Broadband, Bed & Breakfast
In rural tourism, ratings, awards and reviews are important, helping differentiate and add value to a business.
CLA members Linda and Tim Jee fully recognise this. They run two successful, small rural businesses - Horseshoe Cottage Farm (a Wolsey Lodge and the only 5 Star Gold Bed & Breakfast in Leicestershire) as well as Bradgate Caravan Site, a Caravan Club Certificated Location with just five exclusive pitches.
What is also important is a good reliable, fast broadband connection – a message that really hit home when trying to enter the Excellence in Tourism awards. Linda says: “It was all done online of course. I could complete the entries no problem, but when I came to upload it took nearly seven hours and nearly missed the deadline.”
Not surprising, as the Jees were struggling with less than 0.3Mbps download and a painfully slow 0.1 Mbps upload at best. “At the time, we couldn’t even get the connection we had directly into the house. We had to beam it across the yard from a router in the barn, and the signal would drop out when it rained, or someone parked a van in the way.” Engineers had told them that they would never be able to benefit from fibre, and to look for alternative solutions.
The Jees were not alone, and after discussion with neighbours – also CLA members – they approached Leicestershire County Council, which was then promoting the Government’s Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme. This ran from December 2013 until October 2015 and had a £40m challenge fund to help connect businesses, but somewhat ironically, the application forms were again online.
The Jees persevered and were finally awarded a £3,000 grant for each of their two businesses. They were given a list of approved providers who should be able to provide a faster connection and after many meetings, they selected Derby-based ASG Group, who operate a wireless network out of Leicester, with the nearest point on the A46 about three miles as the crow flies from the property.
Site surveys showed that a line of sight could be achieved, and a connection over three miles was technologically possible, but often not considered until the right questions were asked.
It was not straightforward and, for ASG, a venture into new territory. A location in a basin in the Charnwood forest meant that trees, hills and power lines needed to be avoided. By taking a cherry picker into the yard the line of sight was identified, and work started.
ASG Group Business Development Manager Marcus Harrison was there from the beginning. He said, “It was introducing a new technique into a very rural area. We came across quite a few problems but stuck at it and, with a lot of head scratching along to way, we managed to overcome them all. We won’t shy away from anything, but this really was a challenge, and has been a good learning curve for rural installations.”
One problem was the size of the mast required – 15m. This was erected in a corner of the yard, with substantial footings to ensure stability – and therefore reliability of signal. Early tests with a barn-mounted mast had proved unsuccessful as small movement due to the breeze was affecting the signal.
Once erected, the result was a 100Mbps connection for five small rural businesses, including CLA Members Bradgate Park Trust. By piggybacking off the Jee’s mast, more small businesses and residences within the hamlet of Hallgates, are able to access 50 Mbps Superfast Broadband - a true community benefit.
A slight sting in the tail came when Charnwood Borough Council demanded they apply for retrospective planning permission for the mast. After preparing the forms, and consulting with CLA Midlands Rural Surveyor Richard Goodwin to put forward the best possible case, their application was granted with no objections.
Linda says it has made a massive difference to their lives: “Before this, it was impossible to use the broadband for anything other than emails and if there was an attachment it took forever to send or download. Uploading forms was a complete no no! We have had guests leave for other B&Bs because they were unable to use the internet for work. Now we can alert our new and returning guests that they have this facility but it also means I can run my business much more efficiently and with less frustration!”
The final problem they had to overcome was the thick granite walls – a definite barrier to Wi-Fi around the house, but clever siting of wireless repeaters means that guests can now enjoy Wi-Fi in their rooms, and the Jees can enjoy unbuffered, streaming movies throughout the house, and keep in touch with family and friends via live video, able to enjoy life “like normal people”.
ASG say that this installation did not on its own make commercial sense for them, but the experience gained was priceless. While it might require 8-10 people to make a new mast financially viable, simply adding to an existing network in sight up to 4-5 miles away becomes affordable for many more rural locations.
The lesson for members is don’t despair; the technology exists to provide a good connection. The method and cost can vary, but if you are clear that BT Openreach will not be delivering fibre to a cabinet near you in the near future, look at alternatives.
For more information:
Wolsey Lodges www.wolseylodges.com
THE CLA SAYS Currently any household or business who cannot access an affordable basic broadband service with a download speed of at least 2 Mb per second, could be eligible for a grant of up to £350 under the Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme, which is technology neutral so you could consider wireless satellite, or even mobile broadband if you have a good signal. But grant schemes change frequently, so please check with your local BDUK delivery body, who are charged with delivering superfast connectivity.