Rural Community Broadband Specialist Welcomes Extra Funding To Boost Digital Connectivity In Cumbria

A rural community broadband specialist has welcomed recently launched extra funding to help secure faster and more reliable internet connections for homes and businesses in rural areas of Cumbria.

Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) has connected more than 7,000 properties, mostly in the North West of England, to full-fibre gigabit broadband since being formed in 2011.

B4RN believes the extra funding support for broadband connections launched last month by the Borderlands Growth Deal will help more rural communities in Cumbria to gain access to better broadband.

Vouchers are currently available in Cumbria and Northumberland to subsidise the costs of bringing gigabit capable broadband to areas suffering with slow speeds.

As part of the £394.5m Borderlands Growth Deal, up to £4 million of additional Government funding will ‘top up’ these vouchers so even more money is available to improve digital connectivity and boost the regional economy.

The Government’s Rural Gigabit Broadband Vouchers Scheme (RGBVS) currently provides up to £3,500 funding for eligible businesses and up to £1,500 for eligible residential properties to install gigabit-capable connections.

The £4 million made available will be used to match the level of funding available under the RGBVS in areas where available services are less than 30Mbps download speed, so that eligible businesses can now apply for up to a maximum of £7,000 and eligible residential properties up to £3,000.

B4RN, a registered community benefit society, has been instrumental in bringing full-fibre broadband to hundreds of properties in rural Cumbria, connecting communities such as Burton-in-Kendal, Garsdale and Hutton Roof. 

B4RN chief executive Barry Forde said: “Our volunteers and staff are working in their communities to bring B4RN’s gigabit full-fibre broadband to previously digitally disadvantaged rural parts of Cumbria. 

“The business and, particularly, social benefits of faster connectivity have only been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic – with more people working from home and only seeing loved ones via video calls.

“The government’s voucher scheme – topped up with the Borderlands Growth Deal – is directly helping Cumbrian communities struggling with slow speeds to fund their B4RN digs.”

One of the rural communities connected by B4RN is Burton-in-Kendal.

Mike Iddon, a B4RN volunteer in Burton-in-Kendal, was connected on 13 March – the day his children were sent home from school and ten days before lockdown. 

Mike said: “Previously we could use only one computer at a time at home. Broadband speeds were so slow in the village the headteacher at Burton Morewood school couldn’t offer online lessons, but that’s changed.

“We started working at home earlier in the crisis because my wife Maddie survived cancer as a teenager and can’t risk infection.”

Cllr Stewart Young, Leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “Groups such as B4RN are playing a vital role supporting business and residents in rural communities to gain access to high-speed, affordable and reliable digital connectivity.

“The new top-up to the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme secured through the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal will help bring gigabit-capable broadband to rural areas.

“I’d encourage all eligible residents and businesses to contact a supplier who will make an application for funding on your behalf.”

The economic and social benefits of high-speed internet connections are central to the Borderlands vision for the region and have been proven doubly important during the Covid-19 restrictions.

More information on the Borderlands top up vouchers can be found on the Borderlands Partnership website at https://www.borderlandsgrowth.com/Digital-Voucher-Scheme.

Businesses and residents in Cumbria are eligible to receive these contributions towards gigabit-capable connections if they are based in locations where available services are less than 30Mbps download speed.

Residents and businesses can visit the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme website at https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk to find a list of suppliers in their local area.

Once you have made contact with a supplier, you do not need to do anything further and the supplier will apply for the relevant level of funding required to support each project.

Applications for broadband vouchers must be submitted by a supplier by March 31, 2021.