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Innovation won't solve rural fibre broadband difficulties

Monday, November 3rd 2014 by Ellen Branagh

Upgrading everybody to fibre optic broadband is the “key to nirvana” when it comes to connectivity, the man behind Cornwall's superfast broadband programme has said.

Ranulf Scarbrough, Superfast Cornwall Programme Director for BT, said 92% of premises in the area are now connected, with the project on track to beat its current 95% target.

Mr Scarbrough told Cable.co.uk that he was proud of the “creative solutions” that have helped the project come as far as it has.

But he said despite innovative solutions for getting connectivity to hard-to-reach areas, bringing fibre to communities remains key.

He said: “You can’t innovate yourself out of every problem unless you have unlimited money…but none of us live in that world.

“I’ve been really proud about how many different creative solutions to problems that we’ve come up with that’s got us as far as we’ve got.”

He added: “Sometimes people think it’s just a technical problem. You’ve got to remember it’s not just technical.

“Sometimes you can create a solution to get somewhere but then if you find only 100 people or 200 in the whole country have that solution you find it becomes more expensive to support it in the long run than the cost of putting it in.

“The great thing about fibre is if we get fibre to a community we know we’ve got hundreds of service providers, we’ve got ongoing development, we’ve got systems and processes that work.

“Some of the more niche things that people deploy sound great technically – I’m not really talking so much about what BT’s doing– but I wonder how they’ll look in five years, 10 years, when the excitement’s died down and people are fed up of getting up at 2am to try and fix something.

“So, getting people on the fibre footprint is the key to nirvana really.”

The Superfast Cornwall project is worth up to £132 million, with BT contributing a maximum of £78.5 million and additional cash coming from the European Regional Development Fund.

Earlier this year BT announced that the rollout had brought fibre optic connectivity within reach of 85% of Cornish properties.

Mr Scarbrough said they are now hoping to reach more than 95% of premises through a rollout including fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the premises.

He would not be drawn on how close they might get to 100% but admitted that that figure would be impossible.

Mr Scarbrough said ongoing analysis carried out with Plymouth University suggested that more than 2,000 jobs had already been created, as well as businesses improving their international reach.

“So for little old Cornwall out there on the end of a peninsula with not a lot of passing traffic in terms of business opportunities it’s really transforming the economy and we’re really seeing that happen.

“With Cornwall I’m really proud of this sort of beacon of using fibre as an underpinning infrastructure to make it a whole, new, different connected place in the global economy really, so really exciting times.”

He said the success of the project was down to the creativity and innovation behind it, as well as collaboration with partners such as Cornwall Council.

He said: “More importantly I think people in Cornwall would describe it as a success.

“On our website I think we’ve got something like 60-odd case studies and they’re the ones that really declare a success.

“It’s what they’re able to do, and they’re able to have really successful businesses, demanding jobs, and yet live somewhere like Cornwall.”

He added: “I think if I was to say it had changed Cornwall beyond recognition, I think you could tell I was over-egging it a bit.

“But this is a long-term investment. This is about having the infrastructure that lets people have careers and build businesses now, but also for a long time in the future.

“That’s not going to change overnight, but certainly what we’re seeing is people choosing to start businesses in Cornwall, move businesses to Cornwall, re-invest in new ways of using the things in their businesses in different markets.

“So, it’s a long haul but I think a lot of people are really pointing to the fibre as the thing that has unleashed their entrepreneurship.”

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