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First rural communities to benefit from £94 million connecting Devon and Somerset superfast broadband partnership announced


Seven rural towns and villages were today named as the first communities to benefit from the major £94 million Connecting Devon and Somerset superfast broadband partnership.

High-speed fibre optic broadband will start to become available in Moretonhampstead, Holsworthy, Sticklepath (near Okehampton), Bradford on Tone, Bishops Lydeard, Creech St Michael and Monkton Heathfield (near Taunton) by the end of this year. Construction work for Sticklepath and Bradford on Tone has started three months early.

By early 2014, this first phase of the programme is due to have made the high-speed technology available to at least 15,000 homes and businesses in these communities.

Since the partnership was announced earlier this year engineers have been busy surveying the network in order to ensure that the roll-out of the new technology is carried out in the most cost effective and efficient manner. It is estimated that about 400,000 kilometres of optical fibre will need to be laid.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset programme will lead to the delivery of high-speed fibre broadband to around 90 per cent 1 of premises by the end of 2016. It also plans to ensure a minimum of 2Mbps for all premises within the programme and is actively seeking more funding to further extend the availability of superfast broadband across the whole area.

As the largest project of its kind in England, the project has attracted £32 million of funding from the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme. Further financial contributions include £10 million each from Devon and Somerset County Councils and £41 million from BT as well as funding from other public sector partners.

Most of the programme will be Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology, where the fibre runs from the telephone exchange to a fibre optic street cabinet. It can deliver download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps2. According to regulator Ofcom, the average download speed in Devon is 9.2Mbps and in Somerset 8Mbps.

Connecting Devon and Somerset builds on BT’s commercial roll-out of fibre broadband, which has already made the technology available to about 185,000 premises in Somerset and about 189,000 in Devon. As well as the seven towns and villages, the first phase of the programme will also include extending fibre broadband in Taunton and Bridgwater, most of which have already been upgraded.

Councillor David Hall, Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “The fact that we are able to announce some areas are being built well before the programme originally anticipated is tremendous news for the project and for the people of Devon and Somerset. High speed fibre broadband is a key driver of economic growth and development. It has the potential to transform our rural businesses and communities, improve productivity, and enable business to access new markets while breaking down the digital divide within our communities. It will also improve and transform the delivery of public information and services.”

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Cabinet Member for Economy and Growth for Devon County Council, said: “Today’s announcement from Connecting Devon and Somerset is terrific news for these communities and shows that the programme is on its way. As the largest publicly funded fibre broadband roll out of its kind in England the project is a massive engineering challenge. It will boost our businesses and make our area more attractive for inward investment and business development, encouraging companies to relocate while creating new jobs. It will transform both our competitiveness and our communities as they enjoy all the benefit that high-speed fibre broadband can bring. We are particularly delighted that the Government has announced it is making a further £250 million available to increase fibre broadband coverage to 95 per cent of the UK population by 2017. This is great news, especially for rural communities.”

Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT Group, said: “High-speed fibre broadband is a very exciting step forward for these communities. It will provide a major boost for local businesses and households. Whatever you do online you can do it better with fibre broadband. The fact that rural communities, such as Bradford on Tone, Sticklepath, Bishops Lydeard, Creech St Michael, Holsworthy, Moretonhampstead and Monkton Heathfield, will be among the first to benefit from this partnership demonstrates our collective determination to get this exciting technology to more challenging locations, which fall outside the private sector’s commercial plans.”

Notes to Editors

• 1 This percentage includes BT’s commercial roll-out of fibre broadband.
• 2 These are the top wholesale speeds available from BT’s local network division Openreach, to all broadband service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.

About Connecting Devon and Somerset
Councils across Devon and Somerset are working together to bring faster broadband to the area and deliver improved broadband for rural Devon and Somerset – the “final third” rural areas that are unlikely to benefit from commercial investment in broadband.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset project covers Devon County Council, Somerset County Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, Plymouth City Council, Torbay Council, and North Somerset Council areas.

The project has secured £32 million of funding from the government agency Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and both Somerset and Devon County Councils will be putting in up to £10 million each and further funding from Bath and North East Somerset Council brings the public sector total close to £53 million. With the £41 million additional investment from BT, Connecting Devon and Somerset is now a £94 million project.

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