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Uppingham columnist discusses the county’s first fibre town

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Sometimes it takes a little time for government policy to evolve the way one would like, writes Rutland columnist Ron Simpson.

In the case of ‘fibre to the premise broadband in Rutland, the journey has taken 10 years. The publicly subsidised Digital Rutland project and the county council’s secret deal with BT some years ago led to a divide in the county. While many of the county’s villages had little choice but to accept any improvement in the BT Open Reach network offer, most were able to gradually move forward at BT’s behest, first with copper wire based connections and, more lately, ‘fibre to the cabinet’ offering speeds up to around 100mbps depending how far you are from the cabinet.

In Lyddington, Uppingham and one or two other parishes, things were a little different from elsewhere in the county. They chose to supplement the BT offer and work with local company Rutland Telcom, later purchased by the Oxfordshire based company Gigaclear.

Ron Simpson of the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum
Ron Simpson of the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum

In 2012 it was a pleasure to announce that Uppingham First (UF) and the Uppingham Neighbourhood Forum had been working with Gigaclear representatives for over 12 months to begin a new ‘fibre to the premise’ network which would help ensure Uppingham’s future as one of the UK’s most desirable market towns to visit and in which to live, work and play. Particularly attractive to the local tax payer was the fact that the network would be built using only private funds. UF confirmed that it expected the Gigaclear investment in the town to bring substantial economic and social benefits to a vibrant and forward looking community. It certainly has with more still to do.

The first phase of the town’s new Gigaclear ‘fibre to the premise’ broadband network was officially opened on Friday, April 12, 2013. Guests at the occasion included the Uppingham town mayor Coun David Casewell, deputy mayor Coun David Ainslie, the late Robert Wills (then chairman of Uppingham First), Matthew Hare CEO of Gigaclear, Shane James MD of Rutland Telecom and Christer Karlsson, CEO of Rutland Telecom. Following a series of speeches, it was confirmed that Uppingham was now in the top one per cent of the world for broadband speed. Guest officials joined residents to tour three homes on the Beeches Estate to view demonstrations of the network in operation. Demonstrators included the late David Demaine and town councillor Mark Shaw.

On the tour, guests and residents witnessed extraordinary broadband upload and download speeds in excess of 900 Mb per second, way above those being experienced by many in large cities and those promised by the BT/Rutland County Council Digital Rutland Project. They also tried out the, then quite new, internet based Vonage telephone system which offered significant savings over the traditional landline option. For a trip down memory lane watch the launch of the Uppingham network on Anglian TV online at http://www.itv.com/news/anglia/update/2013-04-13/the-battle-for-better-broadband/

Very soon after Uppingham School also joined the network which, following support in the Uppingham Neighbourhood Plan, was then extended across the town through Branston Road and on to the new Elms development in Leicester Road. In the following years lobby trips to No 10 with Gigaclear, a recognition of the need for fair play by many in government and finally positive action by Ofcom forcing BT Open Reach to allow access to its ducts at a fair price have now transformed the broadband scene and attracted significant private and public sector investment. Government policy to ‘level up’ the broadband market is now working and fibre to the premise is on its way to us all.

Ten years on it was with great pleasure that I met with Gigaclear representatives last week and confirmed that Uppingham First would again work with the company following its announcement that it was to make Uppingham the county’s first all fibre town.

The economic and social benefits to the Uppingham community will be huge. Progress will be swift with a new master cabinet being installed sometime in June and the Firs estate being the first to benefit. Significantly, it is now possible to extend the network in many places by using existing Open Reach ducts thereby negating the need to dig up roads and footpaths.

It is very rewarding to see the town’s gamble with Rutland Telcom and later Gigaclear pay off in such a spectacular way.

Well done the national policy makers for making it all possible. Thank you to Gigaclear for, once again, investing in the town. The expanded network deserves to be a success. I understand some of our neighbouring villages may also benefit.

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