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Traditional hotel in remote hamlet gets ultrafast broadband through inventive solution

Howtown Hotel on Ullswater
Openreach engineers found a low-tech solution to link them up with fibre

Howtown Hotel on Ullswater now has access to some of the fastest broadband speeds in Cumbria – after engineers found a low-tech solution to link them up with fibre. Howtown’s high speed connectivity is all down to the perseverance of locals, Connecting Cumbria and engineers from Openreach. The tourist hotspot had previously proven beyond the reach of high speed fibre broadband, separated from the nearest telephone exchange by a 2km stretch of challenging fell side.

However, engineers from Openreach, Britain’s leading digital infrastructure provider, came up with a solution by hanging a fibre optic cable from a string of specially built telegraph poles. The cable was then split out and fed directly to the 15 individual households and businesses in the hamlet – using FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) technology. The challenge was to install the poles along the fell side with limited access due to the off road terrain.

Broadband campaigner Graeme Connacher explains: “Some of the engineers, and they’re the real unsung heroes in this, were up on the fell side carrying poles on their shoulders…and eventually we did it. And round the back of the little hotel here, which serves this little part of the community is a pole, with fibre direct to it.”

The Howtown Hotel is famous for its ‘very traditional’ hospitality. Ironically, the hotel markets itself as a haven from the modern world with no TVs or telephones in any of its rooms. But its famous tea rooms are connected which has gone down very well with visitors. In addition, staff at the hotel, many of who come from Eastern Europe, are thrilled with their high speed connection as it makes staying in touch with home so much easier.

Michael, who works at the hotel, said: “Now the internet is way much better – at least 100 times better than last year. Now everybody can start to make a video call and I am watching the weather at our home town.”

Fast fibre broadband has brought benefits across the whole of Ullswater, including to another business, one of the biggest attractions in the Lake District, Ullswater Steamers. Lisa Braithwaite, attractions marketing manager at Ullswater Steamers, said: “We’ve now got really fast internet over here to allow customers to download our app when they come which means they can watch all of our commentary. We’ve also got the weather stations and our webcam on our website so people can see the conditions from one end of the lake to the other. Thanks to fibre broadband business is really booming here.”

Graeme Connacher added: “I’ve likened this bit of infrastructure coming into the valley as to when electricity first came into the dale. It really has been down to the community effort and everybody pulling together that’s made this possible.”

The remote hamlet is just one of many small communities across the county that have been connected up to high speed broadband using FTTP technology as part of the Connecting Cumbria project. Jonathan Harris, Connecting Cumbria senior programme manager, said: “It’s great to see that the Howtown Hotel and some of their visitors are now benefitting from that as well as the business itself. What we’re trying to do is get superfast broadband out to as many residents, businesses and visitors as possible as quickly as possible within the funds available to us.”

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, said: "I am so pleased for the residents of Howtown and future visitors to Howtown, that they now have access to some of the most impressive broadband speeds in Cumbria. And it shows that fibre providers can use simple, common-sense solutions to drive access through some of the most challenging terrain. This is great news for rural communities across the country, and I know that BT are working hard to invest resources into technological solutions to get fibre into the most remote corners, and I absolutely back them in that."

When an area has gone ‘live’ for fibre, people need to contact their service provider to upgrade as it doesn’t happen automatically. Because the network is ‘open’, they have a wide choice of fibre broadband providers. More than nine out of ten premises across the UK can already access superfast broadband speeds. For more details on the roll-out visit openreach.co.uk/whereandwhen.  

People struggling with broadband speeds who are not included in a plan can visit communityfibre.openreach.co.uk/ to find how to help bring superfast broadband to their local area.