How fibre broadband transformed Cornwall

The upgraded connection has also let Arcol hold face-to-face meetings with its many foreign customers and partners for the first time. Instead of the wobbly audio Skype connection the firm used to rely on, it can now hold HD video conferences from the company’s boardroom.

However, Morgan admits this has its downsides: the people on the other end of the line can now see the strange faces he pulls when they make a ridiculous proposal.

Virtual wine tasting

Ten miles down the road in St Agnes, another newly enabled fibre business is taking a more leisurely approach to videoconferencing.

Louise Treseder is the owner of the Driftwood Spars inn, a homely old-fashioned pub with its own microbrewery, a function suite, 15 guest rooms and a dog sleeping on the carpet in the bar.

Its name derives from its timber beams (or spars) that were plundered from the shipwrecks washed up on the local beach, which is a pebble’s throw from the pub.

We arrive just in time for a virtual wine tasting. Treseder and the local brewery import their wines from Domaine Laroche in the Chablis region of France, and hit upon the idea of asking experts from the vineyard to deliver the tasting notes over a Skype connection. The Driftwood Spars inn doesn’t have fibre running right up to its door, but even the 38Mbits/sec maximum of the pub’s fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) connection is plenty for a two-way HD video conference.

Why on earth didn’t they do something about their appalling speeds before BT’s fibre vans rolled into town?

So, on this squally winter’s night in Cornwall, we’re sitting back and sipping a little too merrily as Christine from Laroche takes questions from the floor about the wines and their production.

Granted, it isn’t exactly pushing the available bandwidth to its limit, nor is it the most bleeding-edge demonstration of e-commerce we’ve witnessed, but it doesn’t need to be.

For a large pub with no shortage of local competition and bills to pay during the off-season, such an event can make a sizeable difference to the bottom line.

Treseder tells us how even running reliable Wi-Fi connections to the guest rooms – a 14Mbits/sec connection to our bedroom on the second floor was enough to substitute the appalling reception on the room’s television for the iPlayer on our iPad – has helped to attract business travellers, who much prefer to spend the night in a colourful local pub than a faceless hotel chain if they can get a reliable internet connection to the office.

Why the wait?

The tangible difference even moderate broadband speeds has made to such businesses raises the question: why on earth didn’t they do something about their appalling speeds before BT’s fibre vans rolled into town? Even if fibre wasn’t available, other (albeit more expensive and slower) solutions such as bonded lines and Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) could have given them a much-needed boost.

However, even if they could have afforded the hundreds or thousands of pounds a month for these workarounds, it’s often difficult for small- and medium-sized businesses to see the potential benefits of faster, reliable broadband until they actually have it, BT’s Ranulf Scarbrough told us.

Indeed, Louise Treseder only upgraded to fibre after she was carpet-bombed by leaflets from BT and decided to find out what all the fuss was about. Now, as chairperson of the St Agnes Chamber of Commerce, she says she’s one of fibre’s biggest advocates.

Broadening education

The benefits of fibre broadband are also evident at University College Falmouth, a sprawling, modern campus with impressive facilities, some of which were also paid for by grants from the European Social Fund. Cornwall may have an active band of separatists but, to an outsider, it seems to be doing pretty well out of being part of the Union.

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