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High-speed fibre network steams ahead to connect rural communities

Ravenglass and Eskdale steam railway
Ravenglass and Eskdale steam railway

[C]ommunities along a steam railway line, famed for being one of the oldest of its kind in England, are now benefitting from the latest high-speed communications technology.

Fibre broadband is available to more than 180 homes and businesses on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway route, thanks to the Connecting Cumbria partnership. And about one in five households and businesses in Ravenglass have already signed up to a high-speed fibre service.

Engineers from Openreach – BT’s local network business – have switched on two new green fibre broadband roadside cabinets in Ravenglass and, most recently, one in Eskdale Green.

Rachel Bell, group marketing and events manager from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway, which is one of the oldest and longest narrow gauge railways in England, welcomed the arrival of fibre broadband in the area and said good quality communications was essential to the future success of the railway company.

“We offer a free wi-fi service to customers at both ends of the line, in the station cafés and within the accommodation available on site,” she said. “Customers use this wi-fi for a raft of reasons from general browsing to the downloading of the commentary app which supports their rail journey.  They also use it to take pictures and upload to their social media accounts, all great coverage for the station.

“At peak times of the day service levels can struggle with the demands placed on it. The availability of wi-fi services has become an expectation within the tourism sector – we are determined to continue to meet and exceed the needs of our customers.  Any increase in broadband speed will only support us in doing this.”

Since October 2013, the Connecting Cumbria project – a partnership between Cumbria County Council and BT – has installed more than 500 fibre broadband cabinets, with more being switched on every day. More than 119,000 households and businesses now have access to fibre as a result of the project.

Dawn Pickles, clerk to Eskdale Parish Council, said: “The provision of superfast broadband to Eskdale, the “hidden valley” in the remote Western Lakes, is a vital part of our hopes to retain a viable, inclusive community here for the future.

“It will enable our children and other students to reliably complete online study and communicate with school friends from other villages, it will enable older and disabled residents to maintain their independence by using online ordering and medical services and it will be a boon to home working residents, allowing people to stay here in this supportive community for as long as possible.

“The benefits to our local businesses will be enormous, allowing better use of websites and the provision of better visitor facilities such as free wi-fi in our hotels and guest accommodation. This is the best news that our tiny community here on the flanks of England’s highest peak have had in years!”

David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said:  “This is another example of Connecting Cumbria reaching homes and businesses in small and remote communities. Getting fibre to rural locations is no easy task, but it’s a very important one. It is equally important for people to understand how they can benefit and take the opportunity to upgrade when the new technology arrives in their community.”

Mike Blackburn, BT North West regional director, said: “Every day the number of services available online, whether designed to entertain, educate, boost business or meet our daily needs, is growing. Online content and applications will continue to get more sophisticated making the availability of high-speed broadband ever more important. The highly successful Connecting Cumbria partnership, which has worked hard to reach so many rural communities, continues to make strong progress. When it is included with our commercial programme it means that fibre broadband is already available to nearly 224,000 Cumbrian homes and businesses.”

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