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Rebecca Macmillan was forced to walk hundreds of yards up a nearby hill to phone for an ambulance for her elderly mother – because of the family’s ‘shocking’ Internet connection.

Nurse Rebecca was at her wit’s end due to the unreliable previous service to the family home in Berrynarbor in remote north Devon – and even considered forking out rent for external premises to meet her household needs.

“We were completely isolated. One Christmas Day, my mum, who lives with us and has health issues in her 80s, needed an ambulance and I had to walk up the hill to call one to take her to hospital.

“Over the years we must have been visited by engineers 200 times. I even ended up going to see my GP because I was so stressed about it all.

“I need the internet for my work because I have to go to patients out in the community, to hospitals, nursing homes, schools and pick my calls up on my iPad. If you lose the connection, you can lose the whole message on email.

“At one point we had no mobile network and I was even thinking about renting a room in Barnstaple more than 10 miles away so that I could work.”

But after years of frustration family life has been transformed for Rebecca, her husband, her mother and two adult children living at home, thanks to a “fantastic” new fibre service installed by broadband pioneers Airband. The independent Worcester-based group, which since 2017 has provided wireless broadband to nearly 12,000 premises across large areas of Devon as part of its partnership with local government-led agency Connecting Devon and Somerset, has rolled out its first fibre cluster in Berrynarbor, with more locations to follow.

Simon Palmer, Airband project manager, said: “There are 57 clusters around the county of between 10 and 1,000 properties and the cluster at Berrynarbor is now up and running, with 147 contracted customers.”

Airband now has its sights on bringing fibre to Ilfracombe, Woolacombe, Kentisbury, Lee and other locations.

“These are North Devon villages where people are often working from home or are hospital or care workers, all living remotely from big towns and relying on getting high-speed Internet,” he added.

ommenting on access to full fibre connectivity for Berrynarbor, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, Councillor Rufus Gilbert, said: “Covid has demonstrated how vital connectivity is in modern life especially in rural areas and so we’re delighted to see how transformative better connectivity has been for Rebecca and the whole community.

“Working with firms like Airband, it is our mission to empower communities across Devon with next generation connectivity that will improve lives and boost the regional and national economy.”

Rebecca added: “I would not have bought the house if I had known there was no Internet or phone line. Airband have been fantastic, I have even stopped the landline. We went from 0.5 megabytes to 80, they have totally solved all our problems.”

The new fibre service has also proved a huge benefit to Rebecca’s student daughter Isobel (20) who is undertaking a course in Liberal Arts at Kyoto University in Japan but has been unable to return to the Far East due to the Covid-19 crisis.

“Most nights she has three lectures online between midnight and 8am. If we had not had the Internet, I do not know what we would have done.

“My mum is 84 and loves seeing her grandchildren. Now she can go on Facebook and stalk them. Airband have been fantastic and done exactly what they said they would do.”

Simon Palmer added: “People today demand high-speed Internet. In many cases previously, it would have been so slow as to be unworkable. Fibre is the future.”

Airband is an independent internet services provider delivering superfast and ultrafast broadband to rural and hard to reach areas using fibre and wireless technology. It has a mix of Government-funded projects and a growing number of demand-led fibre broadband projects.