Nearly 300,000 homes and businesses in rural areas now have access to superfast broadband thanks to Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS).
That includes 118,000 in Somerset, according to new analysis which has found that the total number of homes and businesses with access to CDS-provided superfast has risen to 298,900 – with a further 38,000 being able to access improved broadband speeds.
In addition, CDS-funded construction has started to provide a further 68,100 rural homes and businesses across the region with access to superfast networks by 2020. In many cases the new networks will be capable of ultrafast speeds.
Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council Cabinet Member for Resources and Economic Development, said: “Every day CDS is connecting more and more people to broadband in some of the hardest to reach rural areas in England. But we are not stopping here, there is more to do to connect isolated communities and boost the local economy. Working with Government and broadband companies, we want to expand the network even further over the next two years.”
CDS is backed by funding from the Government, EU, Heart of the South West LEP and a local authority partnership.
In predominantly rural districts, CDS is already exceeding Government expectations. Central Government estimates that, overall, two thirds of all broadband infrastructure in rural England will be delivered commercially. In many rural areas of the region, CDS has provided at least half of the total coverage to date.
Speaking on behalf of the four Somerset district councils in the CDS partnership (Taunton Deane, Sedgemoor, West Somerset and Mendip), Councillor John Williams, Leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, said: “Fast and reliable broadband is essential for our businesses and our residents. I am pleased to see that, for example, combined commercial and CDS coverage in Taunton Deane now stands at 88 per cent and is set to reach 96 per cent in two years’ time.
“It is vitally important that we connect the more isolated, rural communities whose need is as great as those in urban areas. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’ service but an “essential service” being a lifeline for work learning and leisure for many.”
CDS main contractor BT exceeded its contract target for the first phase of the programme, contributing to the increased coverage.
Public and business take up of CDS-provided internet access now stands at 43%, 137,600 homes and businesses, just above the national average of 42.6%.
This increased take-up means CDS will also have a confirmed additional £4.8 million in a “gainshare dividend” from BT to invest in expanding the broadband network even further to help particularly isolated rural communities.
As a result, CDS is launching a consultation to help target isolated communities in greatest need of that public investment and where there are no declared and credible commercial deployment plans.
The consultation will enable all interested stakeholders – the public, businesses, and telecommunications providers – to comment on the proposed intervention areas before further coverage is committed.
CDS also confirmed yesterday (Tuesday 27th) its plan to launch a new broadband voucher scheme for residents and businesses. The previous scheme has demonstrated the success of this type of support with more than 1,800 installations being completed offering a choice of 4G, fixed-wireless, satellite and fibre solutions.
The scheme will help people in areas not in line for commercial or publicly-funded broadband infrastructure. Details will be published later in the spring. CDS is also planning to launch schemes to support community broadband solutions in the summer.
CDS analysis, including rural and urban areas, also shows that commercial-funded superfast is now available to 653,500 homes and businesses. Combined with the CDS’ rural-focused programme, it means a total of 952,400 homes and businesses across the whole region now have access to superfast broadband out of a total of 1,083,200.
CDS investment is encouraging increased commercial broadband expansion across the region providing greater competition and consumer choice. Commercially-funded broadband is forecast to reach a further 14,000 homes and businesses across the region by 2020 and a greater number will have more than one provider. However, commercial investment in predominantly rural areas is generally below Government average estimates and further public-funded broadband infrastructure will be required.
As part of the CDS programme, Gigaclear is contracted to provide a new full fibre network that will connect 47,000 homes and businesses across the CDS region. The number of premises includes an expansion of the network, approved by Government in December.
Gigaclear has brought in additional civil engineering resources following the collapse of Carillion which was a key partner in Gigaclear’s original main civil engineering contractor. Although construction has been delayed in some communities, Gigaclear has assured CDS that most of its original programme will be delivered by the end of 2019 and the expanded programme completed by the summer of 2020 as planned. The company plans to notify all affected communities of any changes to the roll-out schedule.
CDS has submitted proposals to Government to increase the Airband superfast wireless network by a further 3,000 homes and businesses across northern and western Devon. Airband is currently building a new wireless network for CDS that will provide access to superfast broadband for around 13,000 homes and businesses across the area by December 2019 and is completing a network to serve around 5,000 hard to reach properties in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks with superfast broadband.
The increase in digital connectivity is a further boost for the local economy on the back of above UK average productivity growth figures across the CDS region. Bath & North East Somerset and North Somerset have benefited from above national average growth in nominal productivity of 1.38% building on a strong economic base; Somerset recorded growth of 2.18%. Looking at real terms growth in productivity, Devon’s 2.2% increase is the fourth fastest in the UK.
Steve Hindley, CBE DL, Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise (HotSW) Partnership said: “Improving connectivity is the biggest driver to productivity that our area has, and therefore our greatest opportunity for growth. Since the LEP started we’ve been working with our partners in government and our stakeholders here to attract funding to get a step-change in our connectivity infrastructure in road, rail and broadband, and will continue to do so. These latest successes are a step in the right direction to securing the future of our area as a major contributor to UK plc.”