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First fibre laid in ‘flagship’ Cumbria community broadband project

Thursday, April 23rd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A community-owned broadband project in Cumbria is finally celebrating the start of its network build after a five-year wait.

The Fibre GarDen project will deliver superfast broadband to 500 properties in the Cumbrian Dales of Garsdale and Dentdale.

The scheme has had to overcome a series of stumbling blocks to get it to this point but has now announced that the first sections of fibre optic cable have been laid.

Earlier this year, Cable.co.uk reported how the Fibre GarDen project had finally been given the green light when Cumbria County Council voted to separate it from the wider Connecting Cumbria programme, removing it from the contract with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and so releasing £383,500 it had secured in grant funding from DEFRA’s Rural Community Broadband Fund.

But organisers are finally celebrating the start of the network build, with network infrastructure company ITS Technology Group announcing that the first sections of fibre had been laid.

Spokesperson David Cullen said the cable had been routed from the outskirts of Sedbergh, across to Long Rigg on the Millthrop road, under the road and is on the way to Benson Bank on the A684 Garsdale road.

The goal at this stage is to create a “bridge” between the two dales, with a “carefully planned and designed network” 29km long, he said.

“This heralds the start of the drive to connect 580 properties and deliver speeds of up to 100Mbps to a community that has been struggling with little or no connectivity.

“With momentum gathering pace to get the network built, the first properties should be able to access services by the summer.”

'Against the odds'

Mr Cullen said commercial providers are often inhibited from rolling out fibre to the premises in areas like the Dales because of the cost of the build, and the relatively sparse populations.

He said they had looked at the methods to build these types of networks to bring the capital costs down and make it a commercially viable proposition.

“Most importantly, for the end-user, the cost of connection and the services delivered will remain comparable to those in urban areas.

“This, coupled with the fact that the network is owned by the community for the community, should encourage strong take-up.

“This project has triumphed against the odds. It is a flagship to other rural communities, and shows that with the right skills and resources, it is possible for them to build and run their own superfast networks."

Organisers have previously said that the Fibre GarDen project will initially build 64km of network, constructed from “both ends and to meet in the middle”, with plans to extend it to neighbouring areas at a later date.

The government has set a target of bringing superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbps and above) to 90% of the UK by 2016 through its Broadband Delivery (BDUK) project. Its superfast extension programme will extend coverage to 95% by the end of the following year.

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