SUPERFAST broadband is set to be delivered to 93 per cent of Cumbria homes and businesses following the signing of a £51 million contract.

The Connecting Cumbria project involving British Telecom and Cumbria County Council will see a new network of fibre infrastructure laid around the county.

It will involve working with some of county’s remotest villages and hamlets to extend the fibre network through innovative community projects in the hardest to reach areas.

BT will now begin work on the ground with telecoms engineers surveying locations around the county and analysing the best way to roll out the network.

Initial survey work will take around three months with Connecting Cumbria in a position to announce which communities will be in the first stage of the roll-out, that will deliver speeds of up to 80Mbps, by spring 2013.

Fibre-to-the-home technology – delivering speeds of up to 330Mbps – will also be deployed in certain areas and will be available on demand Cumbria is expected to be one of the first areas to benefit from an EU decision to grant state aid approval for the government’s national broadband rollout.

Once government approval for state aid and confirmation of EU Major Project status is given, it means the government and European funding for the project can be released, allowing the project to begin quickly.

BT will contribute £15 million to the project with £17.1 million coming from Broadband Development UK (BDUK), £13.7 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and £5 million through the Performance Reward Grant (PRG) from all councils in Cumbria.

According to Ofcom, the county’s average downstream speed is currently 7.1Mbps whilst 18.8 per cent of the population receive less than 2Mbps. BT was chosen by the council following an extensive and thorough selection process. The contract was signed at Glenridding on the shores of Ullswater last Thursday.

Coun Elizabeth Mallinson, CCC’s Cabinet member with lead responsibility for Connecting Cumbria, said: “Although we’re still awaiting the final green light from Government, signing this contract is a clear message that Cumbria is ready for action. We are really pleased with the significant investment that is going into superfast broadband infrastructure in Cumbria, which includes funding streams from both the public and private sectors.”

“We’re all desperately eager to roll our sleeves up and begin the task of actually delivering superfast broadband to people who simply would not have got it without the intervention of the government and county council. We have a tremendously exciting three years ahead of us, but I would ask people to be patient and allow us to deliver this huge programme in a strategic way which is in the best interests of the county as a whole. The hard work starts now and we need to work together so that by the end of 2015 Cumbria has one of the best fibre networks in Europe.”

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This announcement is fantastic news for Cumbria and I’m pleased that one of the first areas to benefit from the Government’s Rural Broadband Project is, in fact, one of the most rural regions in England. This multi-million pound scheme will provide Cumbrian residents with some of the fastest available broadband speeds by 2015.”