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Slow broadband denies work to quadriplegic man

Thursday, January 12th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A quadriplegic man says not having fibre broadband has forced him to miss work opportunities – and could limit his access to medical treatment in the future.

Stuart Turner helps test robots and computer operating systems as an accessibility consultant, and speaks at events all over the world.

Because of his disability, he does most of this from his home in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, so relies heavily on the internet.

Mr Turner (pictured) told Cable.co.uk his current broadband connection allows him to run various websites including inventability.net, which aims to help other people with disabilities.

But the other parts of his job require either a lot of bandwidth or a much better upload speed than he has at the moment.

“There have been a number of times where my connection just wasn’t good enough to give a speech, for example in a country on the other side of the world,” said Mr Turner.

“I can always see them because my download is reasonably okay, it’s the upload speed is the problem.”

He said he was booked to speak in the ‘rehabilitation space’ at a large conference but simply didn’t have the bandwidth to allow telepresence – the use of virtual reality technology to attend distant events or to control devices remotely.

“Obviously I couldn’t travel there because of my disability and if I can’t use telepresence now I can't do the presentation,” he said.

“I also help in the testing of telepresence robots which use quite a lot of bandwidth, and as I don’t have a huge amount of bandwidth [it] limits the types of robots I can help test.”

Mr Turner is also anticipating new uses for digital technology in the coming years and fears that with his current set-up, he will miss out.

Virtual hospital visits

“In the not too distant future, I will be able to visit my consultants at the hospital using telepresence, but I won’t be able to do that if I don’t have the bandwidth to sustain a decent connection. And that would necessarily limit my access to medical treatment.

“I would obviously still be able to go to the hospital but that would involve ambulances, drivers and a lot of money. Telepresence will save the NHS an absolute fortune but one thing it absolutely relies upon is decent bandwidth.”

Mr Turner said fibre was originally promised for his street in May 2014 but he is now looking at May 2017 at the earliest.

“The rest of the town has fibre, we just seem to live in a four or five-street blackspot near the edge of town,” he said.

“As far as I know, fibre is available at the cabinet nearest to me but for some reason they can’t or won’t activate the connection to my house.”

An Openreach spokesperson said: “Nine out of ten homes and businesses can order superfast broadband, and our engineers continue to roll out the service to thousands more premises each week.

“It’s not possible to upgrade everyone at the same time but we’re doing our best to reach Mr Turner’s property as quickly as possible. His home is included in our commercial rollout plans.

“Mr Turner can monitor our progress on the Openreach Where & When checker.”

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