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Superfast Cornwall broadband roll-out boosts local economy by £186m

The Superfast Cornwall fibre broadband roll-out programme hits its 95% coverage target, with more than £186m of economic benefit already realised

More than 258,000 homes and businesses in Cornwall have now been passed by BT Openreach’s fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband network under the auspices of the Superfast Cornwall programme, meaning that the scheme has now hit its 95% coverage target and brought more than £186m of economic benefit to Cornwall.

Of those 258,000 premises, 67,000 have connected through 60 different service providers, giving the project a take-up rate of 40%, the highest in the country to date.

Superfast Cornwall began in 2010 as a pioneering fibre broadband project that helped lay some of the groundwork for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programmes in the rest of the UK.

BT Superfast Cornwall director Ranulf Scarbrough praised the “vision and leadership” of the council, which had allowed the roll-out to advance further than initially hoped or planned.

“The region became a template for us to follow in other rural areas of the UK where connecting people to broadband can be extremely challenging,” he said.

Research conducted by Plymouth University’s social economic and market research unit, Serio, along with development consultancy Buckman Associates, to mark the end of the roll-out, has revealed that 12,000 businesses have connected to Superfast Cornwall creating 2,000 new jobs and safeguarding a further 2,500 more in one of the country’s poorest counties.

Out of the businesses contacted for the survey, 79% said they had seen network performance improvements and 50% had been able to develop new goods and services. Connected businesses showed an average revenue growth of £91,000 per annum, compared with £21,000 for those who did not connect.

Nearly half said that fibre broadband had helped them generate new sales and 24% said they had developed more international business as well.

Taste the difference

Alice Hocking, head of SERIO at Plymouth University, said the report’s findings demonstrated the difference superfast broadband can make to a business's growth prospects in a rural setting.

“This is especially impressive given that the programme was implemented at a time when Cornwall was recovering from recession,” she said. “Other evidence collected during the research points to the role that superfast can play in improving productivity, something which is seen as particularly important to the UK economy at this current time.”

Ivor Thomson, managing director of Perranporth-based renewable energy firm Natural Generation, said his business had grown from a £2.5m to a £10m run rate since signing up.

“Having superfast has helped us to reach out to new customers across the UK and internationally, expand our portfolio range and services to customers,” he said.

“We are now perceived as major players in a very competitive market place. Superfast broadband has made a huge impact on our business,” he added.

FTTP a key component

Cornwall is distinct from BDUK because the project also includes more fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – as opposed to fibre-to-the-cabinet – as a key element.

Indeed, according to Superfast Cornwall’s statistics, 30% of the total roll-out has been FTTP, and 85,000 premises now have access to the ultrafast service, which it claims has achieved download speeds of 10Gbps at Threemilestone Industrial Estate near Truro.

Nevertheless, 5% of the county remains unserved, and Superfast Cornwall programme director for the Cornwall Development Company, Nigel Ashcroft, moved to reassure residents in those areas had not been forgotten.

“[This] is why the council has recently announced a further project that aims to bring access to superfast broadband to at least 99% of premises in the region,” he said.

This new £7.6m phase of the project, announced on 11 June 2015, will see the council invest alongside £2.96m from BDUK and £1.23m from BT, with match funding provided through the Regional Growth Fund and Growth Deal. It aims to bring superfast broadband to around 8,600 more premises by the start of 2018.

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