UK government reveals Cornwall as next port of call for Project Gigabit

Latest contract in UK government’s Project Gigabit programme given to Wildanet to deliver ultra-fast broadband in south-west and mid-Cornwall connecting nearly 20,000 hard-to-reach homes and businesses

Up to 19,250 homes and businesses in hitherto hard-to-reach parts of Cornwall are to gain access to gigabit broadband after the UK government announced the latest part of its £5bn Project Gigabit national broadband programme.

Over the past two years or so, it would seem hardly a week has passed without a full-fibre broadband deployment by one service provider or another, with more than four in 10 homes now able to access gigabit connectivity, according to the annual Connected nations report from communications regulator Ofcom, released in December 2022.

The study, which measures the availability of broadband and mobile services across the UK, found that full-fibre connections are now available to 12.4 million households (42%) – some 4.3 million more than last year. In total, gigabit-capable broadband through a range of technologies is now available to 70% of the UK (nearly 21 million homes), up from 47% in 2021.

It also noted that 37% of UK households could obtain full-fibre broadband capable of delivering download speeds of up to 1Gbps, representing a reach of 11 million premises, with nearly 20.2 million UK homes (68%) able to access these faster services.

Yet the report also warned of the enduring digital divide that exists in the UK. The report found that nearly 80,000 homes and businesses (0.3%) do not have access to “decent” broadband, defined by the UK government as offering download speeds of 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. This figure has fallen from 123,000 last year, and Ofcom estimates that a further 15,000 of these premises will be covered by publicly funded roll-out schemes in the next 12 months. Not surprisingly, the majority of those without were located in the hardest-to-reach parts of the UK.

Under Project Gigabit, the UK government aims to deliver next-generation gigabit broadband to more than a million homes and businesses in such hard-to-reach places, complementing industry investment from the likes of Openreach, Virgin Media and CityFibre, and ensuring such areas benefit from the same gigabit broadband as the rest of the country.

After similar announcements covering rural Teesdale and Dorset, the UK government has awarded Cornish connectivity provider Wildanet with two contracts worth £36m to supply hard-to-reach areas in the region with better broadband. Work will start immediately to survey rural homes and businesses from Newquay to Fowey. Building work to connect those in need to the fastest broadband on the market is set to begin this summer.

Wildanet is already investing more than £50m in a 10Gbps broadband network to serve homes, businesses and communities across Cornwall and Devon. As a result of these new contracts, Wildanet expects to create 200 jobs on top of the 150 it has created in the area already. This will include a range of skilled roles across the build operation – including network design, surveying and partner management – plus engineering and head office roles. It also believes there will also be indirect opportunities for local companies, such as civil contractors and through the supply chain.

“This is great news for remote communities in Cornwall as we continue to connect Cornwall’s homes and businesses to full-fibre broadband in non-urban areas, with the economic and social transformation that brings,” commented Wildanet CEO Helen Wylde.

“The funding from the government will help to breathe new life into Cornwall’s rural communities and give people access to the opportunities that gigabit broadband provides. It will also send out a positive signal to remote communities across the country, which, to date, do not have the broadband connectivity to benefit from the digital age that many of us now take for granted in our daily lives.”

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