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January 28, 2009

Housing Coop to bridge digital divide

A housing co-operative is set to establish Britain’s first ‘next generation’ communications community. Tenants of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative are to be provided with ‘next generation’ communications technology which will provide not just TV, phone and internet services, but will open up highly innovative approaches to accessing health and other public services

A HOUSING co-operative is set to establish the first ‘next generation’ communications community in Britain.

New homes currently being constructed for West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, are having fibre optic cable installed that will provide next generation broadband access.

The housing provider is also setting up a communications co-operative – Whicomm Cooperative Ltd – owned and managed entirely by the community it serves – that will provide TV, phone and internet services at reduced costs in comparison with major providers.

Whitcomm Co-operative will be launched at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh today (Thursday 13th November 2008) and aims to reduce digital exclusion that compounds social exclusion.

Through Whitcomm, low-income families will be able to access the services that the majority of people take for granted.

James Kelly, MSP for Glasgow Rutherglen, says: “I am delighted to be able to support the Whitlawburn Community Communications Co-operative. The launch of this initiative offering communications packages at reduced prices in comparison to major providers is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of Director Paul Farrell and his staff and Anne Anderson and the committee.

“This is a unique project which seeks to distribute the power of the internet to the local community in Whitlawburn.

“I am sure this ground breaking scheme will be followed by many other communities in Scotland. It illustrates powerfully the benefits of working together to overcome social exclusion.”

The 21st century technology uses fibre optic cables that provide the next generation broadband, allowing access to the internet at speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

It provides consumers with the infrastructure for the super-fast net connections creating a range of new applications including on-demand high definition (HD) television, DVD quality film downloads in minutes, online video messaging, CCTV home surveillance and high definition interactive games.

West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative already has a computer suite and plan to increase community based computer courses so that the most vulnerable people can use the technology to its full potential.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the plan is to develop a ‘Community Portal’ that will be a platform over which the community will be able to access voluntary and statutory services in their homes. In turn, these services will be able to utilise the new technology to respond creatively to the changing needs of the community and the individuals living there.

WWHC plan to use the project as a pilot with a view to promoting the model of community owned technology to other socially and digitally excluded communities around the UK.

Paul Farrell, Director of WWHC, says: “This project has the potential to be the most exciting development in social housing in decades and gives tenants, perhaps currently excluded from first generation broadband, the potential to leapfrog straight to next generation technology.”

The fibre will be used initially to connect 100 new homes currently under construction but plans are being developed to roll the service out to the co-operative’s 650 homes. Michael Appleford can’t wait for his new home to be ready. He has been confined to a wheelchair since breaking his back in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago.

A former World Disable Water Ski Champion, he is very active and drives his own car but he is also part of a worldwide games community.

Michael says: “Frankly, we just can’t keep up in this country because gamesters in Scandinavia and France have much greater speeds.

“Fibre optic connection will be great for me in the games sphere but in the longer term it also offers very positive health benefits.

“For example, certain weather conditions don’t help me so instead of going out to the doctor I could through the next generation technology have a consultation in my own home that does not require the doctor to have to leave the surgery.

“This really is a huge development. There is a lot more to playing games on line than people realise. You become part of a much wider community who look out to see you on line and are concerned when you’re not, a bit like neighbours looking out for each other.”