It was part way through these #gab10 presentations that I realised what bothered me so much:
Great Asby Village hall and the attendees!
Can you see it?  Well of course you can, the majority of attendees look somewhat, how shall I put this? Grey-haired?  I know @loulouk’s post suggest there was no one under 45:

“All of them, I think, were over 45. Bar Rory’s team, the guest speakers and a few ‘experts’ invited along, no one in the hall was under 45. Someone apparently said they were struggling to enthuse their local parish with the opportunities broadband would bring to the community, and that they had responded that if the older generation couldnt be enthused then maybe the under 20’s could be. The reply? There aren’t any, they’ve all left because there is no broadband.” Source : A Shiny World “#gab10”

Well I was there and I am 32!   But the point is well made, but I think I have an answer to this riddle of why few younger people turned up.  
  1.  for me I had to leave early as it was bonfire night in Sedbergh at 7pm
  2. Saturday’s are difficult for many if you work all week a meeting in the middle of nowhere about computers isn’t that enticing…
  3. I got my invite via Twitter, how were other people identified?  My guess is through Parish councils and local businesses?   If it’s via community groups we know these are not attended well by working age younger people, just because we don’t have the time!

This really goes to the heart of the matter and I know from Twitter and blog posts that a lot of people went away heartened and enthused by this initiative.   “Boo!” to BT and “hurrah!” for local community projects.   I left feeling differently, and yes I know I left just before the round table sessions.  So here are my general thoughts and please note I often like to play devil’s advocate!
There’s a reason why I don’t live near my parents home and business in Sedbergh, and this may come as a shock to some of those at Great Asby on Saturday, it is not due to lack of superfast broadband.   Broadband is way down on my list of priorities when choosing a house.   Is it affordable and near where I work?   That’s what I care most about.   I live in Carlisle and broadband speeds are shockingly bad, so bad that my parents house in Sedbergh outperforms mine at home.   Do I care that much?  Not really as Carlisle is where I could afford a house.  I basically can’t afford to care.
Essentially my family (wife and daughter) and I been priced out of certain areas in Cumbria.  Whose fault is it?  It’s the retired people, or people like my parents (who could retire but choose to work) the news that the over 50s are taking over Cumbria is not a surprise.   With their final salary pensions and young retirement age they got on to the property ladder long ago and now post work have decided to purchase houses in rural areas without it seems much thought as to their future (when they need care for example).   Combine that with Cumbria’s Local Planning Authorities’ obsession with limiting new houses and allowing barn conversions only for holiday homes.  We young working age families never had chance of being able to afforde houses in rural areas of Cumbria.
At Great Asby you’d be forgiven for thinking that broadband will solve everything, the young will stay if they have fibre optic in the village.  No we won’t and we can’t, fibre optic broadband will just add more value to the house prices and working age young people with families will still not be able to afford living in these rural areas.
To avoid the perils of house price rises due to superfast access we need to ensure that fibre is universal (that way it isn’t part of the purchase decision on a house).   I would think most people want a national infrastructure for fibre broadband (I do), but to deliver a national infrastructure either the Government needs to step up and do it or large private companies need to be forced to do it.    Either way, small local projects funded with what is effectively peanuts cannot deliver in a comprehensive way a meaningful solution.   Sorry but they can’t.  
This argument that national fibre is prohibitively expensive to deliver is nonsense.  Yes it is expensive but we could perhaps look at what government spends its money on, for instance do we need the ability to blow half the world up with nuclear weapons (I’m talking trident)?   Or here’s a novel thought: if fibre optics will truly change our country for the better perhaps we’ll recover those costs and then some!   Remembering the meeting I know that fibre has a life of 50 years or more…   The railways were very expensive to build but have paid us back in revenue and new business opportunities over and over.   Let us not think short term costs here, we should consider this a long term investment, not a long term cost.
Most people boo’d at the mention of BT in the meeting probably because they seem to be abusing their monopolistic position.  But let’s face it, that’s the nature of capitalism and it’s not necessarily BTs fault.   BT is a private company looking after themselves and their shareholders (and shareholders are often pension providers I might add!).   Rather than criticising and complaining about BT we should be using its massive reach and infrastructure as part of the solution.   Any superfast network must be a national project, because exclusion is a national issue whether you are in a rural area or in a inner city deprived area.   
The people meeting in Great Asby were there to ensure that rural areas are not excluded from access to the internet at superfast speeds.  The issues being tackled at the meeting are bigger than some piece of cable being laid and we shouldn’t forget that.  This is not really about the technology this is about access to services now and in the future.

A Last Word … 

It was a great meeting and I was surprised at the number of attendees I just hope that expectations are not raised by the politicians and civil servants so much that even small successes are seen as disappointments.

I also hope those that attended are active within other areas to, for example planning and the provision of new affordable (by that I mean cheap not shared ownership) homes in villages as well as using local services such as the post office.

As important as fibre optic broadband is there are other things out there of equal or more importance.  My advice/hope is that these extraordinary people who attended Great Asby on Saturday are not distracted by the flashy technology.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I agree with your blogpost, and that there are far more important things than broadband to worry about. The point I would like to make is that simply by having the utility of ubiquitous access to the internet that all the other 'important' things will be made much easier to address. An aging population and healthcare alone is enough to justify the investment.
    I do feel that if you had been born and brought up in a rural area you wouldn't have left if you could run a sustainable online business from a village. With a fibre connection you would be able to, and to generate enough income to buy a property there.
    chris

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