a reliable 12Mbps service.

A report by working group members Phillip Dunnett and Christine Block said: “While high speed, fibre broadband has reached cabinets in large villages and smaller village centres, many of the more remote, rural locations, hamlets, clusters of houses on the edge of settlements and dwellings some distance from a cabinet still do not have access to a comparably improved broadband connection.

“Currently Better Broadband for Suffolk is still not able to guarantee that an affordable, fast broadband service will reach all households throughout all rural areas.

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“The Wilford broadband project demonstrates that a local wireless network can deliver a reliable 12 Mbps service.

“This has meant that residents and businesses who are too far away from fibre networks can benefit from improved bandwidth – which will allow real-time video links for Skype, responsive interactive applications, high definition TV, large data transfers and better security systems.

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“In this context it is clear that high speed broadband, as supplied by Suffolk’s chosen, national provider, is unlikely to meet the needs of all rural residents. Suggested alternatives of satellite or 4G connection are likely to be costly.

“Set against this the topography of East Anglia could allow affordable wireless coverage to reach most broadband ‘not-spots’. Costs for wireless connection are relatively low as much less infrastructure is required; monthly subscriptions are less than £20 and come with 100GB of usage.

“However, signals are transmitted on a line-of-sight basis and receiving and transmitting aerials must be in sight of each other.

“In order to extend wireless links and meet the needs of further households, it is necessary to secure more bandwidth and use strategically positioned towers to facilitate this.”

To create an extended wireless network, a Community Interest Company called Suffolk Superfast Broadband has been formed of local people supported by district ward councillors, working with the company that provided the Wilford network, FibreWifi, via Buzcom.

Permission has been secured to use an inactive communications tower near Martlesham and good progress is being made with hopes that the new link will go live in the middle of this month.

A number of residents with very low broadband speeds and no prospect of Better Broadband reaching them have registered an interest.

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