Norfolk businesses and families back calls for faster broadband

Jon WelchFamilies and businesses across Norfolk are backing calls for faster, more reliable broadband links in the county, ahead of an important conference in Norwich tomorrow.Jon Welch

Families and businesses across Norfolk are backing calls for faster, more reliable broadband links in the county, ahead of an important conference in Norwich tomorrow.

They have been outlining the problems caused by slow connection speeds, and adding their voices to a growing campaign for next generation broadband coverage in our towns and villages.

Senior BT executive Peter McCarthy-Ward is due to address the annual conference of Shaping Norfolk's Future, at which he will challenge businesses and local authorities in Norfolk to lobby for government cash to bring faster broadband to areas with poor provision.

Eeda, the East of England Development Agency, has also launched a website on which people can register their interest in faster broadband, in the hope of persuading BT and other providers to make the investment in the region.

Tony Rees is a director of award-winning Diss company Syne qua non, which manages data from clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry and employs 125 people.

Mr Rees said the business was being held back by slow broadband speeds in the town.

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'We want to move to collect data in real-time; normally it's transcribed onto paper forms from patient's records which could run from tens to many thousands of pages,' he said.

'We've developed a web-based way of collating this data from the hospital environment without using paper. We'd like to host the website associated with that within our own IT infrastructure, but because the Diss exchange doesn't have the capacity we're having to host that in London.

'The other issue we have is that we have quite a few staff that work from home, not only in Norfolk but spread out across the UK. Their access to our web-based office environment is very slow and tedious.

'We've been talking to BT now for many years but there's no real indication of when we can expect faster speeds in downtown Diss.'

The bare minimum connection speed for watching streamed video online, such as BBC iPlayer and YouTube, is about 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) - way faster than the connection speeds available in many parts of Norfolk.

Chris Ridout, of Great Dunham, near Swaffham, said: 'Our speeds at home are about 33kbps - yes, kbps! My daughter, aged seven, can't get online to do the things that she wants to do.

'The most we can do is send emails (no large attachments), and have a very slow service for the internet. Some websites never load up since they have videos or large photos on them.'

Simon Dixon, of Helhoughton, near Fakenham, said: 'Some time ago I measured our broadband speed as part of a similar campaign run by the BBC.

'At that time the speed was 0.2 Mbps, and if anything, it is now worse. There are many days when we cannot obtain a connection at all, and often when we do connect, the connection fails because it is running so slowly.

'We are about four miles from the telephone exchange at East Rudham, which is the root of the problem. I am sure there are others worse off than us.'

Peter Jermy, of Blofield Heath, near Norwich, said: 'The world talks in terms of 1Mbps, 8Mbps and higher fanciful figures.

I suffer with max measured speeds of 486kbs and every time I ask for an upgrade to higher speeds, they all go away, come back and laugh!'

But it is not just in rural areas that speeds can be low. While average connection speeds in Norwich are roughly between 3.5 and 4Mbps, some parts of the city do not achieve speeds anywhere near that.

Jemma and Justin Shuter moved into a new-build house in Henderson Green, the former Bowthorpe School site, about five years ago.

'We have never received such slow internet service. We are unable to even get 1Mbps - we only receive around 0.5Mbps if we are lucky and we constantly lose connection,' said Mrs Shuter.

'We are unable to download anything with any speed, often having to leave the computer on all night just to watch something. BBC iPlayer is a total no-go, let alone sites such as YouTube.

'My husband also uses a PlayStation 3 which requires updates and has online games, and these are also very hit-and-miss. We have changed providers from AOL to Tiscali to Talk Talk but the problem lies with the line. BT stated that we are on a long-line service, and that we are located too far from the exchange, hence too much noise on the line.

'I am disgusted that in 2009 this is the case, and that we live in such close proximity to the city centre in a new-build house yet have this kind of service.'

If your home or business is suffering because of poor broadband coverage, contact reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email