Residents in the rural parts of Cumbria have expressed their disappointment and frustration as they face exclusion from high-speed internet access despite initial promises under a government contract, the BBC reported today.

This development has significant implications for these communities, anticipating a digital leap forward and leaving many of the community behind. The current Conservative Government in London previously offered several incentives to bridge the gap for the urban-rural digital divide; however, in their latest incarnation under Sunak, despite his constituency being a rural one, things appear to be on the backslide.

The Government’s Broadband Ambitions

The UK government has set a target to make gigabit broadband available to 85% of the country by 2025. As part of this initiative, specific communities in east Cumbria were poised to benefit from a voucher scheme to facilitate connections in less accessible areas. However, several locals have reported being ineligible for these vouchers due to changes in the rules.

A Shift in Plans

John McDarren, chairman of Murton Parish Council, shared the community’s disappointment, noting that initial plans to connect the first houses by Christmas have now been derailed. The withdrawal of the voucher scheme, according to Mr. McDarren, has led to the collapse of these plans. This sentiment is echoed by Paula Ellis from Hilton, who described the situation as “devastating,” particularly as their area was on the cusp of starting work under the scheme.

The lack of reliable broadband and mobile signals is not just an inconvenience; it has real-life implications. Paula Ellis mentioned the absence of these services in her house. Similarly, Appleby dairy farmer Jonathan Schug highlighted the challenges he faces due to poor broadband. He has had to invest in an expensive 4G system to monitor his cows’ health electronically, a critical aspect of his business.

Government’s Response

In response to these concerns, a government spokesperson stated that the projects in question were never approved, and no funding has been removed. They emphasised the investment of over £100 million in Cumbria to connect people to high-speed broadband, with some premises already benefitting from it. Companies, including Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) and Fibrus Internet, have been the two internet leaders in the local area.

The situation in Cumbria, as reported by BBC Cumbria, reflects a broader challenge in balancing national digital ambitions with local needs and expectations. For the residents of these rural communities, the promise of high-speed internet remains a distant dream, with significant implications for their daily lives and economic activities.

B4RN, the not-for-profit provider initially involved in discussions about supplying broadband under the voucher scheme, has declined to comment on the matter. However, for most report communities, new technologies, including Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

Gigabit vouchers

The UK government’s £210mn worth of vouchers as part of its Gigabit Voucher scheme, which enables homes in rural and remote areas to connect to fibre internet broadband, by select retailers.

“Vouchers worth up to £4,500 for homes and businesses help to cover the costs of installing gigabit broadband to people’s doorsteps,” the website states,

Such areas are too difficult to upgrade via physical cables and make up less than 1% of sites in the UK, Defra said.