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Cheltenham residents secure the funding needed for fibre upgrade

Friday, November 18th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A campaign to bring superfast speeds to a Cheltenham housing estate is celebrating success following a long battle for better broadband.

Residents in Up Hatherley launched a campaign to get their local broadband cabinet upgraded to fibre after BT decided it wasn’t commercially viable to do so.

At one point it looked as if the only solution would be for the residents to raise £9,000 plus VAT to plug the funding gap between what BT were willing to pay and the cost of upgrading the cabinet.

But innovative use of the government’s Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme – topped up with funding from Openreach – has allowed for a fibre upgrade without the residents shelling out.

The Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme offers funding to households with speeds below 2Mbps that are not part of any existing superfast rollout.

Eligible residents in Up Hatherley were given £350 each towards the upgrade cost. The vouchers were pooled, with Openreach providing the necessary additional funding through BT’s Community Fibre Partnerships programme.

Clark Lawson, who co-ordinated the Cheltenham 151 campaign to improve speeds in the Chargrove Lane area, told Cable.co.uk in March 2015 he got 1.6Mbps “on a good day” and that many on the estate got only 0.5Mbps, making it difficult to browse the web and almost impossible to make Skype calls or stream TV online.

The new connection will use fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) technology to deliver speeds up to 80Mbps, depending how far people live from the cabinet.

'Team effort'

Mr Lawson said: “We were initially disappointed, frustrated and confused that we and our neighbours couldn’t order superfast broadband when we moved here three years ago.

“This partnership deal is the culmination of months of hard work by lots of people – it’s been a real team effort and we should be proud of this milestone.

“It’s great to know superfast fibre broadband is now on its way, and without us having to dig into our own pockets.”

Mr Lawson told Cable.co.uk that once residents had applied to the Better Broabdand scheme, things moved quickly thanks to Openreach and Fastershire, the organisation delivering the government's rollout plans in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

"Without the vouchers we would not be in the position we are in, we'd have been stuck until something like this came along," he added.

Digital minister Matt Hancock said the Better Broadband scheme was designed to help the places in the UK with the slowest speeds.

“Allowing neighbouring homes and businesses to pool their grants means that places like Up Hatherley can get a rapid boost in broadband speeds and start enjoying all the benefits that a fast connection offers.”

Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk (pictured with Mr Lawson) said: “Getting to this point has taken a huge amount of effort, but I’m delighted the end is now in sight.

“I was not prepared to see residents forced to put their hands in their pockets to part-fund this project, when the government has set aside millions to connect up not-spots.”

Kim Mears, Openreach’s managing director for infrastructure delivery, said: “It’s great to be able to work together with communities like Up Hatherley to find a fibre broadband solution.”

Eligible communities have until the end of December 2017 to apply for Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme vouchers from the government.

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