penrith and the border broadband conference

Penrith and the Border communities are determined to get high-speed Next Generation broadband Access(NGA) for most people and a reliable 2mb connection for everyone by the end of 2012. This is vital for a constituency with a higher proportion of self-employed people than anywhere else in Britain. It will also be very important for us as the most sparsely populated constituency in England, with very poor access to many services.
Under current plans, Cumbria is unlikely to achieve universal 2mb access before 2015. Even this date seems very optimistic. There are currently no plans to provide superfast NGA for most of the citizens in the constituency. A conventional approach – where Government and a private sector provider lay all the fibre for superfast access – would be totally unaffordable (a recent estimate was for £40 million pounds).
We therefore need a project that can deliver universal broadband to everyone in Penrith and the Border, and super-fast broadband to most people, in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Our Parish Pump Project aims to drive this process by opening ‘back-haul’ fibre-optic infrastructure, which is already in the ground but which is currently inaccessible, and relying on communities to install the ‘last mile’ from the fibre back-hauto their homes. If successful, it would rapidly ‘fill in’ through community action 1,200 square miles of the most remote part of England.
Rory Stewart MP and his team are pressing the Government to:
   -open up existing fibre-optic cables that run to almost all the schools in the constituency
   -encourage owners to allow access to the existing cabling on the Carlisle-Settle line
   -encourage the owners of electric, telephone and mobile masts to allow us to attach aerial fibre-optic          
     cable and microwave units
   -create a ‘parish pump’ (cabinet) in each parish (at a cost of £10-15,000 per cabinet), supplied with a ‘fat-
     pipe’ of fibre-optic cabling. (This should cost less than ten per cent of existing estimates of the cost of  
     more traditional approaches to NGA for Penrith and the Border. We would like this to be funded from the
     digital switch-over fund)
Communities would then decide what service they wanted to pay for from the parish pump to their home. They could decide, for example:
   -to go with a cheap low-speed option by putting a wireless network on top of their parish-pump
   -to choose the more expensive high-speed version of running fibre optic cable to their home
   -they could drop the cost by asking local farmers to let them through their fields and paying a  
     local contractor to dig the trenches.
Rory Stewart MP is also pressing the Government to:
   -Provide low-interest loans to parishes so that they can buy the infrastructure to connect the cabinet to
     their homes; rather than having to bear the high cost of installing super-fast up front (which might cost
     £1,500), they could pay off the cost in low-interest instalments over 20 years.
   -Help to convince private sector service providers (such as Virgin Media) to agree to provide their
     services down community-built networks. (Without this communities could get super-fast broadband but
     not Virgin products ‘such as ESPN’)
Mr Stewart aims to launch a communities web-site for parishes to share their ideas on connecting homes to the parish pump, recording barriers and providing more detailed information of the maps of ‘not-spots’, and hopes to negotiate on Cumbria’s behalf with industry and Government to achieve the objectives above. Those areas which are not within reach of a fibre parish pump (or a microwave relay) would fall back on a wireless or satellite solution. He hopes that the private sector will be inspired by the potential competition from parish pump projects into moving into areas which they currently argue are uneconomic.
The international broadband conference at Rheged in Penrith on 18th September 2010 will finalise the design and infrastructure for the project, provide a detailed map of the constituency’s needs parish-by-parish, announce the first pilot projects in specific parishes and hopes to secure commitments from Government anthe private sector. The Hon. Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Broadband, will open the event and speakers include Bill Murphy (Managing Director, NGA, BT Group), Chris Smedley (Chief Executive GEO), Bill Davies (Executive Director, Blackberry RIM). Representatives of Cumbria’s numerous innovative community projects delivering NGA, such as Cybermoor from Alston and Great Asby Broadband, will also attend.


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