Cawston and Eastgate go it alone for better broadband

A disconnected Norfolk community has resolved its own desperate internet frustrations by forging a home-grown superfast broadband network.

More than 100 households and small businesses have signed up for the scheme in the neighbouring villages of Cawston and Eastgate, near Reepham, which is due to go live in early February.

The area is a notorious broadband blackspot where businesses have considered moving away and even house sales have fallen through because of the lack of a practical internet service.

But rather than wait for an urgently-needed upgrade, the community has taken matters into its own hands.

A transmitter has been installed in each village to redistribute 50Mbps (megabits per second) signals from newly-laid fibre-optic cables, which take advantage of redundant BT ducting to a former agricultural site.


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The wide-ranging support of the community has made this a commercially-viable scheme which will not drain any of the �30m public funding allocated to the wider Better Broadband project being planned by Norfolk County Council.

Independent projects like this could potentially allow that public funding to stretch further into more isolated villages – and offer a model for how any lingering superfast 'not spots' could be brought into the county's new network.

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The project is the brainchild of businessman Paul Williamson, who runs his firm RD Research from his home office at Norwich Road in Eastgate, where one of the transmitters has been installed on the roof.

'I have been frustrated by not having broadband for years and I just thought: 'Enough is enough',' he said.

'In the Victorian age they built the railways and the road infrastructure. The modern equivalent is the internet. In a rural community like this, there are so many small businesses, and businesses that are run from home. Broadband is not a 'nice-to-have' it is a 'must-have'. We wrote to people and the take-up has been phenomenal.

'It is truly great that Norfolk is getting this injection of money. I am sure that if the money is spent wisely the whole of Norfolk could be covered by superfast broadband. But if there are any patches left, they could certainly do what we have done here.'

Mr Williamson, who has a history in the telecommunications industry, now builds online database systems for organisations including the NHS and major insurance companies.

He said his business is 'totally reliant' on the internet, and he has recently had to resort to using couriers to get his information to clients.

'These databases are very large and we had got to the point where we were either going to move to Norwich or get fibre-optic installed directly,' he said. 'It was a cut-and-dried as that: No broadband, no business.'

Each transmitter is capable of providing 50Mbps internet within a radius of about 5km. The network infrastructure has been installed by Lenwade-based supplier Rapid Waters.

The company's director, Rob Urry, said: 'We have been running the same model in Lenwade since 1997, and it is a model which could be rolled out across Norfolk. All it needs is for someone to get enough people together to make it viable.'

Among the householders who have signed up is Carl Willimott, business development manager for Norwich-based marketing communications firm OneAgency.co. He lives in Eastgate, where his current connection speed of 0.5Mbps is not fast enough to transfer the large graphics files which he works with.

'There has always been that restriction that only certain parts of my job can be done at home without a good broadband speed,' he said. 'Once this is online, it allows me the flexibility to work from home if I need to. It cuts down on expenses and means I can spend more time with my family.

'It demonstrates what lengths people, and indeed communities, are prepared to go to improve what can only be described as a really poor internet speed.'

The Better Broadband for Norfolk project aims to bring superfast 30Mbps download speeds to as much of the county as possible and a useable minimum of 2Mbps for everyone by 2015.

Although �30m of public funding has already been made available, the Say Yes campaign, run jointly by the EDP and Norfolk County Council, aims to prove the commercial demand which will attract private investment to the scheme. Norfolk residents and businesses can sign up online at www.norfolk.gov.uk/sayyesnorfolk, or by calling 0344 800 8023. A direct link to the registration website is available in the 'related links' section at the top right of this page.

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