Rory Cellan-Jones

Life in the slow lane

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 27 May 09, 09:44 GMT

Remember when it took five minutes to load a web page - and when every minute on the web meant no incoming phone calls? It's diifficult to recall how we used to live without broadband - until that is, you meet a family like the Shaws. They live just outside the village of Warcup in Cumbria - so far down the line from the nearest BT exchange that the most they can hope for is a dial-up connection.

John ShawWe filmed David Shaw, as he waited for what seemed an age just for Google to load. Then he cut the connection - so that we could go next door and watch his 14-year-old son John try to get onto Facebook. That took about five minutes, and John explained that he hardly bothered to upload photographs, like his friends, because it was just not worth the wait.

Caroline Shaw told us that it was particularly hard, as they'd moved from a home which did have broadband just as it was becoming ever more vital for the children to use the internet in their school work. "They've got to stay at school to do their homework, which means they miss the school bus - so we have to go six miles to pick them up."

From Warcup, we headed to an equally remote home perched on the side of a hill a few miles outside Alston. But Jules Cadie, an artist and web designer, was very happy with his internet connection, from the Cybermoor Community network. In the 300-year-old converted cowshed which is his office, Jules explained to me that he couldn't have lived here if there was no broadband. "I just couldn't compete with people in urban areas without it."

Workmen laying fibre pipesIt's thanks to the passion and commitment of people like Daniel Heery, who runs the Cybermoor network, that areas like this are not being left on the wrong side of a digital divide. He took me to see the future, the fibre being laid on rural roads to give Cybermoor much faster connections. It looks a costly business - holes were being dug either side of a farm gate, so that a pipe could be inserted and fibre blown along it. A lot of work, just to bring a few scattered homes within range of a network that will deliver 20Mbps at first, and more later.

You can't see this kind of network ever being a commercial proposition - Cybermoor gets by on a ragbag of contributions from the NHS, the schools budget, and subscription income. Most of the work to bring next generation broadband to Britain will have to be done by the likes of BT and Virgin Media. But this kind of community effort may provide at least part of the answer to filling the holes in their networks.

We've been using the Cybermoor network this morning to send live television pictures from Alston to London and around the world. Meanwhile, a few miles away, the Shaws are just hoping they can soon get any kind of broadband connection - so that John can put a few pictures on Facebook.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'd be more inclined to worry about clean drinking water and roads free of lethal potholes - but then again some people do have differing priorities.

  • Comment number 2.

    Very Good Story but very sad. I am currently living in colombia where there is fast broadboad in many areas. Everybody in the UK should have access to broadband - we are not a developing country.

    Kind Rgds to all,

  • Comment number 3.

    @GAberdeen, the water in Warcop is excellent! And the roads are nowhere near as bad as in many towns - less traffic, tha' knows. Especially now none of us can afford fuel to drive the 90 miles round trip to Carlisle for shopping/hospital, or 40 miles to a supermarket. Luckily, FTTH and broadband is eco-friendly, saves untold unnecessary miles, is cheaper and more energy efficient than ADSL broadband, and when you have kids and live and work in the sticks (Warcop) as we do, you realise how very, very important broadband has become. It is a top priority now.

  • Comment number 4.

    I hope the publicity generated by this visit from the bbc makes politicians realise that all people need a decent connection these days. It is great that Cybermooor is putting fibre in to the farms, it is essential to be able to comply with defra regs and the internet makes it more efficient than using the postal system.

    Fibre will also mean their network is futureproof and bandwidth can increase as needs grow. This can't happen with adsl connections, there is only so much the poor old obsolete copper can take. Adsl was great at the start of digital britain's trip to the cyberworld but bring on the next gen networks and lets get with it instead of lagging behind.

  • Comment number 5.

    #3 cybersavvy

    Thanks. I was giving a general viewpoint - I wasn't singling out an area for criticism :)

    Yes, broadband is a nice to have - but lets get the basics up and down the country right first is all I'm saying :)

  • Comment number 6.

    Every time you talk about broadband speeds you repeat the statement that everyone should have 2mb broadband as average.

    I live in a village about one and a half miles from the edge of Northampton. Villages all around me and further away from the town have broadband up to 8mb.

    BT say I should get a minimum of 2mb and I have all the latest technology but the best BT have ever given me is 700kbps - average about 600kbps. For this they charge me the paltry sum of £25 per month. They refuse to do anything about it but insist that I see out my contract (another 12 months). I have suggested to them that THEY are in breach of contract but it cuts no ice.

    There appears to be nothing I can do. Can you suggest anything?

  • Comment number 7.

    If that is 600 killobytes per second - as reported in download speeds, then you are getting a 2.4 Megabit conncetion.

  • Comment number 8.

    Rory Cellan-Jones writes: "A lot of work, just to bring a few scattered homes within range of a network that will deliver 20Mbps at first, and more later.
    You can't see this kind of network ever being a commercial proposition.."

    but what of the benefit to the populace? the same child that today uses the internet to broaden their outlook could tomorrow become the next [insert name of your favourite entrepreneur here], more people could work from home, etc. - think of *all* the potential benefits.

    the development of a fully connected society may not bring today's shareholders vast returns but that shouldn't be the point of it in the first place.

  • Comment number 9.

    "all people need a decent connection these days" - £30k pa and lots of physical interaction with attractive women would also be desirable - are you going to provide that as well ?

  • Comment number 10.

    600 kbytes/s means a 5 to 6 Mbits/s connection.

    Sir Rudolph should start be checking the downlink speed of his router to the exchange (Advanced / Status / Telephone line) to see what that is. He should also remove the faceplate of his master socket and plug into the test socket behind it to see if that improves it.

  • Comment number 11.

    I live in a city. I have shops, banks, supermarkets, post offices and much more nearby. I also have very fast broadband. What I don't have is rolling hills, stunning views, clean air, or 'converted cowsheds'.

    Life is a compromise. Broadband is not a basic right, and the inability to upload photos to facebook is hardly going to kill anyone. If you want broadband, move somewhere with broadband.

  • Comment number 12.

    So "the Shaws are just hoping they can soon get any kind of broadband connection - so that John can put a few pictures on Facebook."

    Yes, taxpayers should definitely pay for little Johnny to build his social network.

    Broadband is not a basic right. If people can't get it, and aren't prepared to pay the high costs of providing it on a commercial basis then tough luck.

  • Comment number 13.

    "ragbag of contributions from the NHS, the schools budget, and subscription income."
    Great. So money that should be used to provide front-line care, and buying books, IT equipment extra teachers etc, is being diverted so some yuppie that wants to live a pastoral existence, but also compete in business. Urbanites already subsidise rural aeas enough as it is.
    Living in rural ares is a lifestyle choice. If you want fast broadband you should be prepared to pay for it.

  • Comment number 14.

    Do I remember when web pages took 5 minutes to load?

    Er, no. Because back in the days when I had dial-up, web pages were considerably simpler. There was no dearth of flash adverts, no RSS, XML, just plain HTML pages that would load up, with images taking a little longer to catch up.

    Still, the no-phone-calls thing was annoying.

  • Comment number 15.


    Don't be an idiot. For a third of the UK population living in a rural area is not a "lifestyle choice". It's where they were born and brought up. They have just as much right to services as urban people, which is why we have a universal postal service, free access to the NHS, etc.

    Living in a city is if anything the "lifestyle choice", unless you were born there.

    And urbanites do not subsidise rural dwellers, the reverse is true. Look at the official per capita public spending figures if you don't believe me.

    My village is lucky, we have a decent albeit not particularly fast broadband service. However the point is that many rural areas don't have ANY broadband service!

    I do agree in part on one point: "If you want fast broadband you should be prepared to pay for it." The question is, how fast is fast?

  • Comment number 16.

    While broadband may not be a basic right enshrined in law, for those without reasonable Internet access some parts of life are becoming more expensive or difficult.

    Online billing is often cheaper than bill in the post, and e-government is increasing, online billing for Council Tax, submitting tax returns online, driving licence applications and more.

    Healthcare - local surgeries allowing people to book online, perhaps viewing the appt book so you can decide on the most suitable appt. Devices will soon be using the internet to upload monitoring information from blood pressure monitors for example.

  • Comment number 17.


    I'm not being an idiot. Once you cease to be dependent on your parents, wherever you live is a lifestyle choice whether that be urban or rural, and you have to accept the pros and cons of that choice.

    Broadband is not a public service like the NHS (whether it should be or not is open to debate) and the price of viability of it is regulated by the market. If the area in which you live isn't profitable for Phone companies to do business in, well that's just tough.

    Laying fibre to the home is a ridiculously expensive and as the report seems to suggest is being funded by public money diverted away from schools and the NHS.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm sorry Doozer, but for most people in my area living in the country is definitely NOT a lifestyle choice. On an average income of under £14K and with family and other ties, just upping sticks and moving to London or New York or Edinburgh or whatever is not as easy as you make it sound. You and I may have that freedom and mobility, but in the real world, away from economic theory, many if not most of the people in my village do not.

    If you really believe anyone can and should have the choice of living weherever they wish, where do you take that logically - unrestricted immigration? Abolition of planning controls on development? Where are they all going to live?

    You assert that broadband is not a public service. I beg to differ. When the penny post was introduced it was recognised that this should be available to all at the same cost. Ditto the telephone, though the infrastructure took a while to get to all corners of the UK. Broadband is the equivalent in the modern world.

    So "I'm all right Jack" won't wash, I'm afraid. Society has to make choices, sure. But nobody is seriously suggesting laying fibre optics to every home. And virtually everyone has copper pairs bringing their landline in; these will sustain at least a minimum acceptable broadband service to everyone with modest investment.

  • Comment number 19.

    Can I point out that more needs to be done to enable those who cannot afford to have internet access, let along broadband access, who conveniently enough are not included in any survey with regards to "notspots" and speed mesurements.

    David Shaw and his family should consider themselves lucky that they have internet access at home.


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