Why does Cumbria need fast broadband?

Many of us already get a lot of information and entertainment from the internet – so why do we need faster broadband? This page attempts to explain the expected benefits of Next Generation Access to the internet.

With all this talk about fast broadband nowadays, you may be wondering first, what it is and secondly whether you already have it. The answers to those questions are first, that it is internet access at Next Generation Access Speed (over 50Mbps upload and download speed) and secondly that unless you happen to live in Great Asby or Alston area or are a student at an institution served by the CLEO project, then the chances are that you don’t have it yet. This is a situation that could improve over the next 6 to 12 months because the upper Eden area is fortunate enough to have been selected as a Big Society Vanguard Area and our MP and others have been working very hard to make it possible for us as part of a pilot scheme – from which lessons will be learned to replicate in other areas of the country. Are we just lucky? There’s no ‘just’ about this,  we’re very lucky that we’ve got a dynamic representative in Parliament and as for the luck, well, let’s just say that the harder our MP and the gentlemen from BDUK work the luckier we all get!  I think it will be fascinating to see how our communities would develop with such an advantage. I’m anticipating a rush for beginner-friendly computer classes such as MyGuide and then a growing buzz of interactivity and unleashed creativity that will make the average beehive look lackadaisical in comparison. It won’t just be a consumptive frenzy either – our area has a greater proportion of self-employed people working from home per capita than anywhere else in the UK. If you can work in an area as beautiful as ours then why on Earth would you want not to? Cities have their charms too, of course but I’m saying that we may well soon be enjoying some of the prettiest countryside in England without so much of the rural isolation. Quality-of-life altering stuff!

The Community Interest Company NextGenUs is working to set up the village of Great Asby with superfast internet, when their network is paid for then the bulk of the profits generated by the local project will return to the Parish Council council coffers for community projects. How sweet is that? Very! And very necessary

What Have We Got Now In The Way Of Broadband?

Up to now many, but not all of us have been fortunate to use BT or Virgin Media broadband service down BT’s copper wires. The download speeds vary from between about 1 and 8 Megabits per second (Mbps) and the upload speeds are much slower topping out at about 350 Kilobits per second (Kbps) depending upon various limiting factors such as your package, your distance from the exchange and how many other people are using the service simultaneously.

“I know a Megabyte, but what’s a Megabit?” I hear you ask. While we store data in Megabyte measurements, data transfer is measured in Megabits (a smaller unit of data). A Megabit is 8 times smaller than a Megabyte. So one Megabit per second transfer is equivalent to 125 Kilobytes (the equivalent of a medium-sized photograph).

What Is Our Current Broadband Good For?

Except in the places where broadband cannot be enjoyed, our current provision is fine for simple emailing and internet browsing of fabulous light sites such as Wikipedia (online encyclopedia), local and national government websites or indeed your community website, and is generally good for multiple small or single medium file transfers either by email or downloading from websites. However when engaged with heavier multimedia sites, especially at times of peak use or for uploading large data files it can seem very slow or just plain impossible. A lot of time is wasted hanging around for stuff to upload or download and our current lane in the superhighway is looking congested. We can’t email files larger than 20 Megabytes. Our Community Plan report is one notable example of a file that is currently too large to email.

If you have several individuals using internet services simultaneously in a household then activities can quickly become seriously impaired or even grind to a halt. We are using the internet more and more intensively these days – its not unusual to have parents working, some children doing homework online while others want to watch videos or play games. Then Auntie Joan tries to video call from Australia via Skype and the screen freezes.

What Might We Do With Fast Broadband?

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The slideshow above from Simon Jones’ Presentation (Cisco Systems UK) indicates potential providers for our use

Our Government would like us all to have access to Next Generation Broadband (NGA) by the end of 2015 because it is expected to have significant positive impact on our quality of life. Everything that we currently do can be done faster and by more of us at any one time. Fibre-optic cable can carry vastly more data than copper wires or satellite transmissions (at a fraction of the cost of in the case of satellite) this will enable a correspondingly huge amount of choice in transmitted services.

Social Networking

Individual and group communications are likely to be greatly facilitated. Virtual attendance at meetings, conferences and parties would be possible via high definition video conferencing. With distance barriers being virtually negated, rural isolation in Eden Valley will become optional.

Business and Tele-employment

With teleconferencing and desk-top sharing we are likely to see more opportunities for employment from home and greatly expanded market reach for our businesses. We might work for clients in far-flung locations or just down the road with equal facility. English is the international language for business. You might attend or hold job interviews as part of a global workforce. The opportunities for professional training are as extensive as the scope for professional development itself. More small businesses can be expected to seek attractive rural locations for their bases of operations.

Telemedicine / Telecare

Imagine consulting a medical or care professional from home. Imagine telediagnostics (heart-rate/ temperature/ blood pressure / skin salinity) that could allow appropriate rapid first response or not as the situation dictates.  The implications for Care in the Community are far-reaching. Easier private access to health specialists is an obvious benefit.  The Alston area is introducing telemedicine already in concert with their Cybermoor fast broadband system. Eden Valley Counsellor and Pyschotherapist Dr. Rosalind Niedt has worked for years for  NHS and private patients – her practice can already deliver services by video conference now with obvious advantages in terms of convenience and privacy.

Tele-counselling has some obvious advantages.


Life-long learning and testing from home or local academic institutions would be greatly facilitated. Imagine extra-mural and distance education facilitated by virtual attendance at lectures, classes and tutorials. Imagine access to a vast and ever-expanding array of academic resources. Study languages where they are spoken natively. The opportunities to study a greatly increased range of courses, or tailor made courses composed of course modules from multiple university faculties.


It would be possible to experience richer multimedia applications without delays: High Definition (HD) TV and HD Three Dimensional (3D) TV will be delivered online, effectively meaning that anybody with NGA can enjoy multi-channel cable TV via a service named YouView (currently being developed in the UK). TV on demand is likely to become the norm – watch the programs that you want, when you want ( families can view multiple channels in different rooms simultaneously), pause for comfort breaks, rewind to repeat the best bits etc. Other applications may include Virtual reality experiences (tourism, museum, sports and concert experiences) and High definition games.

With Next Generation Access our long winter evenings may not seem quite long enough!  In the video below shot by John Popham at Rory Stewart’s Broadband Champions’ meeting in Great Asby, Simon Jones of CISCO Systems UK  talks about “the human aspect” what we can do with the fast broadband when it is established. “We need to make sure that the Internet is meeting human needs in the way we want to take it.”

Simon Jones of Cisco Systems drops in on Crosby Ravensworth, King's Meaburn and Longsleddale table to join the brainstorm

5 thoughts on “Why does Cumbria need fast broadband?

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