Rory Cellan-Jones

Begging for Broadband

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 3 Jun 08, 10:37 GMT

Our Broadband Britain tour is underway - and we're in Arnisdale, an idyllic village in the North West of Scotland. This is one of the few places where BT will still not supply a broadband connection - it is nine miles from the nearest exchange in Glenelg, and the copper cable just won't bring the signal that far.

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But if you want to know just how important a service broadband has become, this is a great place to come. The people here have been making an ever louder clamour about their desperate need for a faster connection.

People like Rick Rohde, Anna MacKenzie and Jenny Munro. They all work from their homes in this remote community, where a trip to the supermarket means a two hour round trip. Rick, an American who settled here as a crofter thirty years ago, is now an academic working with colleagues in South Africa. Jenny is a graphics designer who needs to send and receive large files. And Jenny, who trains health workers, needs to keep in constant touch with colleagues across Scotland.

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They have all gone to extraordinary lengths to get connected, Rick sailing across the loch just to pick up his e-mail, Jenny driving nine miles along a steep and narrow road to her mother-in-law's house just to send e-mails, Anna having to make a similar journey with her graphics files.

But broadband is now coming to Arnisdale through something called the Tegola project. It's a kind of home-brewed concoction, beamed to a series of masts around Arnisdale from a college on the Isle of Skye. But this is not a commercial operation - it is funded by Edinburgh University and the University of the Highlands and Islands, and, by the sound of it, would be pretty pricey if sold to residents at a realistic rate.

Rory Cellan-Jones, ArnisdaleWhat it does deliver is pretty scorching speeds - downloads at up to 10Mbps, and pretty fast uploads too. I sat directly next to one of the masts, and managed to download the 10Mb test file we have placed on this website in just 16 seconds, a new personal best.

By contrast, back in Glenelg, I used the hotel's BT broadband connection, and it took over four minutes to download the same file. By the way, do try this at home - and map your results for us.

There is a Scottish government plan to bring broadband to places like Arnisdale by next Christmas, probably using similar technology to the Tegola project, with a few really remote homes being served by satellite. But even when that arrives, you can bet that the people here will soon be looking with envy at the 20 or 50Mbps connections that are going to be available in some other parts of Britain.

So what have we learned on day one? That just because you live in the middle of nowhere your need - or desire - for speed is no less than that of someone living in a humming metropolis. And that satisfying the desire for ever faster internet connections right across the UK will be a challenging and expensive undertaking, with pressure on everyone from BT to local government to put their hands in their pockets.

Later today, we start driving to Dundee for a glimpse of our high fibre future. And, after a couple of days in stunningly beautiful surroundings, only marred by a dearth of mobile phone and broadband connections, it will be quite a relief to be able to get online with ease once more.


  • Comment number 1.

    "your need - or desire - for speed is no less than that of someone living in a humming metropolis" - arguably the need or desire is actually greater in rural areas when there is no public transport, little enterntainment, no government or council services available locally so you have to either get it online or drive to it using our highly taxed road fuels (or veggie oil instead).

  • Comment number 2.

    The people in Arnisdale are hardly hard done by - they don't have to live in an idyllic village next to a loch miles from anywhere. It's a bit much to expect their lifestyle to be subsidised by people with the social responsibility to live in a more sustainable manner.

  • Comment number 3.

    You dont have to live in the middle of nowhere to have a bad connection. I hope when you move into the large towns and cities you will investigate the problem of congestion.

    As more and more people get broadband connections ive seen the speed available to me fall by upto 50% in the last 3years, from over 5megs on an max 8meg connection down to 2 and reliability has suffered as well. BT need to start investing in replacing our aging teleccomunications infrastructure in the same way as the water companies were forced to. The government too must recognise the problem and the costs involved and pony up some of the costs as well.

    lets face it the government will invest in bridges and roads, this investment will have the same degree of benefit to the economy.

  • Comment number 4.

    Arnisdale needs to be careful. There are plenty of people in the country who are home workers and if they achieve comparable broadband speeds, it will become a more attractive place for a mass of people to get away from city living. It would only take one more invention, the mass midge destroyer, and I will be moving there myself!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I live only 14 miles from a city but as with most people in the village cannot get Broadband except by getting a satellite dish. BT say it is too expensive to connect us as we are 4 miles from the exchange . For those of us who cannot get it the emphasis on speed is extremely irritating! Just to get it would be nice!

  • Comment number 6.

    Rory, Saw lunchtime news. Great that this issue is in the spotlight again. Unfortunately in Scotland there are many of us who are rural but very close to civilisation who still can't receive broadband. I live on the outskirts of Kilmarnock (Cuninghamhead) and it is not available. Our situation is just like earthgardenwater. So frustrating. I want to work from home and cannot. BT are happy with their headline %'s and the Scottish Government made interesting noises with a commitment to consider the issue with broadband for scotland but nothing happening it seems. I am on Kilmarnock exchange and therefore there is a long line issue but there are exchanges much closer that could be utilised. Utterly frustrating.

  • Comment number 7.

    You asked on the 10 Mb downloaded movie for times. I live in Cambridge and it took 19.02 minutes. I use Demon, through a BT line. I tried the BBC News 'test your connect speed' and got times varying from 0.6 to 1. (H'm!)

    By the way, I had a devil of a job trying to find HOW to communicate with you! No method on the BBC snippet about your download test. Nothing on the video which took nearly 20 minutes to download. Tried BBC search. It took me to your first blog, where communication was closed. Tried 'next blog', but got bored by about Jan 4 2008. Tried Technology and couldn't find you. Eventually tried blogs, and then I had to register. Was I registered? Search through the massive list of people I've registered with (on my computer, which rather spoils the point) and bingo, I got through! I know that spam's a problem, but really! PLEASE, perhaps, a little hint on, for example, your first blog (which is where links on your name seem to end up).

    Ho, I'd better give my name - Jo Edkins, Cambridge. Trainee programmer for IBM in 1971! We didn't even SEE the computer. Or terminal. All punched cards...

  • Comment number 8.

    Correction in my comment above I was referring to earthgardenwatcher and not earthgardenwater!! Oops - apologies.

  • Comment number 9.

    A survey of broadband speeds is a great idea and one that the reach of the BBC makes into a quick and viable idea and also very topical.

    There is one issue which I think is also relevant which is that many people for cost reasons opt for a lower speed package which may skew things in certain areas. This raises another key issue which is not maximum speed but actual speed versus what your ISP promised. Also upload speed is often a fraction of download (1/8).

    Regards Mark (Edinburgh)

    PS Is it just me or do others find the ISP's use of MB (also megabyte) for download speed rather than Mbps (Megabits per second) misleading. (Implying a factor of 8 increase)

  • Comment number 10.

    I have to disagree with your description of the speed, 10Mbps is not 'scorching', it is slow and 20 or 50Mbps is as well. 40Gbps on the other hand is scorching, at the moment at least and that is BT should be installing around the country. Not this 21st century network rubbish which is actually a 20th century network at best. The government need to put their foot down and force BT to either build proper infrastructure or hand the network over to another company that will. Even in the small areas they are going to put in fibre it will still be dead slow, only 100Mbps.

  • Comment number 11.

    Further to my previous comment, take a look at the map for the NW, centre of Bolton, Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester, Bury, every city I look at the centre is always red where green is in the outlying regions.

  • Comment number 12.

    Clearly Mark Adair's got it right - BT are wholly remiss in not already having Infiniband to everyone's house.

  • Comment number 13.

    I also live in a conventional Broadband wilderness. We are not in a desolate part of the country, just 3 miles from the nearest exchange in Suffolk, but that is 3 miles too far for BT.
    Last year BT assured me that I could get 0.5 Meg of broadband, but after 2 months of trying, including BT sending the incorrect software of 4 occasions, I gave up. BT now agree that broadband is not available nor likely to be.
    There is some light, at a price. 2 radio based systems are available but at a cost of about £30 per month plus an installation charge of about £200.

    Paul Kidger

  • Comment number 14.


    As you know, I am the person who is partly responsible for what you called the "home brew" network in Arnisdale. I wish you had emphasized that this is a testbed for a *research* project by people in my department dedicated to affordable high-speed broadband in rural areas. Wireless technology is going to become very cheap and offers huge advantages over copper for rural areas. Your "scorching fast" 10mbs that you got from our network was probably limited by our backhaul. The network we have in place is already capable of substantially higher rates.

    You might also want to substantiate this figure of broadband availability -- 99.something percent, or more places than have running water --- comes from? What is the basis for it? In any case I assume it is for the lowest quality of service. Since you are interested in speed, what you should be asking is how many people are in reach of -- say -- an 8mbs service.

    Best wishes

    Peter Buneman
    School of Informatics
    University of Edinburgh

  • Comment number 15.

    When I described 10Mbps as "scorching", that's obviously a relative term. I stil think it's pretty good in a remote place like Arnisdale, and a tribute to the job Prof Peter Buneman and his team at Edinburgh have done in their experimental work with wireless broadband. It's a lot better than the 2Mbps I get at home in London, for instance.

    But tune in to our broadcasts from Dundee this morning to see something much faster.

  • Comment number 16.

    In USA the FCC is soon set to vote on a proposal to auction off a section of the radio spectrum that would require the winner to offer free wireless broadband access across the nation.
    You can read about that here:


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