Undeterred by criticism from a parliamentary committee inquiry for the unrealistic nature of its gigabit broadband roll-out targets, the UK government has announced the companies it will rely upon to expand its full-fibre network in the South West of England.
Airband, Truespeed and Wessex Internet will form the three companies selected to roll out full-fibre networks on behalf of the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme.
Backed by £18.4m of central government funding, they will aim to install full-fibre across the two counties to more than 6,000 rural homes and businesses over the next four years. The three companies all have experience of working in the region and, between them, have already delivered connections to nearly 41,000 premises in the CDS region.
As part of its Fibre Extension Programme, CDS is currently funding fibre broadband connections to more than 6,000 homes and businesses being delivered by Airband.
Thanks to the high level of take-up of broadband services in the region from previous connectivity delivered by BT broadband provision division Openreach, CDS is also reinvesting a £6m dividend to extend full-fibre coverage to over 2,000 premises, again working with Openreach, through the government’s “Gainshare” agreement with the company. CDS is also working with the UK government’s Rural Gigabit Voucher programme to support communities who wish to contract with telecoms providers to design bespoke broadband solutions for their communities.
To date, more than 3,400 premises in Devon and Somerset have been connected to fibre through the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme, with another 2,800 vouchers approved for build over the next 12 months. This represents a voucher investment of nearly £7.4m in full-fibre across the CDS region.
In the new roll-out, Airband will be expanding its full-fibre coverage into rural areas of Somerset West and Taunton, parts of Sedgemoor, East Devon, as well as areas of Mid Devon, South Hams and Teignbridge. Wessex Internet will deliver in rural communities of South Somerset.
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Truespeed will be working in Banes (Bath and North East Somerset), North Somerset, Mendip and part of Sedgemoor. “We are delighted to have won these prestigious contracts with CDS to bring gigabit-capable full-fibre broadband to harder-to-reach communities in the South West,” commented Evan Wienburg.
“As a Somerset-based business focused on building out our own full-fibre infrastructure to areas left behind by the industry giants, we are the natural partner for CDS. The requirement for full fibre broadband is essential as more people study and work from home. Many Truespeed customers are already benefiting from our ultra-reliable, ultra-fast broadband service and we will continue to work as hard and as fast as we can to accelerate our roll-out.”
The contract award comes at the end of a year in which it has been at the forefront of rolling out gigabit broadband services across the South West region. In September 2020 the company announced that in order to support learning and make sure pupils in schools in the West Country could gain fast broadband access, it was offering select educational establishments free ultrafast broadband connectivity for life.
The initiative is being funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Heart of the South West LEP, CDS local authorities, European Regional Development Fund and the Rural Development Programme for England.
“We’re pleased to confirm the appointment of three well-established, regionally-based suppliers to help with the challenge of delivering the next phase of the CDS programme,” said David Hall, CDS board member and Somerset County Council cabinet member for economic development, planning and community infrastructure. “They have significant experience of delivering broadband connections in rural areas of Devon and Somerset, so they have an understanding of the remote areas where CDS is looking to improve connectivity. This investment will deliver full fibre broadband ahead of many other parts of the country.”
The combined public and private sector investment of around £80m will be in the vanguard of the Government’s ambitions to build a Gigabit capable network across the UK.
Just after the Conservatives’ General Election victory in December 2019, the government outlined plans to make good on prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to work towards “delivering full-fibre [broadband] to every home in the land” by 2025, but in announcing his Spending Review in November 2020, chancellor Rishi Sunak also confirmed that the 2025 target for roll-out had been downgraded to 85% coverage by 2025 and the original commitment to provide £5bn of public funding for hard-to-reach areas had been reduced. And just days ago, even this reduced target was declared unrealistic in a withering report by Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee.