Day one of Can’t Get Online Week has proved as interesting and challenging as I thought. The first obstacle was the long drive south from Huddersfield to the New Forest, which meant an early start.
A fairly uneventful journey passed surprisingly quickly, meaning that I arrived at the venue, the Bold Forester Pub, in Marchwood, Hampshire, in plenty of time. I’d been promised support with connectivity for the event from satellite provider, Hughes Europe, and I was glad to see Zak, their engineer, arrive about 20 minutes after I did, as I had been starting to panic, without internet or mobile phone connections.
Zak set up his equipment, we got online, and then people started to arrive. In the end, there were about 35 people present, an impressive turnout as the section of the village which really struggles with connectivity only comprises 60 households.
We had a really good, lively, and informed discussion. The residents present came largely from the part of the village immediately adjacent to the pub. Marchwood is divided by a by-pass, and it seems that the main part of the village, on the other side of the road, largely has acceptable connectivity. It is radically different on the side we were in. We talked about how watching the BBC iPlayer is an unfulfilled dream for most of them. We discussed how what little internet connectivity there is disappears completely once the kids come home from school and rush to try to get online. And we talked about the people trying to run businesses who have to travel to places with better connectivity to use online services and send content to clients.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the chat came when we talked about potential solutions to the village’s problems. People were frustrated at lack of action, both on the part of the major connectivity suppliers, and of the public partners who might be involved in solutions. But, they hadn’t, until this point considered there might be an alternative to sitting back and waiting for their existing supplier to take action. Discussion became more animated as they realised there might be alternatives, and when Chris Conder joined the group via Skype to give her real world accounts of connecting her farm and village, it obviously made a deep impression on the group. Members left talking about the possibility of installing share satellite connections as possible short-term solutions, and working on their own wired connections in the longer term.
I found the event incredibly inspiring because it was about more than the internet. Neighbours were meeting each other for the first time, and, within a short interval, were talking about shared interests and taking common action to address them. This event was about community, a community interest in addressing their common lack of connectivity, and an exploration of how that shared interest could help strengthen community ties. It’s a real counter to those people who say that the internet is isolating and anti-social.
Here’s Graham from Marchwood talking about his impressions of the event: