Having accepted Wendy Kennerley‘s kind offer of accommodation on the
South coast on the first night of the Challenge it meant a very early
start to day two. I managed to avoid rush hour hold-ups on the M25 and
pulled over into a lay-by on the A12 to talk live on BBC Radio Norfolk
about the afternoon’s planned visit to Sedgeford. Then it was on to
the Village Hall at Little Horkseley in Essex, a few miles beyond
Colchester.

Another lively group soon gathered, of 20 or so people, drawn from a
number of local parishes, all with poor, or non-existent Internet
connections. An interesting theme that emerged was that a number of
those present were small business owners, who would prefer to work
from home, but are forced to maintain business premises in the town in
order to do business online. There was a strong theme about the anger
of local young people in not being able to partake in social
networking with their peers. Poignant stories included tales of
youngsters completing online homework by texting answers to friends
with good broadband connections so they could complete it for them,
and the daughter who had to do her online homework at 2am because it
was the only time when there were few enough people on the local network to get any kind of connection at all. The presence of Lloyd Felton from local wireless broadband supplier, County Broadband, who connected the village hall up to the world for the morning, gave people food for thought. A really useful element was the strong representation from Parish Councillors, and, as the meeting closed, there was resolution to take the lessons learned from the session back to their Parish Councils to begin the process of organising local connectivity solutions.

Local business owner, Steve Clarke voiced some of the typical concerns raised at the Little Horkesley event:

From Little Horkesley, it was off for another long drive, through Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, to Sedgeford, near Hunstanton. The drive through chocolate-box villages, on windy roads, served to highlight the nature of the #cantgetonline mission. During this section of the journey, the car mileometre clocked up 500 miles for the week so far.

500 milesAt Sedgeford Village Hall, Richard Dix of Rural Broadband had pulled out all the stops to put on a demonstrator event for local people, and had pulled in representatives from other suppliers, including Three UK, as well as offering too forms of connection to the outside world, via a Tooway satellite dish and a Wireless Broadband Extender (WiBE).

Richard told me what local people had been saying about the broadband situation in the area:

The Week then took an almost bizarre twist, when the photographer from the Eastern Daily Press arrived and decided he wanted an unusual photograph. This resulted in Richard, Elliott from Three, and myself posing with iPads in a cornfield

Then it was back in the car for another long drive, this time to a overnight stop in Birmingham. There was just time to connect up the WiBE which Richard has lent me to test for the rest of the week,

As I left Norfolk, a five minute package on the Sedgeford event played on BBC Radio Norfolk, and I am grateful to the sterling work put in by Richard Dix and Sally Smith of the CLA which made this the highest profile section of the tour so far.

It was another tiring, but exhilarating day. And it proved, again, that broadband can be a real stimulus for galvanising community action.

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