CUMBRIA County Council has approved the use of ‘gain share’ funding to support the implementation of the council’s digital infrastructure strategy.
At a meeting of the Cumbria County Full Council on February 10, members approved funds received from the Connecting Cumbria scheme.
This will see £3.8 million in funding for new investment in digital infrastructure projects in Cumbria.
Fast and reliable broadband access, whether at home, at work or on the move, is increasingly essential for all residents and businesses in Cumbria. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how vital broadband access is for learning, working and staying connected, highlighting the importance of digital connectivity.
As we recover and restart, fast and stable internet connections can no longer be considered a luxury; it is now a basic necessity.
Connecting Cumbria, County Council’s digital infrastructure programme, has been instrumental in bringing broadband to as many county residents and businesses as possible. Through contracts between County Council and British Telecom, from 2012 to 2020, Cumbria County Council has successfully delivered superfast broadband connections to over 122,000 premises in areas that would simply not have been reached by commercial deployment programs. Through a combination of commercial deployment and Connecting Cumbria, ultra-fast broadband of at least 30Mbps is currently available to over 94% of properties in the county.
Contracts with British Telecom contain what is known as a ‘gain-share’ clause which allows funding to be returned to the Council if usage of the services exceeds the expected level. During the first seven years after the deployment is completed, a portion of the funding is returned to the Board for additional investment relative to the number of customers who have subscribed to services on the deployed infrastructure under the contract. Those who adopt services in areas where delivery has ended benefit from improved digital services while creating funding that supports new investments.
The win-share funding will see £2m invested to create a Cumbria Gigabit Broadband Voucher Top Up scheme to further support communities trying to develop their own community digital projects, which will help improve connectivity in the most challenging areas to reach from the county. The UK Government’s Gigabit Broadband Vouchers Scheme (GBVS) is currently providing up to £3,500 in funding to eligible businesses and up to £1,500 to eligible residential properties to install gigabit-enabled connections.
The £2m made available will be used to match the level of funding available under the GBVS, so eligible businesses will be able to apply for up to a maximum of £7,000 and eligible residential properties up to 3 £000.
Around £1million will be allocated to develop a digital village hub scheme to provide community hub connections in areas with less than 30Mbps service. This scheme, in combination with the supplementary scheme, would support the development of community network projects in deeply rural areas.
A further £100,000 will be used to support 5G research and development projects and the remaining funding will be used to pay the Connecting Cumbria team and to advance the digital infrastructure strategy.
Cllr David Southward, Cabinet Member of Cumbria County Council for Economic Development and Digital Champion, said: “Improving digital infrastructure remains a top priority given the significant economic and social benefits to Cumbria, and i am delighted with the progress we have made over the years and that thanks to gainshare further improvements can be made.
“From accessing the latest health information and advice, to working from home, to education and learning, to online access to food and supplies, to maintaining contact with family and others and maintaining supply chains – we all now depend on the ability to connect remotely.
“Access to fast, reliable Internet connectivity is no longer considered a luxury; it is a fundamental necessity. Digital connectivity also plays a central role in the government’s upgrade agenda, economic growth, Covid-19 recovery and greater social inclusion for all residents and local businesses.
For more information see the Connecting Cumbria web pages: connectingcumbria.org.uk.