What happens when the post office loses its internet connection?

I think this is a poignant story. Bellingham Post Office in Northumberland had its broadband connection cut off for 10 days over the Christmas period; you can read about it here. As Wendy Telfer, the post mistress, recounted to BBC Radio 4 in the clip below, this resulted in her having to help people who couldn’t access their pensions out of her own pocket.

There are lots of issues surrounding this incident, but a key point which this has highlighted for me is how difficulties like this one, which could have been helped by outside intervention, can still go unnoticed by the wider world, even in the age of social media. A temporary solution, like a WiBE (http://www.wiberouter.com) could probably have got the post office back online in an instant, but the proprietors obviously didn’t know this, and no one with the kind of knowledge that could have helped was aware of the issue until it was too late.

I think this is a salutary example for those still unconvinced about the benefits of social media. One distressed tweet from the post office could have set a process in motion that would have solved the problem. But who is helping the people who don’t know about these possibilities? Should the local authorities not have a role in keeping their ear to the ground for issues like this and sourcing assistance? And what about the Post Office? Does it not have contingency plans for such difficulties?

And this also highlights the how many people, particular in rural areas, still think the only potential solution to their broadband problems is to turn to the provider that caused them in the first place.

There is so much more work to be done in opening people’s eyes to the possibilities offered by social media in accessing sources of advice and assistance, and in getting properly independent advice about technology and broadband issues. With so many vulnerable people, particularly in rural communities, dependent on services offered by post offices we cannot afford for them to be at the mercy of an ancient copper line.