Connecting Cumbria, which has seen Cumbria County Council work closely with Openreach to make fibre-based broadband widely available across Cumbria, today announced the successful completion of the second and final phase of the partnership.

Fittingly, the last community to ‘go live’ was the village of Near Sawrey - home to Hill Top, a farmhouse once owned by Beatrix Potter and the place which inspired many of her most loved characters including Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-duck.

Seventy-six homes and businesses in the village, including Hill Top, which is run as a visitor attraction by the National Trust, can now access some of the fastest broadband speeds in the UK. Speeds of up to one gigabit bit per second (1Gbps) are available thanks to gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology, where fibre is run directly from the exchange all the way to each property.

Since work began on the Connecting Cumbria programme in 2013, more than 127,000 premises have been upgraded and can benefit from superfast broadband speeds - with nearly 6,000 of those connected to a full fibre network. Openreach engineers have enabled 107 exchanges, built around 1,000 fibre structures, erected hundreds of new telegraph poles and laid thousands of kilometres of underground fibre optic cables.

Over the lifetime of the programme more than £50 million has been invested from a combination of sources including grants from Building Digital UK (part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), Local Enterprise Partnership Funding and Openreach.

Cllr David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Property, said: “The importance of digital connectivity is increasingly critical to the modern day lives of residents and the productivity of businesses. This importance has been further highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis and as we recover and rebuild, access to fast, reliable connectivity is no longer a luxury for residents, local businesses or for the effective delivery of public services.

“From living and working in Cumbria, I know first-hand some of the challenges in delivering infrastructure in our county and the hard work that has gone into delivering fibre-based broadband through the Connecting Cumbria partnership.

“I am delighted that nearly 95% of properties in the county can now access superfast broadband services of at least 24Mbps. There is still more to do and Connecting Cumbria will now focus on the delivery of the Council’s Digital Infrastructure Strategy, with the aim of expanding gigabit services and improving connectivity to all communities. This is a top priority given the significant economic and social benefits for Cumbria.”

The deployment of fibre broadband by Connecting Cumbria is in addition to nearly 120,000 Cumbrian properties able to access superfast broadband as a result of Openreach’s commercial roll-out programme.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach Partnership Director for the North, said: “The success of the Connecting Cumbria partnership is a great achievement and testament to the team who have worked so hard for the past seven years. Planning and building fibre networks in one of the most challenging geographies in the UK is no mean feat.

“Connecting Cumbria will continue to help communities across Cumbria improve their broadband speeds working both with and independently from Openreach.

 “Commercially, Openreach is investing £12 billion to build full fibre broadband to 20 million homes across the UK – and more than three million of those will be in the toughest third of the UK. We’re already building full fibre networks in parts of Cumbria including Millom, Penrith, Barrow-in- Furness and Kendal as well as working directly with more rural communities via our Community Partnership Scheme.”

The Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) enables Openreach to work with a local community to build a customised co-funded solution and bring fibre broadband to areas not included in any existing private or publicly subsidised upgrade schemes.

By working with Openreach more than 120,000 homes and businesses across the UK can now benefit from ultrafast, ultra-reliable broadband via a CFP.

Residents and businesses in Cumbria with broadband speeds of less than 100 megabit per second (Mbps) available may be eligible for UK Government Gigabit Vouchers. Those with speeds below 30Mbps may also be eligible for funding via the Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme. The vouchers can cover most, and often all, of the community contribution to the overall cost of bringing broadband to their homes and businesses.

For more information on the benefits of fibre broadband and the voucher scheme visit http://www.connectingcumbria.org.uk/