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Internet should be 'for everybody' says rural broadband boss

Thursday, October 16th 2014 by Dean Reilly

The head of the only rural broadband altnet to secure both public funding and government grant support has discussed how the internet should be "for everybody" – not just those in high infrastructure urban areas.

Hugo Pickering, Chief Executive Officer of Cotswolds Broadband, also discussed how being tenacious and working towards this goal has helped the company grow.

Talking to Cable.co.uk, he said: “It’s tenacity. My history with the county council, the district council and rural broadband goes back to 2003. So I was one of the original campaigners that went around and got names on a list.

“When I got 250 names, I went to BT and said ‘Hey, there you go: enable Shipton Under Wychwood please,” but the figure was raised to 500 expressions of interest, so that’s when we started Oxfordshire Rural Broadband – wireless broadband and all the rest of it. That was my intro to the whole thing.”

Speaking about how living within the community that Cotswolds Broadband helps inform his work, he added: “I come at this from the standpoint of wanting to make a difference in the community that I live and work in. I choose to live here, not because I need to or I have to, but because I want to. Therefore, I want to make it better, not only for myself but we also have the highest density of micro and small businesses in the UK. So if that’s the case, you’ve got a lot of people working from home, or from a shed in the garden or wherever it might be, that’s got to be made better for them.

As someone who lives and works in a rural location, Mr Pickering has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by those who run businesses either from rural homes or away from large urban centres. Yet as well as potential obstacles, such a location can bring also bring opportunities, according to Mr Pickering – sometimes helping to illustrate how broadband connectivity can be made better for everyone.

He explained: "I think it’s difficult to do this sort of thing if you’re not living or working in the area you’re doing it in. I can’t really comment on doing it elsewhere, but I don’t know if I’d want to do a project in another patch. I don’t know if it would have been easier or more difficult to do it in someone else’s patch. For us to go in and say “Right, we’re going to dig up your roads, we’re going to give you fibre and years of heartache,” is really quite difficult. So when I go around to parishes, I start the whole thing with 'Look, I live and work here. Like you, I’m frustrated with the situation, and I want to do something about it,' so it really helps.

"A lot of this came from looking Transition Towns movement. Transition Chipping Norton was all about sustainability of a small market town, and the only way to make that economically viable is to prepare for the future and help the villages around that market town, from which comes all the people who go to Chipping Norton to buy their goods.

“If people can’t stay in those villages, you’ve got rural migration going on. You’ve got a lot of old people there who can’t get out of their homes, and actually stay in their homes – there’s quite a lot of that around here. If they want to stay in their homes, they’re going to need e-health, monitoring services, all of which need decent broadband. It’s all an ecosystem that needs to work together. The socio-economic arguments are still valid in the wider project. How do we ensure there’s sustainability in community based radio and TV? How does that interface with the NHS and e-health? There’s all sorts of dynamics that make rural broadband really interesting.

“Obviously times change but the technology hasn’t, and when it has, it want it to be there for the whole area, not just the easy bits to reach. The technology should be there for everybody and the pricing structure should be the same for everybody. There should be no downgrade in performance just because you’re further away from a centre. I firmly believe it’s for everybody."

You can read the full transcript of our interview with Hugo Pickering here

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