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Rural broadband: satellite could rescue Cumbria’s abandoned surfers

Satellite broadband could be the last, best hope for a remote Cumbrian community about to be cut off because there’s no more money to keep their subsidised internet access online.

Bentley Walker is hoping to step in for internet users in Duddon and neighbouring valleys, where internet access is supplied via a wireless system from a TV relay mast.

Cable & Wireless Worldwide, which runs the service, told The Guardian that with no more funds to subsidise the connection, they will be shutting it down when the contracts expire.

Paul Batten, landlord at the Newfield Inn pub, helped install the original wireless system with his father and is being fitted with a satellite broadband system by Bentley Walker.

Tooway satellite broadband kit

Neil Robinson, Business Development Manager for Bentley Walker told Recombu Digital that satellite broadband is: “a difficult market to develop due to scepticism around satellite broadband. It’s thought that in many cases it’s a rather expensive solution which isn’t the case with current technology. I hope that people understand how it easily can be installed at a suitable location at their home or business for very little cost.”

Andrew Walwyn, managing director of Tooway Direct, says he’s also been struggling against outdated perceptions of satellite being slow and difficult to install.

“It’s understandable that the people of The Duddon Valley are going to feel disappointed about being mislead about their broadband connection.

“However, it is important that they understand that satellite broadband isn’t a second rate solution. Satellite broadband is widely misunderstood in the UK – some people don’t know it’s available for the mass market and others have a misconception of its reliability.

“In the past satellite has had a bad reputation for being slow and clunky. But following the introduction of a new satellite in June last year this has changed – it is now easy to install, reliable and fast and can scale with future needs.”

Bentley Walker and Tooway Direct’s packages use the Eutelsat satellite footprint, which beams broadband connections to 76cm dishes. As well as providing broadband, these dishes can also pick up Sky or Freesat TV signals.

It currently runs at a guaranteed top speed of 10Mbps down and 4Mbps up, but Walwyn said this will almost double as upgrades come in over the summer.

The Newfield Inn is being fitted with Bentley Walker’s basic service of 6Mbps down, 1Mbps up, with an 8GB monthly download limit, which costs £25/month. The top-tier speeds have no monthly usage allowance, but cost £100/month.

The basic system can be self-installed using an audible metre which helps the user to track down and maximise the signal. A professional installer may be required to come in add Sky or Freesat, usually costing about £100.

“Paul will be able to show it to the rest of the community. When someone takes our service in one of these not-spots, we usually see all the neighbours come on board,” adds Walwyn.

The Duddon Valley wireless system was installed with a £500,000 grant of European funds from the North West Regional Development Agency.

It is operated by Cable & Wireless Worldwide, but has just 42 customers paying less than £20/month and recent maintenance costs included a £20,000 bill for new electricity cabling.

C&WW says that the service, which runs at less than 2Mbps, is uneconomical and will be cut off when the current five-year contracts expire later this year.

Paul Batten contacted Recombu Digital before Bentley Walker found out about his problem. He said: “Here in Cumbria we are losing our broadband next month and will have no internet connection at all.

“We have a great system in place but the Government grant money used to install it did not include any maintenance contract. How about a grant to continue this existing system, probably no chance?”

The North West Regional Development Agency was axed in 2011 in the Coalition government’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’. 

Cover image: aggelos1940/Flickr

UPDATE 06/07/2012: This article originally stated that it was Tooway Direct which was providing satellite broadband to the Duddon Valley. Bentley Walker in fact took over the contract from Cable & Wireless, which has been reflected in the article above.