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Cumbria community digs NHS-funded fibre

The Alston Moor area will have next-generation broadband connectivity by the end of the year, thanks to a social enterprise rollout that is partly funded by the NHS
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1 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNet

A community in Cumbria is installing its own next-generation broadband access, with the aim of turning on the fibre-based connectivity by the end of the year.

Alston Moor, based around the town of Alston, will get the high-speed broadband access through a social enterprise called Cybermoor. The company's chief executive, Daniel Heery, told ZDNet UK on Monday that the equipment being installed was capable of giving speeds of up to 100Mbps, but residents would have to make do with 20Mbps when the network goes live.

"We're currently in the process of securing 20Mbps backhaul," Heery said, adding that 100Mbps backhaul — referring to the connection between the access part of the network and the core network — "tends to be quite costly, so we have to wait for the prices to fall".

The backhaul link will be based on a microwave link between Alston Moor and Telewest's network in Newcastle. Deploying the masts and link will incur a one-off cost of around £100,000, Heery said, whereas other ISPs quoted more than £50,000 per year for extending their networks to the area.

All photos are courtesy of Cybermoor.

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2 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNet

 This picture shows fibre ducting waiting to be laid.

Cybermoor's deployment is being supported by a mix of community and public sector funding, including money from the NHS, Heery said.

"One of the key things we intend to do is around telehealth," Heery said. "[The NHS] will be using devices to monitor people's blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and weight at home. Nurses can monitor these things remotely and intervene [if necessary]. It saves the NHS quite a lot of money in terms of ambulance, hospital beds and so on."

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3 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNet

This picture shows the end-point of a fibre connection being installed in a home.

Not every Alston Moor resident will get connectivity from Cybermoor in the first stage of the project.

"We're building it out in different phases," Heery said. "The first phase will connect two villages, Alston and Nenthead. The next thing we're doing is a feasibility study of the cost of connecting every home — and that includes the most farflung farmhouse."

Heery also said Cybermoor was investigating a 'community shares' model for later stages in the rollout, where local people can invest in the company.

"[The model] is based on the Swedish model," Heery said. "There are quite a few schemes in the north of Sweden where you give [local people] the cable and they connect it back into the network.

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4 of 4 David Meyer/ZDNet

The above picture shows the equipment that is used for terminating a connection in residents' premises.

Heery said the Cybermoor fibre rollout would have a positive impact on local businesses in Alston Moor, as well as on property prices.

"When we rolled out first-generation broadband, it attracted a lot of people who run businesses from home, and who wanted to live in a good environment that gave them connectivity the same as in a city," he said.

"It will have a good impact on property prices. The first generation [of broadband] gave prices a 20 percent uplift, and we will probably get the same thing with the next generation."

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