Saturday, 19 August 2017

Villagers pledge thousands for high-speed broadband

RESIDENTS of Binfield Heath have pledged almost £60,000 towards the cost of high-speed broadband for the village.

RESIDENTS of Binfield Heath have pledged almost £60,000 towards the cost of high-speed broadband for the village.

About 120 households have agreed to contribute to the scheme and money will be donated by the Phillimore Estate, which owns many homes in the village.

Currently, most homes have a broadband speed of less than one megabyte per second.

Resident Keith Pruden, an electronics engineer, decided to take action after BT announced the locations for its fibre broadband lines in 2010.

He said: “The exchange in the feed to Binfield Heath is in Caversham, which was listed as one of the exchanges that would be enabled with the fibres.

“I made an enquiry and it was pretty obvious that there were no plans to connect us in the near future if ever. What frustrated me the most was that Binfield Heath does not seem to matter.

“At the moment, the village has zero to one megabyte download speed, so it is really not broadband at all. It is impossible to work from home without broadband and I have to connect to the internet via my mobile phone.

“I have run businesses in Asia and other far flung places and could get broadband at a high speed.”

Mr Pruden made contact with a director of BT through a friend and after several months the company told him that the cost to the village of providing high-speed broadband would be £30,000.

He said: “It was great to find that there was a way of doing it, though there would need to be a considerable amount of support from the village and I wondered how we would do it.

“BT said it would subsidise the total investment, thought to be around £100,000. I decided to approach the parish council, principally to get details to the village through the newsletter. The council was very interested and said it was a great idea.”

About 70 residents attended a meeting in November and there was unanimous support for the idea.

However, BT said the cost of bringing high-speed broadband the village had doubled to almost £60,000.

Mr Pruden said: “That changed the rules a little bit as we needed to raise more money. We used the village newsletter, knocked on doors and established a mailing list to raise support and get an idea of how many people would pledge money.

“I also approached the Phillimore Estate as they have a considerable number of properties in the area. They made a generous pledge of support and without that we would not be where we are now.”

A second meeting held in the village hall earlier this month was attended by more than 90 residents. It was announced that the fund-raising target of £56,075 had been exceeded, with pledges totalling £59,575.

Mr Pruden said: “That was a big moment for us and after the meeting we handed control over to the parish council, as the contract needs to be on behalf of the whole village, which it represents.”

Residents must fulfil their pledges, which ranged from £100 to £1,500 per household, by tomorrow (Saturday).

Mr Pruden said: “We have had a contribution from around 120 houses in the village, which is around 55 to 60 per cent of the owned households.

“We hope that by the end of this year we will be seeing broadband speeds of between 50 and 60 megabytes, which is a massive change for the whole area. One person at the meeting said if he could reach 10 megabytes it would be like living in heaven.

“People will be able to start watching television on broadband — it totally changes what people can do. It will also have an impact on property values.”

Paul Rollason, chairman of Binfield Heath Parish Council, said: “I was very surprised by the support that we received but, in common with a lot of rural villages, far more people work from home than we anticipated and I think people expect to get decent broadband even in rural areas.”

Any surplus funds collected will be used in the village at the discretion of the council.

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