When New Deal for Communities set up in 1999, few homes had computers and even fewer had access to the internet. Ten years on and, as NDC draws to a close, Len Grant takes a look at the broadband legacy left by the regeneration programme.
Let’s get one thing straight. Eastserve is not what is was. The local internet service provider – set up in 2002 by New Deal for Communities to provide residents with computers, training and broadband connection – is now effectively split in two.
There’s the bit that still provides lots of community information and support for local residents, much of it compiled by local people themselves, which is online at eastserve.com. Then there’s the technical side – Eastserve Broadband – that continues to provide a competitive broadband service to hundreds of east Manchester homes and businesses using an innovative wireless network.
Although separate, both Eastserves are between them offering the same – if not more – than the previously combined service.
But it’s the broadband side I’m off to investigate for thisiseast.com. It’s twelve months to the day – give or take – that Beverley Hughes MP cut a ribbon outside Eastserve’s Ashton Old Road’s offices to mark the beginning of a partnership between private telecoms company, Symera and Manchester City Council.
It’s all part of what the regeneration people would call an exit strategy: they’ve used public money to set up and run a much-needed service to local residents and once it’s up and running they encourage others to get involved as the original funding comes to an end. At Eastserve it was Symera who saw an opportunity to get in at ground level in east Manchester.
“It’s not been a totally seamless transition,” admits Eastserve’s Keith Tonge. “It’s one thing to operate with ample public funds and another to make the books balance as a going concern.” With a view to the long term, Eastserve has trimmed its overheads – shedding staff and moving to smaller premises – to concentrate on their key business of providing a reliable, cost effective broadband service to residents and small businesses.
Keith, who has years of experience in the telecommunications industry, is now gearing up for a big push for new business. Although broadband operators are falling over each other to get new customers, Keith is confident the wireless hardware installed across east Manchester gives them a big advantage.
“Most other services come down the telephone line,” he explains, “and you can only get so much down it. But in this area we have 75 ‘access points’ on top of key buildings which relay the connection direct to the little square receiver we attach to each home, so we don’t use the local telephone system at all.”
This means customers can get online without the need of an expensive landline. There are no contracts either, but there is a one-off connection fee to cover the cost of installing the hardware. “We can reduce the connection fee depending on how customers pay us,” explains Keith, “and it’s even something the Manchester Credit Union will consider a loan towards if necessary.”
There’s a big marketing campaign starting soon and Keith is confident he’ll add hundreds of new customers over the coming months. “The beauty of Eastserve is we’re local: if there’s a problem there is no faceless call centre to negotiate, customers can talk to us right here in Openshaw.”
Using the same technology Symera can adapt the service for business customers: “We can use the local network to relay security camera pictures and other digital information,” says Keith. “We’re just beginning to take advantage of this state-of-the-art infrastructure that’s only fitted in this part of Manchester.”
More information on the broadband packages and other Symera packages available from Eastserve here, or call them direct on 230 6346.