‘Self-dig’ rural community broadband project celebrates first customers online

First Fell End Broadband customers join the superfast digital highway 
The Fell End Broadband project, an innovative ‘self-dig’ scheme in remote Cumbria - is celebrating getting its first customers online. 

All 58 premises – spread across a 15-kilometre network – will soon be able to access speeds of up to a blistering 330Mbps after residents helped to pay for and build the fibre to the premises broadband network themselves. 

The completed project is the culmination of four years of fundraising, planning and engineering work. 

The project was spearheaded by Ravenstonedale Parish Council, who hatched their ambitious plan after realising the community was too remote to benefit from the countywide rollout of fibre as a result of being too far from the nearest telephone exchange. 

They raised around £6,000 locally towards the scheme, which in turn helped them to secure £53,000 additional funding from the UK Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund, £26,000 from the Prince’s Countryside Fund, a further £2k from the Holhird Trust and £1k from TalkTalk Digital Heroes. BT provided extensive network materials and manpower for the project. 

The 15km of fibre linking 58 premises, including 28 businesses, was laid using a pioneering technique trialled by BT and known as ‘mole ploughing’. Mini diggers perform the dual task of drilling and pulling through the new fibre optic cable more quickly than traditional methods, increasing the ability to dig through rough and difficult terrain. 

Six residents have already signed up to a superfast service on the network, which is open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis, so residents will be able to choose from a number of suppliers. 

Delighted early customer Paul Bonsall, who runs the Fat Lamb Country Inn and Restaurant, said: “We’ve gone from about 2Mbps to around 60Mbps which is fantastic. We could have gone much faster but we decided that would be ok for now. We are quite heavily reliant on a good broadband connection for our business. We have 12 rooms here and guests expect to have a good wifi connection. They want to be able to upload images of their holidays straight away on social media to show their friends and family what they have been doing. Now we have enough bandwidth to keep everyone happy all of the time.” 

Fellow early adopter Stephen Morriss, who runs sign writing business Raven Graphics, added: “Before we were often struggling with as little as half a meg, sometimes it could take half a minute just to download a webpage. My job involves uploading and downloading a lot of big graphic files for customers – with fibre I can send then in a matter of seconds – it’s absolutely staggering. 

“My wife Alison and I like to watch a lot of movies and now we’re able to get most of what we watch on catch-up TV, something we just couldn’t do before, so much so that I’m now thinking of ditching my satellite dish. I’ve also got two teenage boys who like to do a lot of online gaming and now they can both be online at the same time as I’m downloading a movie, it really has transformed things.” 

Councillor and community broadband pioneer, Libby Bateman, said: “It’s been a long journey and this is a staggering achievement for everybody involved; I’m so pleased to hear such great feedback from the resident who are connected and am looking forward to the rest of the network going live shortly” 

Local MP Rory Stewart said: “This is Cumbria showing Britain how broadband can be delivered to the most remote places in the country. It is a project driven by the community, supported by BT and the Government – and it reaches the most inaccessible area at a fraction of what it would cost to do through Government alone. 

“Now that we have done it once, I’d like us to repeat this model again and again across Cumbria and then across rural Britain. It will provide the key to ensuring 100 per cent of Britain has the option of superfast broadband, and will make sure that we in Cumbria have the best rural coverage in Europe. 

Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT added: “The people of Fell End are true pioneers who have worked tirelessly with boundless enthusiasm and commitment to see this ambitious project to fruition. 
“Fell End is a tiny remote community that now has the digital world right on its doorstep. Households and businesses can now exploit superfast broadband to its full potential, on a par with any town or city – supporting economic growth and strengthening community connectivity for social benefit” 

“Elsewhere, we’re continuing to work with other local authorities and communities to make high-speed broadband available in other challenging areas of the UK.” 

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This is brilliant news for the residents and businesses of Fell End who can now access superfast broadband speeds and all the benefits it offers. The Government’s UK wide rollout is on track to deliver access to superfast speeds to 95% of the UK by 2017, however taking superfast broadband to the more remote areas of the UK understandably presents us with challenges. I’m delighted that all parties involved were able to work together to achieve this fantastic result.” 

Rural Affairs Minister Dan Rogerson, added: “Access to broadband through the Rural Community Broadband Fund will make a huge difference to those living and working in Fell End. Fast and reliable broadband coverage is crucial to building a stronger economy and fairer society, enabling rural businesses to compete and grow.” 

BT has invested £2.5 billion on a purely commercial basis to bring superfast fibre broadband to two-thirds of the UK’s homes and businesses – a figure reached some 21 months ahead of the Spring 2014 target. Around 110,000 are in Cumbria. 
The Connecting Cumbria partnership between BT and Cumbria County Council, seeks to build on this footprint and make fast, affordable fibre broadband available to around 93 per cent of Cumbria homes and businesses by the end of 2015 

Notes to Editors 

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