Steve Harris: The pipe dream of high-speed broadband in rural Dorset
PUBLISHED: 11:25 17 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:25 17 January 2017
High-speed broadband remains a dream for many of Dorset’s rural communities, but in Kimmeridge they have taken their Jurassic internet into the 21st century
There was a very brief period of time when I had more money than sense. I now have very little of either, but money is definitely the junior party. Anyway, during this three month window, I decided to buy a pinball table. My lasting memory of this rash buy, from an industrial estate in Darlington, was that the guy who sold me the Black Knight 2000 had what I considered the world’s coolest job. He sold reconditioned arcade games in the morning, and in the afternoon he flew planes.
He’s still the high water mark against which I compare all other occupations. But Adrian Fisher from Durweston near Blandford comes a very close second. You may have read about Adrian in Dorset Magazine. He’s a maze designer. In his office in north Dorset he’s conceived of hedge mazes, mirror mazes, even maize mazes, which have been built around the world. He moved to Dorset so he’d have space for a hedge maze in his own back garden; you can see it on Google Maps if you know where to look.
As exciting as all that sounds, I met Adrian because of a boring but commonplace problem in Dorset - slow broadband. He was a case study for my BBC radio show, Breakfast in Dorset; Adrian needed to be able to send blueprints to Dubai or to video conference with Singapore, but that was a near-impossibility because of the poor internet connection in his corner of the county.
Sadly that’s been a reality for many people trying to do 21st century jobs in places with 20th century telecoms. There are some solutions though. The most elegant I’ve heard of came online in Kimmeridge last year. Residents in that Purbeck village were living with broadband so slow that the basics of the internet were beyond their reach. Sure they could download an episode of The Apprentice on the iPlayer, they just needed 36 hours to do it. There was also the added problem of the imminent opening of the £5m Etches Collection - a world-leading resource for students of Kimmeridgian clay marine fossils which faced the prospect of uploading details of new finds at speeds that would make nineties modems blush.
The local community decided enough was enough and with help from a Poole-based company, their internet speed has taken a huge leap forward. Broadband signals now get fired 15 miles across the water from Portland to a mast on Smedmore Hill above the village. It’s then beamed into and out of individual properties through dinner-plate sized antennae.
So these days 60 minutes of Lord Sugar now takes a mere 180 seconds to download. And The Etches Collection has an internet with upload speeds that the Natural History Museum would be proud of.
Occasionally I hear someone, always from outside these communities, singing the praises of being able to ‘disappear off-grid’ in rural Dorset, relishing the idea of not being contactable by mobile, or able to check emails. But they don’t have to live with those conditions permanently, or try to run a business.
Good broadband is as essential to modern living as a reliable electricity supply or a universal postal service, and I’m glad that in Dorset we’re getting closer to getting rid of internet notspots.
• Steve Harris: Dorset’s food scene hitting new heights - From wasabi and knobs to gin and vodka, Dorset has taken its local food scene to delicious new heights and is creating a whole new generation of food and drink heroes