Taking control of the “dernier kilomètre”

Taking control of the “dernier kilomètre”

I have been living near Cadouin (Perigord Noir) for the last two and a half years and ADSL was finally switched on at our local telephone exchange in April 2006.

The problem however is that we live just over 9km from our local telephone exchange. What most people don’t realise, is that because of the physical limitations of copper wire, the ADSL signal deteriorates substantially for distances over 5.5km (approx.)

By the time it travels 9kms, it is virtually non-existent. In fact, the degrouptest website results tell me that I would get a faster response via a dial-up modem.

‘Zone Blanche’

As a result of this, I live in what is termed a ‘zone blanche’ i.e. an area of zero coverage even though the incumbent telecoms provider (France Telecom) claims that I am in an area of 100% coverage.

I am not unique in this. Numerous neighbours, friends, acquaintances and strangers that I have canvassed have exactly the same problem. But as I work in IT and split my time between working in London and tele-working from home in France, a broadband link is a necessary professional tool.

For some time, I raised this question with my Mairie and was advised that my request would be added to future planning considerations but no date was ever forthcoming (not even speculatively).

I was also advised that the Conseil Regional were looking at other alternatives, WiMax being the most obvious. However as we are a small rural community, we are at the bottom of the pecking order and are unlikely to see the benefits of this before 2009.

While there are alternative solutions, they don’t come cheap and it is easy to understand the reluctance of the telecoms providers to provide us with even rudimentary broadband considering the costs involved and the negligible size of the client base (i.e. less than 50 users in our local area).

So, having worn myself out ranting at the injustice of it all, I decided to do something about it. At the end of April 2006 I set up my own project to bring broadband to my hamlet and to share the bandwidth with my neighbours and friends. While this might appear altruistic, the obvious reason was to get myself a decent broadband link and offset some of the costs at the same time.

In May 2006 I became the proud owner of a gleaming new (and not inexpensive) bi-directional satellite link running speeds of 2Mb down and 1Mb up. I decided to implement a wireless mesh to facilitate the sharing of the available bandwidth. I then had a successful 3 month trial (with 2 of my neighbours as very willing guinea pigs) to prove the technology.

As with most things in our part of rural France and word of mouth being what it is, I soon after I had 16 requests from people wishing to receive the service, despite never having advertised it. I have talked to my Mairie about applying for Conseil Regional funding and they have been very supportive even to the point of promising assistance with my presentation to the Conseil General’s representative. The next phase of the project is to start rolling it out to a wider user base.

I have called my project ‘le dernier kilometre’ in recognition of all the ‘little people’ around the world who have taken control of their ‘last mile’ and put together their own solutions.

If anyone reading this is in a similar position and would like information, advice or assistance, please contact [email protected]


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