A community full fibre broadband scheme with bells and whistles

The idyllic Buckinghamshire village of Littleworth Common has it all. Beautiful vistas, a strong community spirit, 58 homes, a village hall, infant school, a couple of pubs, and is less than 30 miles from Central London. Yet, the homes and businesses in the village were having to make do with woefully slow ADSL broadband, making it impossible to use bandwidth hungry applications for either work or play.

A group of villagers – digital champions – came together with the purpose of bringing fast broadband to the village. No amount of lobbying the big providers had yielded the desired result, until ITS, who had installed a broadband network at the neighbouring Portman Burtley Estate, were approached and found a solution.

From greenfield to fibre to the premise

The biggest connectivity challenge was how ‘hard to reach’ the village is, and ITS needed to be sympathetic to the fact that adjoining Littleworth Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Alan Moss, resident and digital champion said: “We fought hard to bring fast broadband to the village. Once we learnt of the network at the Portman Burtley Estate, we knew that there could be a way for our broadband capabilities to be improved.”

ITS designed the network using a fixed wireless backhaul and installed fibre throughout the village, passing each property, taking fibre right up to the properties that wanted to take an ITS broadband service, or to be ready for it in the future.

Alan Moss continued: “It hasn’t been straightforward, but we have worked together and ITS has built a network that has transformed the way we can use our connectivity. For example, I use it to run my business with partners and customers around the world, and since lockdown, my daughters use it for online lectures and tutorials, and as a family we are putting the service to work streaming gym classes (and the occasional boxset!).”

From 0.8 to 50Mbps

Residents utilised the government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) voucher scheme (the Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) Programme is now available) which helped to make the network build commercially viable and has resulted in them being able to access a competitively priced symmetrical 50Mbps broadband service.

Earle Latham, a resident of Littleworth Common said: “The ITS service has given me work/life balance as the connection has allowed me to work very capably from home rather than having to travel to my office in London all the time. I could not have contemplated this with the old broadband service. At around 0.8Mbps it was too slow and unreliable – I need to be able to download and upload large documents and respond quickly to client requests. Lockdown has further highlighted the importance of good connectivity, helping my family to be entertained through streaming Netflix and such like. I have also been very impressed by the customer service. Nothing is too much trouble.”

Designed with the entire village in mind

In total, 3km of fibre optic cable was laid and the village infant school was the first to be connected followed by the one of the pubs and the residential properties.

Gitta Streete, Headteacher of Dropmore Infant School said: “The ITS broadband service has transformed our online experience from both an educational and admin perspective. Our old service was slow and unreliable, we could not scale up the number of concurrent users or else the wheel of doom would appear on screen or we would be kicked out of programmes. Online education and access to online resources is an important part of the curriculum, and it’s great that we can now utilise programmes that greatly benefit our pupils. The other side of this is that our teaching staff are now able to access their files on the school servers from home. This has been particularly important during lockdown as they have not needed to come onto school premises other than to teach key worker children.”

Digital divide deepens with lockdown

The network build was completed in early 2019, and with many but not all households taking up an ITS broadband service, lockdown revealed a further digital divide.

Alan Moss concluded: “It was always in the plan that ITS would upgrade the backhaul to our network to full fibre. However, once lockdown hit, it became immediately clear that anyone without an ITS service has struggled with bandwidth which has created a digital divide between the ‘haves and have nots’ – those with an ITS service vs. those without. So much so, that we were quick to get in touch with the team at ITS to push the plan forward. They have come back with a plan with bells and whistles – they have developed a scheme that means that not only will households be able to connect, but a full fibre backhaul will give the capability to increase bandwidth to 100Mbps across the board.”

About the Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme

As part of the Government’s Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme, business and residents in some of the hardest-to-reach places in the UK are eligible for additional funding towards the cost of installing gigabit-capable broadband to their premises when part of a group project. For premises which meet the eligibility criteria, SME businesses can claim £3,500 and residents up to £1,500.

It hasn’t been straightforward, but we have worked together and ITS has built a network that has transformed the way we can use our connectivity.

Alan Moss, resident, Littleworth Common

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