Communities in and around the Northumberland town of Rothbury can now get some of the fastest broadband speeds in the country – thanks to the completion of a new fibre network three months ahead of schedule.
Often referred to as the ‘Capital of Coquetdale’, Rothbury was the first community in the UK to go superfast using the Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF).
Funded by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, it is helping ensure that communities not covered by the existing roll-out of fibre broadband, are not left behind in the race for high-speed internet access.
Government has provided more than £400,000 to roll-out superfast broadband across Rothbury, with BT chosen to build and deliver the infrastructure and network as well as making a significant financial investment towards the project. The roll-out is part of the county-wide iNorthumberland broadband programme, a key part of the council’s growth investment, which is being delivered by Northumberland County Council and BT.
Since the first fibre broadband street cabinet, situated on Station Road, ‘went live’ in December last year, more than 1,665 homes and businesses in Rothbury, and nearby Thropton, Snitter and Catington, have been given access to the new fibre broadband network and the benefits of faster broadband speeds.
Dan Rogerson, Environment Minister, said: “Bringing faster, more reliable broadband to the UK is vital to help build a stronger economy and fairer society. That is why it is great to see rural communities like Rothbury achieve their target, not only on budget, but three months ahead of time.
“Thanks to our investment, local people can now access to some of the fastest speeds in the UK. This will bring huge benefits to everyone who lives and works in the area unlocking the economic potential of the town.”
The task to get the fibre technology to one of the most remote parts of Northumberland has been a massive feat of engineering which boasts several ‘firsts’ for the North East. It is the first community in the region to benefit from fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband where the fibre runs straight from the exchange to the home or business, bringing with it massive download speeds of up to 330Mbps . It is also the first North East community to benefit from new technology such as overhead, lightweight fibre cabling and the first where a new fibre street cabinet has been built into the network to enable superfast broadband to reach homes and businesses, which otherwise would not have benefited from the roll-out because they were connected directly to the telephone exchange, rather than via a cabinet.
Councillor Dave Ledger, deputy leader for Northumberland County Council, said: “This is fantastic news. To have so many regional firsts in this part of Northumberland is an outstanding achievement. I hope that residents and businesses are enjoying and making the very most of these broadband speeds. They will also be an important factor in the future vitality and viability of these communities, and they encourage more people and businesses to base themselves here.”
Engineers’ from Openreach, BT’s local network business, have put in place the longest fibre feed or ‘spine’ of the iNorthumberland2 roll-out to date. More than 40km of fibre cable has been put in place using some existing, and some newly built, underground ducts with some of the route requiring traffic management to ensure engineers safety as they worked. Around ten major blockages in the ducts had to be cleared, with giant vacuums brought in several times to clear silt and debris washed into the ducts by rainwater. Six new fibre street cabinets and 44 new poles have been installed and engineers have had to carefully transport the 21st century technology across several environmentally sensitive areas, including The Iron Bridge at Cragside which was carefully restored to ensure no sign of the engineering work was left, and the Cragside estate itself.
Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director of next generation access, said: “Rothbury is a remote town in the most sparsely populated county in England with diverse and challenging geography – which makes today’s announcement all the more significant. It may be remote but having access to fibre broadband means it is no longer isolated – with superfast broadband delivering the digital world to its doorstep.
“Households and businesses can now exploit superfast broadband to its full potential – on a par with any major town or city – supporting economic growth and strengthening community connectivity for social benefit.”
Cllr Stephen Bridgett, Rothbury Division, said: “Rothbury really has been a huge success story for superfast broadband and that is in no small part down to the huge role residents played in helping to draw down the funds, ensuring that plans became a reality. Take-up since its installation has been much higher than predicated and we are now working with our partners to draw down the claw back funds early and reinvest those funds to bring faster broadband into even more remote areas within our area. This will be a continual process for us and we have no intention in stopping yet.”
For Rothbury residents, fibre broadband at home means everyone in the family can do their own thing online, all at the same time, whether it’s downloading music in minutes, watching catch-up TV or posting photos and videos to social networking sites in seconds.
The benefits are also considerable for businesses, which can do much more in far less time. Firms can speed up file and data transfers, collaborate with colleagues and customers on conference or video calls and staff can work as effectively from home as they would in the office.
One local business already feeling the benefits is MadeByGrandad. The Rothbury-based firm was launched by Roy Stephenson and sells handmade bags, satchels and cases both locally and via Etsy, so having a good internet connection is vital.
Roy said: “For me, it was mainly the upload speed that previously caused me difficulties. Much of my work involves sending out illustrations to customers, which often involves sending quite large files. My upload speed is now twenty-four times faster since I upgraded to superfast, which has helped me hugely.
“One of the biggest challenges of being self-employed is time. You only have one pair of hands while trying to do six different things at once. Anything that takes away obstacles and frees up time enables you to work more effectively. This is exactly what superfast broadband has done for me. It has given back some time which I can plough back into running my business, making my products and getting them to my customers.”