Building a broadband economy pint by pint

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Tapping into Cybeer space.

Ripping fast fiber optic-powered Internet access has found a worthy application this St. Patrick’s Day weekend: connecting a British pub to the Sierra Nevada brewery in California for an online beer festival.

The Celebration of Beer at the Driftwood Spars Inn in St. Agnes, Cornwall features a live conversation with Sierra Nevada’s Terence Sullivan and Ken Grossman in Chico and an onsite tasting of their signature Pale Ale. The “Cybeer tasting” event follows similar hook-ups between the pub and winemakers.

The Driftwood Spars is connected to the Superfast Cornwall Project, which is jointly funded by British Telecom, the European Union and local government. The objective is to reach 95% of the homes and businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly with a fiber optic network by 2014. There’s a parallel program to provide business development funding to local companies that can take advantage of it.

It’s an open access network, with customers able to choose from more than two dozen competing Internet service providers. Plans start at about $25 per month for homes and $45 for businesses. At the high end, the network supports service of up to 160 Mbps.

It’s too soon to tell whether the business model is capable of surviving without subsidies. Publicly-funded open access networks in the U.S. – Grant County, Washington and Provo, Utah are two examples – have generally not yet reached the point of being fully self-sustainable. But British and Western U.S. attitudes towards publicly subsidized services tend to differ. So either way, Superfast Cornwall might be deemed a success over the long term by local residents.

For now, the Driftwood Spars is using its full throttle connection – 35 Mbps reported actual throughput – to boost its business with innovative events and blistering WiFi for business-minded overnight guests and pub patrons. With Superfast broadband, having a pint becomes a professional responsibility. It’s the conscientious thing to do.