Cumbria Community Fibre Company Seeks Investment

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Broadband cooperative offers community chance to invest in local fibre rollout

Community broadband co-operative Cybermoor is looking for investors to expand the fibre broadband provision in Alston Moor in Cumbria.

Cybermoor, established in 2001, is aiming to raise £100,000 to construct a fibre network serving the most populous parts of the parish and will extend it as more investment is attracted. Potential investors have a deadline of 31 March to invest.

Keeping up the fibre progress

The community share offer requires a minimum investmernt of £100 and an initial three year commitment, with current investors including the Rural Development Programme for England and residents of Cumbria. Each member of the initiative has one vote, regardless of the size of their investment, with the aim of keeping control of the infrastructure within the community.

Cybermoor project developer Dan Heery told TechWeekEurope that it hopes to get other organisations involved such as local housing associations and public sector bodies to invest, with the possibility of them reclaiming their investment in the future.

The first phase of the new network has already been completed with a five mile long fibre optic route linking the town of Alston with the village of Nenthead and the primary school. In November 2009, residents began digging their own trenches to help with the project which could eventually offer the parish’s 2,500 population speeds of up to 200Mbps.

Currently, only a handful of people benefit from the fibre network, but Cybermoor wants to get 300 people onto it by March next year. The decision on who is connected will be assessed by cost, with more people added as the capital is raised.

Cybermoor says that the project will benefit from the previous experience it has accrued since its formation and that it aims to work with local contractors and draw on the support from the local community as much as possible in an effort to keep costs down.

‘Great opportunity’

“This is a great opportunity for people to invest in a company that will bring benefits to the whole community,” commented Heery. “A fibre optic cable network at the heart of the community will provide high capacity connections to residents and businesses on Alston Moor for the next 30 years, helping to attract people and businesses who want to live in a rural area and benefit from high speed connections. This is a chance to own part of the UK’s first co-operative fibre optic network.”

“We want to attract investment for more – literally – ground-breaking advances, with a target of £100,000 of community pledges to purchase and dig fibre-optic cable, demonstrating that communities can build their own fibre broadband networks using local people and finance,” added Rory Stewart MP, Penrith and the Border. “I’m extremely excited about the Cybermoor Community Share Offer and the role it will play in bringing new investment to support the development of this vital digital infrastructure.”

Not Enough

Cybermoor built its own wireless network in 2002 when the parish had no service from BT, which felt it was not commercially viable. There is a danger that residents may miss out on superfast broadband as well. It was announced in 2009 that the the original 512Kbps Cybermoor network would be upgraded to WiMax, but it  is no longer fast enough to support demand.

Prime Minister David Cameron has stated the importance of improving broadband in rural Britain and has offered local councils the opportunity to apply for BDUK funding to improve infrastructure in their regions. However critics have pointed out that councils must somehow match any funding they receive through other means and that the £750 million funding isn’t enough, especially when compared to the £2.5 billion pledged by BT to fibre rollout.

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