Creating a Broadband Backbone for North Yorkshire

For a long time, the citizens and businesses of North Yorkshire struggled to get the full benefits of connectivity. There was a distinct communications blockage primarily, many suspected, because the region lacked a decent broadband infrastructure. 

Many in the region suspected that the area was getting a raw deal and that lack of connectivity was harming the region. Skills could not be brought online, economies could not be achieved in manufacturing and production processes and trade could suffer. The public sector also suffered from the same lack of access to high speed broadband, to service its networks and citizens.  Therefore North Yorkshire County Council, in consultation with Yorkshire Forward, created NYnet Ltd to build a high speed fibre network across the county.  The objectives of the new network would be to bring faster, cheaper and better broadband services to the public sector,  to help local businesses get access to business broadband through partnerships with Service Providers, and to work with Communities to help bring them access to next generation broadband in areas where there was no broadband service at all.

The County Council awarded its entire Wide Area Network (WAN), a £42.4m 10 year broadband contract, to NYnet in 2008. The contract was scheduled to be completed over two years providing broadband access for 550 sites beginning with the council’s Disaster Recovery and Storage Area Network facilities in Scarborough. NYnet has now connected all council sites, completing the roll out according to schedule.

As a result of the connection, County Council sites can now receive core broadband speeds up to 60 times faster than previously available, with 35 per cent more bandwidth, at no additional cost. The new connection has established a resilient and scalable broadband network able to meet the County Council’s future IT requirements.

The NYnet connection, has enabled the County Council to deliver massively improved services to the public across North Yorkshire, says David Sadler, Assistant Director in charge of ICT Services at North Yorkshire County Council. “NYnet is a unique technology enterprise which has made a real difference to the economic and social fortunes of the county providing the latest broadband technology at no extra cost,” says Sadler. “The increased efficiencies made possible through NYnet’s technology such as shared council services, and back office functions, has provided excellent value for money and delivered huge cost savings.”

NYnet now provides high-speed broadband connections to nearly 80 per cent of public sector services in the county including offices, schools, libraries and 15 fire service sites across North Yorkshire.

As a result of the high-speed broadband connection around 350 schools such as St Aidan's in Harrogate, Arkengarthdale near Richmond and Lady Lumley’s in Pickering will have greater opportunities for online learning and teaching support.

Lady Lumley’s in particular suffered from a very slow and unreliable broadband connection, which made teachers reluctant to use online resources.

The new fast and reliable internet access has improved learning and teaching and has enabled the school to establish a virtual learning environment with 24 hour access, facilitating shared resources, remote group collaboration and student communication with teachers.

“The NYnet network has moved us into the 21st Century,” says Derek Simpson, Network Manager at Lady Lumley’s School. “I don’t know how we would operate without it now.”

The benefits of the system became immediately apparent during the recent ash cloud crisis which saw six teachers stranded abroad but able to keep in touch with pupils and colleagues via the virtual learning environment.

North Yorkshire’s libraries are also benefiting from the connection which has seen 44 sites connected to the high-speed network enabling libraries to offer customers free or low cost computer access.

The fast, stable and reliable connection has increased the range of online facilities available to library users such as access to online reference material and an online requests and renewal service.

NYnet Chief Executive David Cullen promises that the next generation network will provide the council with the flexibility and capacity needed to meet the IT requirements of the future. “I am of course delighted that NYnet has connected the entire network on schedule,” he says. He now looks forward to offering exciting new services such as high-quality video conferencing.

In terms of poor broadband services in rural communities, David Cullen, Chief Executive says NYnet suspected North Yorkshire was one of the most poorly served regions in the UK in terms of broadband provision. Yorkshire Forward commissioned a broadband speed survey for the region to track actual speeds on lines.  The North Yorkshire coverage results of this survey were shared with NYnet, which revealed the true scale of the problem. It demonstrated that North Yorks was one of the worst regions in the UK, with many rural communities with no service at all or at best well below the 2Mbps set out as the Universal Service Commitment.

This information was enough to persuade North Yorkshire County Council to find the funds to bankroll a community broadband pilot project.

The first trial project was in the remote North Yorkshire village of Newton-on-Rawcliffe, where 140 residents were chosen to benefit from high-speed, next generation broadband network that matches anything available in a major city. The project was managed by NYnet and delivered by the Community Internet Service Provider, NextGenUs UK CIC. The village and neighbouring hamlet, Stape, suffered from poor broadband service.  NYnet upgraded the fibre service to Lady Lumley’s High School in Pickering. NextGenUs were then able to connect from the school and beam a wireless connection into the village hall in Newton.  The residents can now enjoy reliable high speed broadband and this has transformed village life.

“We were surprised by how quickly people took to the new network,” says Billy Garrett, “we thought it would take a while to get people used to the idea, but adoption was almost immediate.”

A second pilot project is being implemented in the Farndale and Rosedale communities in the North Yorkshire Moors.  This second scheme has the potential to reach around 400 households with next generation broadband access. The success of these two pilot schemes is being used to help NYnet attract further funding to enable communities in 50+ ‘not spot’ areas identified by the Yorkshire Forward report.

“What matters most to all of us in the company is the overwhelmingly positive response from customers and the benefits we are bringing to communities across North Yorkshire,” ” says Cullen, “this is testament to the effectiveness of NYnet.”

NYnet, formed by Yorkshire Forward and North Yorkshire County Council with funding from the European Union, provides a super-fast internet network to ensure North Yorkshire is not ‘left behind’ by the rest of the world in the next phase of the internet revolution.

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