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Engineers swap holes for poles to link up Howtown with ultrafast broadband

cumbria-fibre-broadband[H]ouseholds and businesses in Howtown now have access to some of the fastest broadband speeds in Cumbria – after engineers found a low-tech solution to link them up with fibre.

The tourist hotspot had previously proven beyond the reach of high speed fibre broadband, separated from the nearest telephone exchange by a 2km stretch of challenging fellside.

However, engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, came up with a solution by hanging a fibre optic cable from a string of specially built telegraph poles. The cable was then split out and fed directly to the 15 individual households and businesses in the hamlet – using FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) technology.

Openreach senior operations manager, Matt Fishwick explained: “Some areas were completely inaccessible to the vehicles and equipment needed to lay fibre in the ground. The only way round it was to hang the fibre cable from poles. But there weren’t any poles to hitch it to so we had to erect several new poles along the fellside.

“We had engineers with these 10m long poles which each weigh about 300kg, over their backs walking up the fell for about a mile. There are some tracks but you can’t get a vehicle up there so the only way of doing it is by hand. Some serious heavy lifting was involved.”

Engineers also had the task of connecting up the overhead fibre link with the cable running back to the telephone exchange in Pooley Bridge. More than 4km of fibre spine was put in place using newly built or existing roadside ducts. Blockages in the ducts had to be cleared, with giant de-silting machinery brought in to clear debris washed into the ducts by rainfall over the years.

Matt said: “We had to clear a number of blockages in the existing ducting. Whenever it rains, water flows into manholes and joint boxes, often up to 2 feet deep – as they fill up, water travels along the duct – taking with it a load of silt, mud and debris, as the water recedes it leaves this behind which blocks access to new cables. We have to clean that all out before we can install new fibre cables.”

The remote hamlet is just one of many small communities across the county that have been connected up to high speed broadband using FTTP technology as part of the Connecting Cumbria project.

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, said: “I am so pleased for the residents of Howtown and future visitors to Howtown, that they now have access to some of the most impressive broadband speeds in Cumbria. And it shows that fibre providers can use simple, common-sense solutions to drive access through some of the most challenging terrain.

“This is great news for rural communities across the country, and I know that BT are working hard to invest resources into technological solutions to get fibre into the most remote corners, and I absolutely back them in that.”

One business due to benefit from fibre is the Howtown Hotel. Owner David Baldry commented: “Although technology is not at the forefront of our business, having fibre broadband will most certainly be a welcome addition for tearoom visitors as well as those families who come to our self-catering cottages throughout the year, wishing to stay in touch with family and friends. Mobile reception in Howtown is patchy at the best of times and we feel it is essential to be able to offer visitors similar services to those they have at home as the march of technology continues.”

David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said:  “Tourism – perhaps more than any other sector in Cumbria – is hugely dependent on digital technology for web-based marketing, on-line booking and customer contact and many tourism businesses regard higher speed connections as crucial to the future of their business. So it is great to see Connecting Cumbria doing everything it can to reach these homes and businesses however small or remote they may be.”

Mike Blackburn, BT North West regional director, added: “Cumbria is England’s third largest county but the country’s second least densely populated. Combined with its mountainous terrain – this presents considerable challenges to rolling out fibre. Connecting up Howtown is a prime example of our determination to make high-speed broadband as widely available as possible.”

Since October 2013, the Connecting Cumbria project is a partnership between Cumbria County Council and BT. In addition to a significant number of properties connected to FTTP it has also enabled more than 590 fibre broadband cabinets across the county, with more being switched on every day. Over 120,000 Cumbrian households and businesses now have access to fibre as a result of the project.

Together with BT’s commercial programme, nearly 220,000 homes and businesses have access to the fibre network in Cumbria.

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 wide choice of fibre broadband providers.

More than nine out of ten premises across the UK can already access superfast broadband speeds. For more details on the roll-out visit openreach.co.uk/whereandwhen. People struggling with broadband speeds who are not included in a plan can visit www.communityfibre.com to find how to help bring superfast broadband to their local area.

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