The campaign to bring superfast broadband to properties across Devon and Somerset is proving hugely successful: so far, 15,000 individuals and businesses have responded to the survey being run by the Connecting Devon and Somerset project. Broadband coverage in much of the area is very poor, with Watchet being one of the UK’s worst ten postcodes for broadband speeds, according to a survey carried out by price comparison site uSwitch.
Originally, the project team aimed to achieve a minimum of 10,000 responses to ensure their results were statistically representative of the whole region. But, as Devon County Councillor, Will Mumford, explains the more people respond, the more leverage the consortium has with broadband suppliers: “We’re delighted that so many people are taking part in our survey. If we can evidence really strong demand for superfast broadband across Devon and Somerset, then we will be a much more attractive proposition for private sector investment in the network. We are keeping the telephone line and internet survey open into the summer. People can respond via www.connectingdevonandsomerset.co.uk or call 0844 4636887.”
So far, there’s a broad mix of respondents from across both counties – and from individuals as well as businesses.
Dianne Verlaine runs a holiday cottage business with her husband in the Tamar Valley. They responded to the survey because their business is severely hampered by a slow and unreliable broadband service. Dianne says: “We rely on the internet for online queries, bookings and availability. Around 50% of our guests come from Europe and whilst they’re here they want to be able to keep in touch with family and friends at home, check their travel itineraries online, and if the weather is bad, maybe download a film to watch.
Unfortunately, that would take about three days here, as at best we seem to get speeds of 1.2megabits per second. If we’re online after 2pm, everything runs at a snail’s pace and it’s impossible to do any business at all. The service is also often down – we’ve been without broadband for three days before the service provider even acknowledged there was a problem. A good broadband service is vital to any business today, especially rural ones like ours. For us it’s also about providing our guests with a service they expect, and have come to take for granted in their home countries. My husband currently works in London Monday to Friday and would like to work from home a couple of days per week but this is impossible due to the poor response times during the afternoon”
Sarah Martin and Sean Blackmore are also supporting the campaign – for very different reasons. Sarah Martin runs her own advertising company in London and produces TV commercials. She spends three days a week working in Soho and two days a week at her Somerset home in South Somerset, but is hampered by poor broadband speeds. She says: “I’ve made a lifestyle choice by having my home in Somerset. I love the South West, and it’s perfectly feasible for me to work part-time from home. Or it would be if the broadband service were better. Every day I’m working with audio-visual files and when I’m working from home I need to be able to download them to view. The files are not huge or unusual in any way – they’re just regular Mpeg2 files. But the broadband speed at home just isn’t enough to cope with these downloads. When I’m really busy, I have to be in London five days a week rather than three, because of the poor broadband service at home.”
As a father of four living and working in Dulverton, Sean Blackmore is an absolute convert to superfast broadband, although he currently only achieves access speeds of 5-6 Mbps. Even though he has no cable access and no choice of supplier, he admits his current service is, “pretty good”. But, according to Sean, with a family of four daughters, the Blackmore home media server is under a lot of pressure: “The girls need to go online to do research for their homework. We have several Spotify users and like to stream films to watch at our convenience using the LoveFilm subscriber service. Because we’re a big family, our internet usage is quite high. We’ve got three laptops connected to our home server so that everyone can go online when they need to. But we’re not getting enough bandwidth at the moment to support concurrent use. I have to admit I’m the heaviest user as I’m a real gaming fan – and have been ever since the early consoles came out in the 1980s. Games have become more and more sophisticated, and run really fast with fantastic visual effects. I guess we’re placing high demands on our service with music fans, film lovers and gamers in the family – but I don’t think we’re that unusual. I look forward to more gaming and watching films in HD when we have superfast broadband. Hopefully, the girls will still be able to get on with their homework online and not even realise I’m on the X-box!”
The Connecting Devon and Somerset project aims to provide 100% broadband coverage at 2Mbps with a minimum of 85% superfast broadband at 24Mbps by 2015 and superfast broadband for all by 2020. According to Ofcom, almost 18% of premises across Devon and Somerset are getting less than 2 Mbps. In Somerset, just 4% of the county can access superfast broadband, while in Devon, with two major cities, that rises to 17%.