Case Studies

Broadband access across Penrith and the Border - rather like our landscape - varies dramatically from one area to the next; a home-worker in Lazonby, for example, may enjoy relatively quick speeds, whereas her neighbours struggle to reach speeds of 1/2 Mbps. Businesses, farms and private users are sharing their stories of broadband access to help paint a more detailed picture of the obstacles we are facing and why our campaign is so vital to our communities.

“Atlantic Geomatics of Dacre, Penrith is a firm of chartered land surveyors provid ing survey, mapping and geographic information system solutions to clients across the UK and overseas. We are one of the largest independent surveying practices in Northern England.
Our current average internet speeds are approximately 4Mbps upload and 7Mbps download.  All 15 members of staff rely on broadband access to carry out their daily tasks: it’s one of our key resources.  From sending emails to uploading and downloading data, access is vital for the future success of our company.
We currently have a wireless broadband connection to CLEO (Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online) via a mast on Beacon Edge, Penrith. The main reason why we have access to CLEO is that our offices are too far from the local exchange in Greystoke village to obtain sufficient broadband access. However, the CLEO wireless connection is to be discontinued on 30th November 2010 and the BT alternative through land-lines will only offer approximately 0.4Mbps upload and download speeds. Our current CLEO connection was negotiated for a fixed period of 12 months following some intense ‘lobbying’ to local authorities, the CLA and CLEO themselves. We have tried satellite solutions in the past, but our need for a fast ‘upload’ is as important as ‘download’ and it was therefore not suitable, and CLEO stepped in to provide a more effective alternative. Consequently, we have been forced to seriously investigate alternative ways of obtaining broadband access to ensure that broadband is available from 1st December 2010.  BT has quoted us £12,000 per year for a minimum contract of 5 years for broadband access. Obviously, there is no way that a rural SME such as Atlantic Geomatics can justify such a cost. We are now having to consider re-locating to Penrith town centre, but such re-location would, needless to say, be extremely disruptive and costly.”

Travelling2 is a national business based in the small village of Morland in the Eden Valley. It supplies travel clothing and accessories by mail-order, the internet and two shops, and employs 15 local people. The website is an increasingly important part of the business, currently accounting for about 25% of turnover and set to increase. However, the rural location threatens the future of the business.
“We have reasonable download broadband speeds, but poor upload speeds at the moment”, says Travelling2 owner Freddy Markham. “The office download speed is 0.32 Mbps and the upload speed 0.36 Mbps, a long way short of the theoretical speeds of 8Mbps and 6 Mbps respectively.This was tested using We need fast upload speeds to manage our website, upload photos and transfer data. Customers need fast download speeds so that higher resolution photos can be used on our site and the zoom function, which shows close-up detail, can be used without delays. It is also likely in future that we will want to incorporate on our site video footage of products in use, and this will also require fast upload and download speeds. Technically we need SDSL, not ADSL. It’s not available and there is no date when it will be. As broadband gets faster, how long will we have to wait?
In addition, and just as important, there is the separate need for universal mobile phone network coverage. In our village it is very patchy. It is easier to send texts from the Sahara desert than from home. I know, as I’ve done it. With handheld devices being used more and more for hundreds of applications including emails and internet as well as voice messages, we will simply be unable to compete. This is a pressing and urgent issue. There should be universal same-price access to both broadband and mobile network coverage just as there is to the post or telephones or electricity. Providing universal access is a proper use of public funds, and I urge the new Government to deliver it.”

3: A View from the Matterdale Valley

Matterdale is a beautiful valley set within the Lake District National Park close to Ullswater. The Parish of Matterdale covers some 17,500 acres with a resident population of only around 500, yet hosts as many as 7,000 visitors at peak times who stay at the many camping and caravan sites, B&Bs, self-catering units and hotels. As well as playing host to tourists, the valley also supports several small businesses.
Martin Cotterell
Sundog Energy Ltd is one of the largest and fastest-growing independent companies in the UKdesigning, supplying and installing systems that generate electricity from solar energy. The company began life in the small hamlet of Matterdale End in Cumbria before recently moving to larger premises at the North Lakes Business Park, Penrith.
According to Martin Cotterell, Managing Director and “Cumbria Director of the Year 2009”, “Having broadband is absolutely essential to our business. We communicate and transfer huge amounts of data electronically every day. Whilst thankful to have a connection unlike some near neighbours in the valley, our broadband speed available in Matterdale was nevertheless very slow by the standards expected by most companies. The government aims to encourage entrepreneurs to start up businesses which we did ourselves 15 years ago, but without proper broadband the challenges are even greater”.
Grant Cowley
Grant works locally as a finance manager having moved from New York to Matterdale five years ago.
“I had happily got used to my high-speed cable connection in my apartment in New York and struggled desperately on moving to Matterdale as, after some failed attempts by BT, we were summarily dismissed and BT told us that we were too far from our local exchange to be able to get reliable broadband. Every time I wanted to check my e-mail I had to go to Eden Rural Foyer in Penrith, or a cafe in Patterdale. We tried a one-way satellite service for a while which used a downlink via satellite and an uplink via the telephone, but the company pulled the plug citing the fact that it was not economical for them. We then looked at two-way satellite but the costs were enormous. Lastly, thanks to the efforts of a near neighbour in the valley, we were given the opportunity to subscribe to a microwave link. The speed is not brilliant and there has been some downtime but it is thankfully better than dial-up. Our worry is what would happen if the company behind the service should decide to exit? We would be back to square one. It’s not just a trite matter of Facebook or Twitter access: the Government itself is pushing people towards using online services. For example, I file my tax return on-line, and HM Revenue & Customs has stipulated that everyone who registers for VAT after 1st April 2010 must file electronically. Broadband is no longer a luxury in a modern progressive society but a necessity”.
Dr Tristan McGee
Tristan is a barrister who runs various businesses from his home in Matterdale.
Photography courtesy of Strutt & Parker
“I run a Law Practice and a business consultancy. I also part-own a publishing business with my son, who runs the Nottingham office.  We rely heavily on e-mail and the internet, and a reliable service is crucial to all my business interests.  Previously I used a satellite link because broadband was not available to me.  More recently I have subscribed to a wireless system, which was set up in the valley a few years ago.  I am connected to the mast via a relay installed at a neighbouring property.  Unfortunately this system has not proved wholly reliable and, whilst it has improved, there were occasions where I was off the internet for many days.  This caused immeasurable difficulties for my various businesses. The previous Government promised all sorts of things in order to help rural communities get reliable broadband connections, but they failed wholesale in this valley.  I look to the present Government to deliver!”
David Harrison
David is recently retired and lives with his wife in a converted old chapel within the small hamlet of Ulcat Row in the Matterdale Valley.
“I am finding that I am practically cut off from the modern world. Most of the clubs I belong to prefer to give notice of events over the Internet. My banking has to be by Internet and the government is continually encouraging us to use the internet for everything from paying the TV licence to filling out Tax returns. As I only have dial-up service, I now go to a relative’s house in Keswick about once a week where I can get access to broadband. The speed there is about 4Mbps; not good but better than my dial-up speed. I find that the dial-up service is satisfactory for emails but can jam up if I am sent photographs. Further more it is most tedious to use for most web sites as they now tend to introduce more graphics and picture
Over the years I have contacted many people in an effort to obtain broadband. I started with BT, and worked my way through Eden District Council, Ofcom, Tate on line, Cumbria Vision, North West Development Agency and Stephen Timms, Minister of State for Competitiveness. Of these the NWDA was the most helpful and provided funds for a microwave link for some homes in the valley. A receiver was a fixed to my chimney stack but unfortunately it was out of range for the microwave link, so I am still relying on a dial-up connection which is very slow. Amongst other things my concern is that providers will stop offering a dial up service, as they read the ‘official figures’  and assume that everybody has access to broadband.
An improvement in communications is important to the future economic and social viability of our County”

4: A Farmer’s Persepctive: Steve Pattinson

Steve is a farmer at Kinkry Hill, Roadhead and chairman of the Border British Blue Club.
“In the early days of broadband, the thought of it reaching deep rural parts of England were remote at least.
Then BT, with the help of the NWDA Project Access, decided to begin enabling rural exchanges to provide broadband to the few businesses and residents within 2km or so of the exchange. Living in Roadhead we quickly found out that we were not to be included and we were forced to explore a community group approach to buy a satellite wireless system. In the end, this was deemed unfeasible, so instead we began to contemplate life on the wrong side of the technological divide without broadband, as well as no village shop, no pub and no public transport. Then, finally the NWDA decided to enable the forgotten communities. The Roadhead exchange was the last in Cumbria to be enabled. I was one of the first to have broadband in our area and at the time it was great, but as the service became popular, the contention ratio began to climb and our speed of service suffered severely as a consequence.
On the farm we are reliant on a good connection for applying for cattle passports to BCMS, as well as recording movements. We also use the DEFRA Whole Farm Approach, a part of the Government Gateway, which is a very heavy site so works slowly at peak times. As more and more sites increase their functionality and media content we are beginning to find ourselves at a disadvantage and we are almost back to where we were in the pre broadband days.”

5: David and Jan Huxley, Mungrisdale

We live in an isolated valley one mile from Mungrisdale a village that has a poor broadband service. We are not on mains electricity and the phone line that we use for our internet connections runs through the fields and has to go under water, which is far from perfect. The dial up speed is between 31 Kbps and 28 Kbps. We pay £16 per month and feel this is expensive for a slow service.
Our children and Grandchildren live abroad so we rely on a good internet connection but it is impossible to download decent photos and it can take at least an hour to upload some photos. We also difficult shipping online because it takes ages to download catalogues and payments can take a very long time to process.
My husband needs broadband for business as he is Chairman of Young Cumbria and it is essential for processing the considerable paperwork and he also uses it for online banking. We also need better broadband to allow us to update a number of programmes including sat nav and we are often unable to do this due to the poor connection.

6: Nic and Monica Tweddell, Martindale

“We have a dial-up internet connection; our service provider is Virgin. Our house is 6 miles from the telephone exchange at Pooley Bridge; BT advertising says that we could receive broadband, but when we talk to BT engineers they say that we might get a very slow connection but that it would drop out continually. Virgin state a connection speed of 0.033Mbps, but it is often slower than this: I measured a recent download at 0.015Mbps
Monica works at home as a copy editor with publishers (mostly Penguin). All her communication with others who are working on a book is by email; there is no difficulty with simple text emails, but large attachments are very slow to send or receive – at least 5 minutes for 1MB. If we want to download large files, such as program updates or new applications, we have to go to Penrith and bring things back on a memory stick. We also go to Penrith for internet research. Increasingly, it is assumed that everyone has a broadband connection; for example the latest version of our antivirus software automatically tries to download new virus definitions as soon as we are online. Our connection cannot cope with this, but the automatic download cannot be disabled. More and more organisations expect you to carry out tasks online: banking, tax returns, etc.
If we had a reliable broadband connection we would not need to go to Penrith for large downloads and for internet research, and we would be able to make use of facilities such as BBC listen again.”

7: Out of Eden, Kirkby Stephen

“Out of Eden is the largest private employer in Kirkby Stephen, currently with 40 staff. We specialise in supplying everything for the hotel bedroom and bathroom to hotels, guest houses and B &Bs all over the UK, and currently have approx 20,000 customers.
All our marketing is done by email, ecommerce and direct catalogue distribution to an owned database of the entire hotel industry. The last five years has seen a transformation in the dependence businesses now have on internet connectivity to conduct their business. Growing numbers of standard business applications have moved on to web based platforms which can only be accessed via a connection to the internet. As more and more business activity is conducted via the web then the traditional phone line connection to the internet provides a real obstacle and risk to Out of Eden’s ability to conduct its business and provide secure on-going employment to its staff.
Our rural location puts us at a serious disadvantage when compared with business based in a more internet friendly environment. With only a very limited ability to upload information to the internet (0.6 Mbps) Out of Eden is already restricted in developing its e-commerce activities and this situation will only worsen as more business processes move to a web based environment. The optic fibre runs past our door as the town’s largest employer we need access to it as much as the health centre or schools to ensure we grow, employ more people and make a significant contribution to the local economy.”

8: The Rowleys, Maughanby Penrith

“We live in a hamlet called Maughanby farm which houses 3 families and close by there are another three houses serving four people. None of us can get broadband despite the fact that people in the village approximately ½ mile away can get it without problem. According to BT we are too far from the ‘long line’ based at Lazonby and will have to wait till 2012 before work will be done to allow us to access broadband.
If we need to use the internet the only access is via dial up, it can take up to 20 minutes at times, sometimes more before we are even able to get online and then any further research takes forever. It is unacceptable, I have been in contact with many other companies, Sky, O2 and Tiscali, but all seem to use the BT connection so are useless. I have contacted the company Avonline who quoted me a figure of £600 to install a satellite broadband and then a monthly payment of £34. This is all money that we do not have and should not have to pay. I have also visited both mobile phone shops in Penrith and enquired about dongles. When I give them my postcode they say there is no point in even trying a dongle; our reception is too poor.
My husband is self employed and has a log business and a paint balling business. He is hindered dramatically by an inability to access the internet. We would like to be able to set up an online ordering and delivering service for ease but we are unable to do this and we do not have the opportunity to advertise online.
The paintballing is a more recent venture and is done in partnership with someone that has access to broadband at home. As such a website is being developed but it is only accessible by one of the partners, hardly ideal.”

9: Geoff Faux, Dalston

Geoff Faux is an Associate lecturer in Mathematics Education with the Open University, he  lives in Dalston and is home based.
Geoff as a member of the tutor team for township teachers in Mathematics January 2010
“I need broadband to conduct tutorials with my Students who, this year, are spread from Chile in the West to Cairo to the East. The Open University uses Elluminate Live for tutorials and this means that I, and my students, need to have access to a shared interactive whiteboard.  2Mbps is just about OK below this speed I, as the tutor, find myself waiting to see what others have written for a length of time that destroys the flow of a tutorial.
Until 2 years ago we were with Toucansurf and had reasonable download speeds.  Unfortunately they were taken over by Pipex.  The service quickly dropped in quality and Pipex double charged in two consecutive months so we withdrew and decided to return to BT. Since returning I have had a running battle with BT. Download is sometimes down to a 1/10 Mbps. Speed tests conducted from 24 - 29th July showed download speeds no greater than 0.13 Mbps and tests a month later on the 23rd and 24th August showed only 0.13 Mbps upload speeds.
During the last six weeks the only really satisfactory way to conduct a tutorial is for me to put my laptop in the car and drive around until I find a faster BT ‘Hot spot’ in Carlisle and run my tutorials from there while running the gauntlet of the parking metre wardens.  The really galling thing is that I pay BT £20 a month for broadband access at my home.”
Written 28 August 2010

10: Vista Projects, Crosby Ravensworth

Vista Projects provides consultancy and production services in the arts and employs two fulltime staff and one full time equivalent. A speed test of the broadband connection on 10/9/2010 gave an upload speed 0.37 Mbps and download speed of 3.97 Mbps.
“We use it for website maintenance, 90% of business correspondence via email, banking, and developing relationships online/marketing/social networking, maintaining professional networks. Our business relies upon the internet and on new media technologies to pitch and disseminate ideas in the form of documents, websites, pdf’s, blogs and social networks.
In essence we are what Charles Handy would have called portfolio workers. ICT has become vital to maintaining our presence in the wider creative community and dealing with our physical isolation from the people we work with. Because of poor quality speeds we are not able to use particularly film based media and video conferencing reliably.
An example of how we use this technology to pitch creative ideas can be seen in a recent video of a VR model of Lumb Viaduct for which we have been shortlisted with London based architects de Matos Ryan. The entire design charette for which was conducted online We live in a remote rural location because we work on temporary contracts and have always thought that if we were to move to where the work is it would promptly move away from us so we live where we are from. Our earnings outside the area are brought into Cumbria. We want to stay committed to the area and to bring our children up here. However, we are acutely conscious of the way in which under developed ICT infrastructure threatens to isolate us from clients in urban centres. It’s a risk we need to tackle in the not too distant future. Poor speeds are a particular worry as we are beginning to think about new developments and opportunities in cloud computing.
I therefore totally support the Rural Broadband Initiative. It is not acceptable to allow this area to have a second class service when the service to which our clients and local residents are entitled is a first class service.”
Christian Barnes, Director Vista Projects