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Lack of broadband could leave new fossil museum stuck in the stone age

Monday, November 9th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A state-of-the-art fossil museum being built on the Jurassic Coast could be facing a future "without any broadband at all".

The charity building the museum can't afford the tens of thousands of pounds to fund the installation of a broadband connection in the Dorset village of Kimmeridge, which suffers from poor broadband and mobile coverage.

The museum's only hope of getting online is to 'piggy-back' on wireless technology that a local fuel company wants to install.

The Kimmeridge Trust is building the multi-million pound museum as a permanent home for a world-renowned collection of fossils discovered by collector Steve Etches.

But the village suffers from what some locals refer to as “superslow” broadband as well as poor mobile phone connectivity, and there are no plans for upgrades as part of any commercial or government-funded rollouts.

The cost of installing new infrastructure is too much for the project to fund, meaning organisers’ only option is to rely on plans by an oil and gas company to install a connection in the area, then “piggy-back” on it.

Kimmeridge forms part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site covering 95 miles from East Devon to Dorset.

The Etches Collection, partly funded by £2.5m of lottery cash, is planned to be an “immersive” museum, with state-of-the-art displays and the full collection available online for people across the world.

But John Woodward, project director of the Kimmeridge Trust, said his dreams of a virtual museum were limited by the lack of infrastructure in the area.

He said the 100-person community in Kimmeridge gets broadband speeds of around 250Kbps, while poor landline connections mean residents are “at the end of their tether”.

'Piggy-back'

“Some people have gone over to satellite but there’s no decent broadband in Kimmeridge and there’s not much prospect of getting it,” he told Cable.co.uk.

Mr Woodward said BT were prepared to install fibre broadband at a cost of around £150,000, which was too much for the project, and even a lower quote of around £60,000 from service provider Wessex Internet was too expensive.

“I approached the Defra funding organisations and they are saying they aren’t prepared to fund broadband because that is now being funded through this government superfast scheme which is being rolled out.

“So we are stuck without any broadband at all at the moment.”

A final option emerged through Anglo-French oil and gas company Perenco, which Mr Woodward said wants to provide a broadband connection to the nearby Wytch Farm onshore oil field.

Mr Woodward said Poole-based telecoms firm Voip Unlimited was looking at ways to provide a connection which, if successful, would allow Kimmeridge to get access to speeds much faster than even ‘superfast’ speeds.

“They will pay to put it in and we can piggy-back on the benefit.

“We are totally dependent on Perenco as our only hope because we can’t afford anything else.”

State-of-the-art museum resorts to piggy-backing on private company's broadband

The dream of a state-of-the-art museum for the Etches Collection relies on a reliable broadband connection (Picture: The Etches Collection/Kimmeridge Trust)

Faster broadband will not only help the museum, but local businesses and residents, limiting the ‘knock-on’ effect that having no broadband can have on the local economy, he said.

“I would probably argue that if you give rural England superfast broadband – which I appreciate people are trying to do – the earning capacity of UK Ltd will go up considerably more than people realise.”

He said mobile phone signal is poor in the area as well, with “no phone connection at all unless you sit on one bench in the middle of the village”, but a connection from Voip Unlimited would mean they can use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology to make calls.

Mr Woodward said he recognised it is difficult to roll out superfast broadband to everyone, especially in rural areas, but wanted Local Action Groups (LAGs) in Dorset to be able to spend some of their cash on improving broadband in rural areas.

“I accept there are bound to be blackspots, so to speak, where it will take a bit of time to put the coverage in,” he said.

“But I do find it strange that what, to my mind, should be treated as a utility now for everyone to have and benefit from is still being thought of as a benefit.”

The issue was raised by South Dorset MP Richard Drax in a recent Commons debate on broadband.

Mr Drax told fellow MPs that in this case, without “private enterprise” the scheme would never have met its deadline.

“Something has to happen. Something can happen with a little imagination, competition and flair,” he said.

“Let us get off our backsides and jolly well connect up the country.”

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