Isfield was, until 2015, a unique locality since it was the only exchange in East Sussex that was not broadband enabled, and there were no telecoms cabinets – all residents and business had phone services through ‘exchange only’ lines. Prior to then, if there was one topic on which all residents of Isfield and Little Horsted were agreed, it was that lack of proper broadband services was a major issue.
Other than dial-up, the only broadband availability had been via a radio service which offered a very expensive nominal maximum download speed of 2Mbps and a nominal upload speed of a quarter of 25Mbps.
Whilst it was possible to connect to the internet or send e-mails, this proved to be most unsatisfactory for residents running a business in the village or working from home. It was equally difficult for students with homework research to carry out, and the concept of catch-up TV was just not realistic. It could also prove a difficulty for anyone considering moving house as potential purchasers were often reluctant to make an offer when discovering the lack of high speed broadband.
With the arrival of fibre broadband at the beginning of 2015 and the speeds and reliability it brings, this situation has all changed. The two communities are now able to enjoy the benefits of high speed broadband and the advantages it brings for business and personal use alike. No longer is its lack a subject of aggrieved conversations when residents meet at local or social functions.
This is not to say that there were not teething problems once fibre broadband became available. Because the exchange had not previously been enabled, the demands placed by residents on Internet Service Providers were considerable and one suspects that they had not necessarily been prepared for such a sudden demand when the first three (out of five cabinets) went ‘live’.
It is only right to say that ESCC made every effort to bring Isfield into the fibre infrastructure development programme as early as could possibly be arranged as the team at County Hall was aware of the unique difficulties in the Isfield exchange area.
As an individual and Parish Councillor who had been heavily involved for some years in trying to get fast broadband to Isfield, I found myself in the position of being the ‘go-to’ person on broadband matters. This meant keeping in touch with ESCC to determine what progress was being made and keeping residents informed via the Parish Newsletter.
In rural communities which are being connected through the ESCC fibre network build project for the first time, I can see that there are considerable benefits to there being one individual in the community who is prepared to act as a link person with ESCC; the two-way relationship proved very effective for both the County Council and the community.