East Meon Broadband
East Meon resident Michael Blakstad found himself in 2002 involved in two activities which prompted his interest in the new technology of broadband. He had been invited to chair the ‘broadbandshow’, a government pilot designed to persuade enterprises in the West Country how broadband could help their business. Looking back, it is amazing how hard it was to interest them! He also sat on a Parliamentary Steering Group, whose unwritten agenda was to pressure BT into speeding up its conversion of rural exchanges to deliver broadband, and to make this facility available to other service providers. BT was in no hurry then to deliver the ‘Local Loop’ to remote villages.
We made history, in a small way, when East Meon pioneered rural broadband. Today, it is hard to imagine life without fast internet access, especially for downloads of movies, video, music, games and photographs. Yet, less than a decade ago, the only access to the internet was the interminably slow delivery over the telephone network – then called ‘dial-up’.
A small group of East Meon residents wasn’t prepared to wait. We commissioned Chris Verrinder, a broadband pioneer from the Isle of Wight, to design and install a small network for us. The broadband would be streamed via satellite to a router installed up at Garston Dairy, chosen because its altitude offered line-of-sight to a number of houses in the village. A radio aerial beamed the service on to those of our members with direct contact, and to Ye Olde George Inn, a suitably tall building in which the brewers kindly permitted us to erect another aerial which relayed the signal to more houses.
It was all very Heath Robinson. Whenever the village suffered a power cut, one or other of us had to rush up to Garston and into the attic of The George, to re-boot the relays. Each member installed a router in their home, to direct the signal to our computers. Much wandering around with laptops trying to establish where the service was strongest.
The members subscribed an initial £200 to meet the capital costs of installing the network, plus the costs of equipping their own homes, plus a monthly subscription of £16.00 for a service of 1 megabit per second. (BT was then charging £30 a month for this bandwidth, in the few places where it was available.) We kicked off with 20 members, and planned to increase the number once we had de-bugged the system.
Our efforts created quite a buzz. The Daily Telegraph wrote a glowing piece about the East Meon experiment. The Petersfield Herald went a bit overboard, writing about ‘East Meon businessmen being in seventh heaven’. Perhaps we played a small part in persuading BT to accelerate its delivery of broadband to villages, because it arrived two years later. Our service was still cheaper, and faster, than the BT offering and we continued to operate for a while. Then the Aramiska satellite transmitters in Belgium were unfortunately struck by lightning and we all migrated to BT. Our members all said they were grateful to East Meon Broadband for the facility to receive their emails and internet services more rapidly. But those of us who had to crawl into the George’s attic and trot up to Garston after every power cut were mightily relieved ….