Saturday, 05 September 2015

Cumbria and BT sign £51m contract to deliver superfast broadband

Broadband signing photo
Bill Murphy, of Next Generation Access BT, with Liz Mallinson, of Cumbria County Council, overseen by Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart

The £51m contract to bring surperfast broadband to 93 per cent of Cumbrian homes and businesses was finally signed on the shores of Ullswater today, signalling a start to a communications revolution in the county that it is hoped will transform the fortunes of many rural communities.

The sunny Autumn setting was in tune with the optimism of campaigners such as Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart who hailed it as a great day for Cumbria that marked the end of two years of delays and negotiations that seemed to have involved a “different crisis every month”.

Superfast broadband would allow schools in remote valleys to provide language teaching, Parkinson’s sufferers to speak to doctors online rather than drive to Newcastle and help Cumbria’s self employed and home workers compete in the global market, he said.

“Cumbria has been held back for hundreds of years by the challenges of distance and communication. Here in Glenridding we are in the middle of one of the sparsely populated districts in the most sparsely populated constituency in England,” he said, adding that there was a still a lot of work for communities to do if Cumbria was to meet its ambition of having the best rural broadband in Europe by 2015.

“Businesses and communities need to play their part in going that last mile and we have flexible funds standing by to help,” he said.

BT will now embark on a two year toll roll-out that will deliver speeds of up to 80Mbps for Cumbrian homes once the County Council’s cabinet has met in January to agree a set of priorities which will determine the order in which communities get connected.

It will approve a plan that will show each community and business at which point in the two year programme will be connected and what speeds to expect. Those that require higher speeds will be given advice and support. Fibre to the home technology – delivering ultra-fast speeds of up to 330Mbps – will also be deployed in certain areas and will be available on demand.

Those premises in the remaining seven per cent who currently have very poor internet speeds will also see an uplift, as the project aims to deliver a minimum of 2Mbps or more to almost all homes and businesses..

Cllr Elizabeth Mallinson, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member with lead responsibility for Connecting Cumbria, emphasised that funding would be have to be spent in rural areas. “We will have a timetable and a roll out so people will know where they are for the next two years.”

Bill Murphy, Managing Director, Next Generation Access, said: “The statistics show that in Cumbria, something like 7,000 businesses operate from villages, hamlets and isolated properties, which is why BT is committed to helping push fibre to those hardest to reach, offering a helping hand to the small community projects where residents are helping to build their own superfast connections.”


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