Rural Broadband Issues

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Louisa Nicoll, of Newton Farm Holidays, relates some of her experiences and tackles the issues faced by rural businesses in the frustrating quest for greater broadband coverage.

In this age of ever increasing digital demands and connectivity, those of us in rural areas with poor broadband understand how difficult it is to run a business.
I for one have spent years trying to identify the best solution for us and often think
I have cracked it to find shortly after yet another issue.
I thought I would share some of my experiences which may help you find your own solution, or at least you will know you are not alone!
As farmers, the government expects more of our paperwork to be completed online than ever before including VAT, our tax returns, animal movements, DVLA car tax, beef calf scheme, cattle passports and statutory forms including our single farm payment applications.
Then on the tourism side not only is it a necessity to provide wifi for guests now, its also required for our website updates, our bookings, etc.
Years ago I campaigned to get broadband in my area which led to me joining our local community council. Once broadband arrived
cheered hurrah! But only briefly as our speed for years has only been between 0.13 – 0.26Mbps which is horrendous. When you are sitting there and every email takes time to send and you watch the buffering circle constantly, its amazing how much time this adds to your day and how long tasks take when every minute counts in business. Its not as if we can pick up sticks and move our farm either as I know others have done in other businesses.
So after a few years of coping with this awful system and having many BT engineers visiting, all of whom arrive promising an increase and that we should be able to reach speeds of over 2Mbps, then depart demoralised when they have reached 0.5Mbps which slowly depletes over the following week. And they think they are demoralised!


Anyway we toyed with other technologies such as satellite and approached a company Avonline who seemed to have the solution for us.
A period of time passed as we looked at the options and then a chance booking from a guest who had a business supplying satellite solutions was our saviour. He organised everything and we managed to find a local who could fit the system for us to reduce costs. It was really quite straight forward and he also sent up a guest control system so that guests could be set a maximum on how much they could access per night.
The satellite system since has never failed us. However there are some downfalls too. The biggest most important one is that satellite is not unlimited. We opted for the lowest to begin with of 10Gb download for the month, but you really don’t realise how much you use. Unfortunately within the first few days my computer decided to do a big upgrade which used all my months allowance – complete nightmare. This leaves you with dial up speed if you are lucky and you realise how good the broadband has been. You can pay for extra for the month which is what we needed to do. Satellite systems do allow you to download an unlimited amount overnight between midnight and 6am however it is not o en I am up as late. I haven’t managed to find a way to schedule downloads either which would be a perfect solution.
We currently use 25Gb now and that seems to cover the majority of our needs but we experienced a problem lately when our PC was zapped during lightening and I had to back up everything on it quickly to the cloud which resulted in overusing our monthly allowance again and no satellite for a month. But I wasn’t worried as during the summer a bundle offer by BT meant we had halved the cost of our telephone and broadband simply by signing up to those which also meant the second line in our house was also enabled for broadband so I thought I had everything covered. Having decided to keep the satellite use purely for our own needs I had the BT for guests and the children. When the second line went in I was delighted to discover that we were getting speeds of 1Mbps which made us wonder about the other line still at below 0.5. This line had been particularly noisy for several months but every time I tried to report a fault online it came back fine so an engineer was not sent. Finally after several months of trying and further deterioration of the line, (which now meant we still had a noisy line but now no broadband) I started to call BT direct so they could hear the line themselves. Finally I expected this to be resolved but still took weeks as the engineers turned up not able to find us, arriving at the wrong house and then charging us anyway plus engineers who had faulty equipment and those who simply couldn’t find the fault.


Its taken months and then 2 weeks ago another engineer arrived and stripped out a lot of the old cabling in the farmhouse which did seem to improve things slightly, albeit temporarily. We seem to have a download of up to 2Mbps but an upload now which isn’t helpful when sending emails.
The noisy line is better and I have the satellite operational again on our new PC so I am delighted by this again. I know never to expect Fibre to us. Although we have seen online that our area exchange was meant to be enabled over a year ago this hasn’t happened and even if it does as soon as the fibre hits the copper wiring again it will reduce drastically.
Its not all doom and gloom though. I know there are options to bounce signals in line of site for some set ups although not available to us currently. Angus Council have been looking at an option to provide the rural schools with superfast broadband using the high masts in the area which will also give local businesses an opportunity if all goes to plan. I am holding out for this currently. In the meantime if you want to follow what’s happening in your area please see the Digital Superfast Broadband site for further information https:// www.scotlandsuperfast.com/
One brilliant improvement we found this year is that our O2 reception suddenly improved during the summer to give us signal in our farmhouse and what’s more we now have 4G. This has been tremendous and gives us something else to look at such as O2 wifi and boosters so watch this space
If you feel my pain or want further information from me drop me an email and I’ll try to help lou@thenewton.co.uk