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Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart has this week given evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee's inquiry into superfast broadband, citing Cumbrian community models as examples of how Government can save money and connect wide stretches of remote rural communities at a fraction of projected costs.
The inquiry, which ran for two days on Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th June, focussed on the rollout of superfast broadband in Cumbria, one of the original NGA (Next Generation Access) pilots. The Committee questioned witnesses on the experience of the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum (ECCBF) and on issues such as DEFRA’s Rural Community Broadband Fund and the challenges faced during the rollout process. It went on to question representatives from BT, the Broadband Stakeholder Group, and Microsoft about issues including the uses and demand for superfast broadband, regulation and policy, and infrastructure and service provision.
Speaking alongside Miles Mandelson, Chairman of Great Asby Broadband and Vice Chair of the ECCBF, Mr. Stewart - who has led the Cumbrian campaign for superfast broadband - said:
"Cumbria is a model for the rest of Britain. What has been so impressive about Cumbria is the way in which communities have shown that it is possible to install superfast broadband at a fraction of the cost of Government's projections. I would also like to recognise those telecomms companies who showed more flexibility; until the Cumbrian model, companies were very reluctant to connect remote communities at affordable prices. Now, we have developed a model where companies are prepared to co-operate when communities themselves do some work, too, such as in Mallerstang where - led by Libby Bateman - the community have dug trenches, obtained way leaves and invested community resources, all for the sum of 17,000 pounds. This is an unimaginable improvement on how things were done before. My abiding concern now is that Government have been too slow in releasing cash to the communities who are pioneering these cost-saving, innovative models. I will keep fighting in lobbying Government and BDUK in overcoming the red tape that is hampering this, and this week's inquiry has been a valuable tool in articulating what still needs to be done."
The MP criticised Cable and Wireless for its recent decision to cut úneconomical' broadband services from residents in the Duddon Valley, where two communities are set to lose their connections at the end of June, potentially forcing residents to rely on intermittent, unreliable satellite connections. Rory Stewart said: "This crazy, short-sighted decision is absolutely counter-intuitive to all that we are doing in other parts of Cumbria. The numbers can fit when communities are prepared to make investments of their own. I am immensely proud of the work that we have done in Penrith and the Border in showing that this is possible, and am grateful for the opportunity to have