Internet for all? Not in rural Germany. Broadband internet connections in Germany are not for granted. In a small village in the Eifel region, people take matters into their own hands.
It is idyllic in Buir just after sunrise, when the dew sparkles on the green meadows. The village lays picturesque in the hills of the Eifel region in western Germany. It is in the midst of nature but the nearby highway provides a fast link to more urban areas.
The communication channels, however, are not fast at all. The internet connection is comparable to a bumpy dirt track. Data can hardly be sent, loading a simple website becomes a test of patience and online banking is simply not possible.
Broadband supply is not a fundamental right
In February 2013 the Federal Court of Justice declared access to the internet as a fundamental right. But it did not specify the speed of the internet accessed. In some German regions, a fast broadband connection is a matter of chance or subject to the provider. In Buir, the Deutsche Telekom is responsible. And they only lay fibre optic cables for fast connections if it is profitable. In Buir, with its 230 residents, that is not the case.
Obviously, the inhabitants of Buir saw that differently. Now they manage the internet themselves. Every Saturday the men meet on the village square to do their duty for the community: they dig a funnel for the fibre optics cable. The Telekom agreed to lay the cable if the funnel is provided. And that is very important, because without internet even the most beautiful village is not attractive. "Time is running out", said Micheal Joepen, the community chief, "people are leaving this place."
Solidarity from the neighboring village
The residents from neighboring Frohngau did not need to dig themselves. With 413 residents, the village apparently merited the Telekom's service. The cable for the broadband connection came at the beginning of 2013.
Now the residents of Frohngau support their neighbors in Buir and help them to dig the funnel. Together they worked for two months to connect Buir to their fibre optic cable. They started in spring-time and in July they met in the middle of the road between their two villages. Now they just need to dig a funnel from the Buir village square to the main road. But these 550 meters are through hard asphalt. The community administration provides a power shovel, but it can hardly be used along the narrow village road.
"This is hard work", 40-year-old Peter says. He usually works as a computer scientist, but now he stands up to his neck in the wet funnel. "Most of us are not used to this kind of work."
Worries about the village's future
"We have an accelerated rural exodus", says Michael Joepen, who is coordinating the work, "Additionally, there is the demographic change. If young people do not move here, the village life dies."
Many houses in the pretty Eifel village are empty and land for building is waiting to be bought. "We have affordable properties and land prices and the lovely living space is close to nature", said Joepen. "It is ideal for children. But when they grow up, they want internet."
The 70 years-old Ewald does not need the internet. The retiree does not own a computer. "At my age you even have trouble with operating a calculator", he says. Nevertheless he helps to dig through the asphalt every Saturday. "You have to think about the village's future", Ewald said. "And furthermore it strengthens the village-community."
The tax adviser in the village is also very interested in a fast internet connection. He already lost some clients because he cannot send or receive larger files via email. And at the local gas station, queues start to form whenever some one pays with credit card.
Germany lags far behind
In European comparison, Germany lags far behind. Even Rumania, Bulgaria and Greece have better broadband access. "In the coming years we will systematically develop fast internet", said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The "Project 2016" promises every German citizen a mobile broadband connection in the next three years.
By now there are about one million households without broadband connections. In a rural district in Western Germany, people got creative to solve their internet problem. They too helped themselves and built a DSL-radio line network. Data streams can now be send to the most remote villages.
In Buir they chose the fibre optic cable option - so now they're digging, just like they were the Saturday before and every other Saturday this year, when the weather allows it. They should be done in January. Then it's up to the Telekom to keep their promise and put in the cable.