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Rural Cumbrian community shuns government broadband rollout

Friday, February 6th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A community-owned broadband project to bring superfast speeds to 500 rural properties in Cumbria has finally been given the green light by council bosses.

Cumbria County Council voted to separate the Fibre GarDen project from the wider Connecting Cumbria programme, releasing funding that will allow it to deliver superfast broadband to 500 properties in the Garsdale and Dentdale area.

The community-owned initiative will initially build 64km of network, with plans to extend it to neighbouring areas.

Fibre GarDen had previously secured £382,500 in grant funding from DEFRA’s Rural Community Broadband Fund.

But because state aid rules ban the government from funding two competing projects in the same area, the council had to officially ‘de-scope’ it from Connecting Cumbria, removing it from the contract with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

The decision was originally taken last year to separate the project but was put on hold when the county council decided to look at it again.

Disadvantaged

There were concerns that Fibre GarDen had found itself unable to get backhaul – the cables that would connect their network to the core network – from Network Rail, and that local people might be left disadvantaged if Connecting Cumbria pulled out of the area.

However, the project was finally given the green light yesterday after councilors confirmed the separation, following assurances from Fibre GarDen that a ‘Plan B’ for backhaul is now in place.

Cllr David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said: “Fibre GarDen has been working on their plan for some years now – it was in the making before Connecting Cumbria started.

“These are local people, with local knowledge and local support.

“It makes sense for them to use the DEFRA funding to underpin their own scheme, but in order to make that happen we have to agree to step aside and remove the area from the Connecting Cumbria programme.

“We are happy to do that in the knowledge that Fibre GarDen has the full support from BDUK. Ultimately our priority is getting better broadband into homes and businesses across the county, so we wish them all the best in their endeavours.”

'All the pieces'

The project’s financial director and secretary Tony Roberts said network infrastructure company ITS Technology Group had helped secure backhaul from Sedburgh, Cumbria, meaning organisers now have “all the pieces of the project in place, and in our control”.

The project, although delayed, is still on track to be completed by the end of the year, but will be built from “both ends and to meet in the middle”, Fibre GarDen said.

Garsdale MP Tim Farron praised the council’s decision and added: “Fibre GarDen will help provide the residents of Dentdale and Garsdale super-fast broadband that millions of people can only be dream of.

“We have now jumped another hurdle and are another step closer to the big dig.”

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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