Will the Upper Calder Valley be left behind once again?

Or will the local community, businesses and councils have the vision to pioneer Fibre Technology?

Thursday, 6 December 2007


Shaun FensomYesterday evening, Shaun Fensom of the Community Broadband Network addressed a public meeting, organised by 3-C at the Good Shepherd Church, Mytholmroyd. The meeting was chaired by Eric Alston of Royd Regeneration.

Those attending were left with no doubt that Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and the Upper Calder Valley were in serious danger of being left behind once again. BT will not be upgrading our broadband until 2011 but even then is unlikely to make use of the best available technology. What is more, we will be one of the last areas to receive digital TV in 2011, and there is serious doubt about whether the current aerials will manage to broadcast to everyone. Digital is far more susceptible to being blocked by trees, landscape, etc. Consequently, there is a severe possibility that terrestrial TV will not be available to some of us in any form in 2011.

As people start to download larger files such as films, TV programmes, much larger documents than would have previously been possible, voice and video over the net (VOIP) there is a continuous need for more and more bandwidth. BT are not going respond to this need as their investment is in the current technology. From their point of view, spending billions on a new infrastructure does not make sense.

The solution is fibre technology. With fibre, we could have broadband speeds up to 200 times faster than the 500k most broadband subscribers received in 2003 when we first got this technology in the Upper Valley. With fibre, we could have "triple play packages" similar to that most of Paris has or will soon have. Triple play means that the broadband would supply TV, phone and high speed Internet.

It was strongly suggested that our area might pioneer the introduction of fibre for community use in the UK. Earlier this year 3-C helped finance observers to visit to Neunen, Holland, a small market town which is leading the way with this technology. More info

With fibre it is possible to bypass the current BT exchanges but it would probably need some digging up of pavements, etc, to install. It was estimated that the cost for somewhere like our area would be less than £1000 per household, but there was evidence from Neunen that fibre technology could increase house prices by much more than this amount. If combined with high speed wireless, this might not need to be too widespread.

Fibre also had the advantage in that it was far more efficient, leaving much less of a carbon footprint than copper.

Shaun Fensom explained that he had helped found Poptel in the early 1980s which for a long time was a workers' cooperative. However, it was subsequently de-mutualised, venture capitalists took over, and various problems set in. Poptel had evangelised about the new communications way before the Internet became commonplace.

Online encyclopedias like Wikipedia were never even dreamed of. Yet now children can research almost anything they want. But Shaun pointed out only 15% of the world's population are connected. In parts of Manchester, 70% have no BT phone line (and therefore little possibility of any broadband). With Fibre Triple Play that could be turned around.

Shaun said that the Community Broadband Network had the support of Stephen Timms, Minister for Competitiveness, and would actively support any community that wanted to pioneer fibre in the UK. Especially if the proposed network were open, and really owned and controlled by the community.

There was general agreement that a fibre initiative should be seized on by our area, that we should start a process of education and publicity about second generation broadband and lobby our local councillors and politicians for their support.

3-C community broadband

Trip to Neunan

Hebweb Campaign for broadband from 2002-2003

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