Rory has heralded the new 41 Million contract for broadband in Cumbria as a ‘giant step’ in his three year campaign to win Cumbria the best rural broadband in Europe. He welcomed the investment decision, saying ‘we need now to get broadband to people as soon as possible – it is vital for our rural economy. The key will be ensuring that communities in the remotest areas can ‘build and benefit’. Rory praised the hard work of the county council but emphasised that the county model needs to study the example set by the community project in Fellend by Kirkby Stephen. There Libby Bateman and other volunteers have designed a super-fast broadband project, which costs tax-payers 90 per cent less than previous models and delivers ‘fibre to the home’ in a very remote valley.
Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, yesterday praised Rory for showing what can be achieved ‘by an MP going hammer and tongs for broadband.’ He called the progress in Broadband and Mobile projects in rural areas “perhaps the most important steps conceivable” for rural communities. He committed to work with Rory to ensure that Cumbria remained in the vanguard of rural broadband, and took time out from his visit to congratulate Libby Bateman on her work, and to see the 4G project in Threlkeld.
The announcement is the latest stage in Rory’s campaign which has included a major international broadband conference in Penrith addressed by member of the Obama administration, his setting up of a county wide community website http://broadbandcumbria.com/
, the winning of major national technology pilots for Cumbria in both superfast broadband and mobile technology, the securing of the national broadband pilot for Cumbria, and his work with community broadband activists up and down the county.
Rory’s ongoing campaign has also been praised on the floor of the House of Commons, where Broadband Minister, Ed Vaizey, said “Rory Stewart’s… ability to gauge the issues which concern the house are second to none.’ DEFRA minister Richard Benyon praised “Rory Stewart’s visionary speech and the leadership he is giving in broadband and on improving mobile coverage.” The outgoing Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport, and Broadband, Jeremy Hunt, added: ‘I was particularly impressed by Rory Stewart’s approach and advocacy of broadband and mobile coverage for Cumbria. He and the Cumbrian communities should be very proud of what they have achieved.”
Rory warned, however, that it would be vital to ensure that the winning bidder began work as soon as possible and covered as much of the territory as possible with fibre-optic cable infrastructure. He stressed that full support and flexibility should be given to cover any areas, which were beyond the reach of the main ‘backhaul’, and the communities need to be allowed to participate. Rory said: “Cumbria has been the national test-bed, and it has been a tough and long process, but our activists and council have literally helped to write the rule book on rural broadband procurement nationally. They deserve a good deal of credit for leading the way on this. They have smoothed the path for other counties wishing to go through a similar process – dealing with enormously complex legislative and State Aid issues – but now we want to get down to the real work of connecting homes and businesses.”