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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Radio Lentil interviews - as promised (Intro)

Many apologies for the length of time it has taken to start getting these fab interviews from the Rory's Reivers broadband conference in Penrith, Cumbria, out on Radio Lentil. If I said we had technical issues, it wouldn't cover the half of it!

This blog post can be read at

A huge thanks has to go to Mark Holdstock for taking over the green room, giving up attending the majority of the conference, interviewing everyone ushered in, having to wolf down his lunch, then editing the interviews and ensuring they were all delivered before the conference ended. The delay in getting them online - well, blame it on the copper, rural business requirements, etc! Me, if you wish ;o)

Our first interview will be Barry Forde.

Back in about 2002/3, Barry was the keynote speaker at my first broadband conference in Leyburn, Wensleydale - possibly the first rural broadband conference held, though my modesty prohibits me from making sure people remember this too often!

I asked Barry to speak as keynote because it was so apparent from our talks that here was a man with a vision that was ACHIEVABLE, real and sustainable. 8 years later, Barry's visions continue to be deliverable and forward thinking, despite the fact that all of those involved back then would far prefer that we had moved on much more than we have.

Project Access was, as I understand it, originally Barry's plan to deliver future-proofed broadband to all of this area. In essence, it was remarkably similar to the Digital Village Pump idea - fat pipes to as many communities as possible. Ergo, DVP could have come into being almost 10 years ago, helping Cumbria and Lancs lead the way across the EU to FTTH and FiWi. However....

Project Access's failure has led to the need to revisit Barry's original idea to ensure that businesses in Cumbria are finally connected to an infrastructure which actually delivers what is required. Whilst excuses may be given for the take up in Cumbria having pushed the infrastructure to its limits, everyone involved knew that PA in its final iteration was never going to do the job initially proposed.

What is now presented as the "award winning" (cough, splutter) Project Access was a dumbed down version of Barry's original, far-sighted solution; at a cost of between £19.2M and £26M, depending on who you speak to. (More about Project Access another day).

Meanwhile, whilst Project Access fought its way through the machinations of RDAs, EU, State Aid etc, Barry and CLEO (Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online) pressed on to build a school's network out of Lancaster Uni that is probably second to none in the UK. Bizarrely, it gets little publicity for what it is, nor what it has achieved.

As a mum with kids who have gone to four schools in Cumbria, the fact that even our primary schools had 2Mbps before many urban schools had fought their way through Learning Stream contracts is a matter of pride. I still have an early CLEO network map on my noticeboard, showing the diligence that was applied to connect even the most remote and far-flung schools to the Internet.

Barry ought to be in retirement, but there are many of us who are not willing to let him go just yet. His knowledge of local infrastructure, and how to best use it, makes him invaluable; his vision is more than just long-sighted. If anyone knows how to make Cumbria and similar rural areas succeed in the knowledge economy, it is Barry.

Nothing phazes him - railways, motorways, difficult to reach communities, mobile operators, BT, regulations, unnecessarily locked down education networks, public speaking, or dealing with obstreperous, impatient females within his 'constituency'!

1 comment:

chris said...

I don't think Barry minds about dealing with obstreperous females. I think he is proud of the fact there are so many in the North. They are the steel bonnets who Rory is relying on too.
Barry's plan for Cumbria is the best thing that came out of the conference. What we need now is for private investment to take it up and run with it. If we can do it in Cumbria and Lancashire then other counties can too. Barry realises that there is no 'public money' any more and the infrastructure has to be built in such a way that it is sustainable. The digital village pump is the way to go. Get the fat pipe to the people and watch them use IT.