The government has announced a funding injection for broadband in the South West of England, allocating up to £10m from April 2016.
In a short note in the full text of the Summer Budget, the government said priority would be given to those delivering ultrafast speeds.
Ultrafast broadband is currently defined as a service that delivers speeds of over 100Mbps and is usually delivered over fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology. Currently, few mainstream providers – with the exception of Virgin Media, which offers a 152Mbps cable-based service – are capable of supplying such speeds.
This means Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) in South-West England is now being explicitly opened up to smaller altnets, such as Gigaclear, which has recently won a spate of second-phase BDUK contracts in Berkshire, Essex and Gloucestershire.
The government confirmed that the fund would indeed be available for locally based projects to bid for. “BDUK will start working with local projects immediately to determine the most effective way of delivering this support,” said the statement.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which oversees BDUK, added that it will providing additional detail shortly.
The government’s funding boost comes days after Devon and Somerset councils jointly took the decision to throw out BT’s bid for the second stage of BDUK under the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) scheme, saying that its offer did not present value for money.
“We have a duty to seek best value for all our residents and [BT's] tender for the next phase of the programme was just not up to scratch,” said Somerset County Council cabinet member David Hall at the time.
However, Computer Weekly understands that, crucially, the announcement is in fact open to other projects in the South West – not just in Devon and Somerset – and is not related to the CDS decision.
The second-phase BDUK contract for Devon and Somerset, which aims to take coverage across the two counties to 95% by 2017, is worth up to £35m.
The decision to not move ahead with phase two does not affect the BDUK roll-out currently underway in Devon and Somerset, during which more than 450 fibre cabinets have been enabled by BT’s infrastructure arm, Openreach, and over 100,000 domestic and business customers have signed up to get superfast broadband.
Airband on the air
One project that has already got the go ahead in the South West is a wireless broadband project supplied by Airband, which will connect 5,800 homes and businesses over a fixed wireless access network in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks.
Airband, which has already had some success delivering similar projects in remote parts of Wales, uses state-of-the-art data radio technology capable of delivering speeds of up to 100Mbps instead of fibre, ensuring a superfast connection in areas where cables cannot be laid.
The roll-out is being supported by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and by BDUK through Connecting Devon and Somerset.