Holidaymakers arriving at the southern end of Ullswater over the Easter school holidays can now take advantage of high-speed fibre broadband to show everyone back home the beauty of the area.
The Connecting Cumbria partnership between Cumbria County Council and BT has given a much needed boost to the flood-hit local tourist industry and residents alike by making fibre broadband available to more than 200 homes and businesses in Glenridding.
In addition, 150 homes and businesses can access the high-speed service in other locations around the south of Ullswater, including Patterdale.
Engineers from Openreach – BT’s local network business – have overcome engineering challenges brought about by the floods, such as flooded ducts that house the fibre, to run 18km of fibre cable underground from Pooley Bridge to serve the new green fibre cabinet in the village.
One local businessman and resident who sees the arrival of high-speed fibre broadband in the community as essential to local tourism, is Graeme Connacher, a captain of the Ullswater Steamers, a company which has been operating cruises on Ullswater for more than 150 years.
“When I was a child holidaying in the lakes each year, the first thing I did when I jumped out of the car is ask my Dad if we could blow up the dinghy,” he said. “Now when the kids arrive with their parents the first thing they ask is ‘what’s the wi-fi password!’
“You can’t run a holiday let or hotel these days without a good, fast broadband connection. People want a home from home where, yes they can spend all day outdoors, but in the evening they want to be able to post the photos they took online or put their feet up after downloading a film or catch up TV on their tablet.
“I truly believe that high-speed fibre broadband arriving in the lakes is as essential to the tourism business as a water supply.”
Graeme plans to use the fast internet connection to improve the content on his website, such as live webcams, interactive content and downloadable commentaries. His customers will also be able to take advantage of faster wi-fi speeds whilst they wait to board the Steamers.
Local businessman Jon Holdsworth, who manages Patterdale Hall Estate, which provides self-catering accommodation for holidaymakers, is already seeing huge benefits after signing up to fibre shortly after its arrival in Patterdale.
He said: “We’ve had it for a few months now and it has transformed the business. We saw a big leap in speed from five to around 40Mbps. Having fibre has enabled us to set up a wi-fi access point so we can provide full- blown wireless broadband across our caravan site and all our 11 self-catering holiday homes. We did have limited wi-fi before we had fibre, but if there were a lot of customers online the office broadband would end up crawling to a halt.
“Good wi-fi is vital for a business like ours. Life is just a big multi-media experience these days. People are out on the Fells and they’re actually uploading pictures to things like Facebook before they even get back home. Quite often, especially during the school holiday period, we can see fifty devices plus online, so at least one device per person. It is incredible – virtually everybody is online now – even the older generations. Before we had broadband we had a few cancellations simply because we couldn’t offer wi-fi.
“For businesses in the area who haven’t got fibre yet but are thinking about it – I think it is a no-brainer. You’d just be mad not to, especially as the cost of it is only negligibly more and sometimes even less.”
David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said: “Tourism is the life blood of the Lake District and with the visitor season kicking off at Easter, it is vital that we do everything we can to show the world that Cumbria is open for business as well as provide our visitors with the best possible experience.
“High-speed fibre broadband being available in our key iconic locations shows that not only are we open for business, despite the floods and our rural location, but we are using the technology to enhance what we offer. In 2014 Cumbria and the Lake District received just over 41.5 million visitors. These visitors brought in £2.44 billion to the region’s economy and provided employment for 33,920 full time equivalent posts.”
Mike Blackburn, BT North West regional director, said: “Superfast broadband is now seen as an essential rather than a luxury. In areas such as the Lake District that are so dependent on tourism for the local economy, the internet is a must to show the world that they are open for business. High-speed fibre broadband enables them to create media rich content that instantly gets that message across.
“There is no quick and easy way to get superfast broadband to rural areas. It involves challenges above and beyond those you would encounter in a more urban environment, but we are making solid progress. Together with our commercial programme, we have already reached nearly 220,000 homes and businesses with our fibre network in Cumbria – and we are going further.”
When an area has gone ‘live’ for fibre, people need to contact their service provider to upgrade as it doesn’t happen automatically. Because the network is ‘open’, they have a choice of fibre broadband providers, with more than 140 now operating in the UK.