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It may be home to the fabulously wealthy satellite towns south of Manchester and have the world-famous Roman city of Chester as its capital, but the county of Cheshire is essentially non-urban, and to improve communications in-hard-to-reach areas in the county, Airband is to supply more than 4,000 homes and properties in the region with full-fibre broadband.
The rural connectivity specialist won a £4.5m contract from Cheshire County Council to provide ultrafast gigabit-capable broadband in a project designed to see the county benefit from improved connectivity.
Funded by the UK government’s Connecting Cheshire initiative, which includes Warrington Borough Council, Cheshire East Council, Cheshire West and Chester and Halton Borough Council, the project will start in early 2021 and is expected to last until March 2023. Airband said it will use “innovative methods” to connect the hard-to-reach areas with gigabit-capable connectivity.
“The fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) deal with Airband comes at a key time during the pandemic, to provide optimum connectivity to homeworkers and businesses across Cheshire East,” said Nick Mannion, Cheshire East Council’s cabinet member for environment and regeneration.
“The innovative methods to connect hard-to-reach and rural areas will certainly boost work productivity and streaming family entertainment services during national lockdown and beyond. Swifter internet services will help limit many of the frustrations people are facing now, juggling home and work life. It is crucial that everyone has sufficient internet at all hours to suit diverse working patterns and household needs.”
Airband regards the implementation of such infrastructures to isolated and rural areas to be truly life-changing for individuals and business owners. It added that cost-effective, high-quality, reliable ultrafast connectivity has countless benefits, including better access to services and amenities for individuals, increased productivity and more growth opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs.
Yet rural high-speed broadband provision has been a huge issue in the UK. Despite introducing a voucher scheme designed to accelerate broadband roll-out and take-up in hard-to-reach areas, with more than £22m of additional funding announced only as recently as the end of December 2020, the UK government has been criticised for its lack of real progress.
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In a scathing criticism of the ability of the UK government to roll out broadband across the UK, the UK’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) slammed the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for a mass of general failures in its plans to roll out gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.
Among the litany of failures identified, the PAC report highlighted repeated failure on behalf of the DCMS to prioritise consumers in rural areas, noting that it was increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late.
Furthermore, the PAC was not convinced that if and when rural users finally received gigabit broadband, they would enjoy the same choice of service provider and the same protections as their urban counterparts. The report further warned of digital inequality compounding the economic inequality “harshly” exposed by Covid-19.
As it prepared to deliver its service, Airband observed that the Covid-19 pandemic has made homes and businesses more reliant than ever on technology, particularly broadband connectivity.
With the majority of the population again working from their homes, it added that the importance of a reliable broadband connection has been thrust into the spotlight and that for individuals living in underserved communities on the wrong side of the digital divide, the impact of poor connectivity has been felt acutely. Levelling up this divide, and bringing affordable, high-quality internet services to all was, said Airband, a national priority.
“Our focus has always been on expanding and simplifying digital access for rural communities,” said Airband founder and director Redmond Peel. “With access to high-quality broadband fast becoming a human right, we can’t wait to get started building the network that will give residents of rural and hard-to-reach areas of Cheshire the connectivity they deserve.”