RESIDENTS of Ewelme have celebrated the “switching on” of superfast broadband.
The village was chosen as the first to benefit from the £25 million Better Broadband for Oxfordshire programme, a partnership between Oxfordshire County Council and BT, following almost a decade of campaigning by residents.
One broadband cabinet has been installed in the village by the bus shelter in The Street and two others have been installed at RAF Benson in order to cover the whole base.
The cabinets will improve broadband speeds from one or two megabytes per second to 24Mbps or more.
County council leader Ian Hudspeth officially welcomed broadband to the village by cutting a ribbon which had been tied around the cabinet in The Street.
He said: “It is very appropriate that we are launching here in Ewelme. We are a rural county and one of the biggest challenges we have is to make sure everyone has the same opportunities.
“Broadband is not a luxury, it is almost becoming a utility and that is why we have to make sure we are delivering it. By the end of 2015 over 90 per cent of the county will be connected.”
Resident Neil Blake, who had been campaigning for faster broadband for more than a decade, said: “It started with a vision, then some engagement and sheer bloody persistence.
“We are delighted we can now give our RAF residents and our youngsters access to the services they deserve and need.”
Mr Blake, a former director of the Henley Partnership, said he had been spurred on by the story of two children at RAF Benson who were unable to communicate with a parent who was deployed in the Middle East via Skype due to a poor connection and a boy in the village who resorted to waving a laptop around outside in an attempt to gain adequate connection to download his homework.
David Cooper, deputy chairman of Ewelme Parish Council, praised Mr Blake for not losing sight of his goal over the years.
He added: “We in the village are looking forward to being able to connect at lightning speeds to wherever we wish.”
Group captain Nigel Colman, station commander at RAF Benson, said faster broadband would improve life on the base. “Broadband is really important, especially at Christmas, because we have so many people deployed around the world and it gives them the ability to communicate properly,” he said.
“The old speed was workable for checking emails but Skype was so pixelated and disjointed.”
County councillor Caroline Newton, who also attended the switch-on, said: “This part of Oxfordshire has had the most appallingly slow broadband speeds for many years and the community has worked so hard to improve it.
“I wish faster broadband could be spread everywhere and hopefully this is the start of something bigger and something we can build on. Broadband is so tremendously important, it has become a basic requirement for functioning.”
The Better Broadband for Oxfordshire programme has been funded by an £11 million investment by BT, £10 million from the county council and £4 million from the Government.
Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director of Next Generation Access, said: “A key part of delivering faster broadband for Oxfordshire was to have these cabinets installed and working.
“The community in Ewelme very much wanted it to happen and worked hard to make it happen. There is a lot of capacity and it is going to make life much easier and more productive.”
Communications minister Ed Vaizey said: “The switching on of superfast broadband in Ewelme is great news for both local residents and businesses.
“Broadband is an essential part of Oxfordshire present and future. It is vital that we embrace this latest generation of technology in order for our economy to remain competitive.”