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Norfolk estate hopes to become the hub of a super-fast broadband community

PUBLISHED: 11:53 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:53 26 January 2018

Raveningham Estate broadband project. Pictured at a meeting with villagers and tenants are, from left, David Bland of Wansdyke, Jake Fiennes of Raveningham Estate, and Steve Temple of InTouch Systems. Picture: Chris Hill.

Raveningham Estate broadband project. Pictured at a meeting with villagers and tenants are, from left, David Bland of Wansdyke, Jake Fiennes of Raveningham Estate, and Steve Temple of InTouch Systems. Picture: Chris Hill.

Archant

A rural estate in south Norfolk hopes to put itself at the centre of a hi-tech community broadband network to help its tenants and neighbouring villagers get connected to super-fast fibre.

Raveningham Estate broadband project. Demonstrating the system to villagers and tenants is Jake Fiennes of Raveningham Estate. Picture: Chris Hill. Raveningham Estate broadband project. Demonstrating the system to villagers and tenants is Jake Fiennes of Raveningham Estate. Picture: Chris Hill.

The Raveningham Estate, near Loddon, has brought a high-speed internet service into its office via a disused radio mast, using a microwave signal generated by Norwich-based tech company InTouch Systems.

The estate has installed 4km of fibre cable to extend the network to tenants including the businesses at its Raveningham Centre rural enterprise hub.

But the second phase will be to dig more cables to reach the outlying villages and give private residents and businesses the chance to invest in a community interest company (CIC) which would give them part-ownership of the network, as well as access to fast internet speeds which are vital to modern lifestyles and commerce.

Estate manager Jake Fiennes said: “The utility companies, the providers of our broadband, all say they are going to deliver a good service of broadband connectivity to 90pc of the country, but 90pc of the population live in urban areas, so these isolated rural areas get the rough end of the stick.

“Although we are between the A143 and the A146, the fibre goes past us, but does not drop in.

“We have made the initial investment in this service but we want everyone else to buy in to that to spread it out to these isolated rural communities.

“It might be a farmer doing his BPS (Basic Payment Scheme subsidy) forms online, or the young doing their homework or the one-man-band running his accounts system, or the old and infirm wanting a video call with the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. Everyone benefits across the spectrum.”

Mr Fiennes said the estate office had seen its download and upload speeds leap to 50Mbps (megabits per second) since installing the new service, and the network has the potential to make 200 connections.

The project partners are encouraging interested private businesses and villagers to apply for broadband vouchers under government incentive schemes, which they could then direct to the Raveningham CIC to provide their fibre broadband connection.

“You can then invest in the CIC and you get a 50pc tax break on that,” said Mr Fiennes. “And it increases house values by anything from 2-10pc. If you sell that property to someone else, then it stays with the property.”

Estate owner Sir Nicholas Bacon said: “I think the future of a vibrant rural economy relies on the speed of its broadband. Otherwise, why would industry, businesses or individuals really want to create something in the middle of nowhere?

“It is not totally altruistic – there is a benefit to the estate and our tenants – but it is part of my view that this whole area should benefit from better broadband speeds and encourage more people to come into this area from the point of view of commerce.

“We need the community to get behind it. For five people, it does not work financially, but if we have 50 then it does.”

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