One of the largest South West engineering projects undertaken in recent years was today hailed an “outstanding success” as it nears completion.
The Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) superfast broadband partnership revealed that the latest information from BT showed the programme’s £94 million contract has achieved – and is now expected to exceed - the major target of making superfast fibre broadband available to 278,000 households and businesses across the two counties.
Demand is also growing rapidly with just over one in three (33.5 per cent) of households and businesses having already chosen to take up fibre broadband technology – approximately double the figure of just 18 months ago.
Minister of State for Digital and Culture, the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, said: "More than nine out of ten homes and businesses in the UK can now get superfast broadband, and we're reaching thousands more every week. I'm delighted that our project has taken superfast speeds to 278,000 premises in Devon and Somerset, and the high take-up rate means that BT will be returning money which will allow us to go even further."
Cris Cadby, managing director of IDN, a technology company based in Creech St. Michael in Somerset, said: “Superfast broadband is having a phenomenal impact on how we run our business. The biggest single benefit is that it means we can now work remotely. This type of flexibility has allowed us to offer a better work life balance to our staff and help to attract and retain great new staff members relocating from urban areas.“
Sophia Priddle, director of Blackdown Environmental based in Dunkeswell, said: “Superfast broadband is quite new to us and we are still discovering new opportunities within the business. Our favourite and most exciting yet was the ability to conduct a Skype meeting with a client which was not possible before. The addition of superfast broadband has coincided perfectly with our current growth plans. We appreciate that superfast is vital to the future of our business.”
Since the start of the partnership between local authorities in Devon and Somerset, the Government and BT in 2013, a quarter of a million miles of optical fibre has been laid and more than 1,460 fibre broadband cabinets installed by engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business.
The project, the largest of its kind in England, has involved the employment of more than 300 staff at any one time and taken over 2 million engineering man hours. A small amount of residual engineering work will be completed in the next few weeks, which is expected to result in the original superfast target being “comfortably exceeded”.
Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council’s cabinet member for business inward investment and policy, said: “Today there are 278,000 more homes and businesses in Devon and Somerset with access to superfast broadband than there were three years ago as a result of this ambitious project.
“Our rollout of superfast broadband is transforming lives across the region as every day thousands more homes and businesses are getting access to superfast speeds. It’s fantastic to see that the Phase 1 rollout of superfast broadband is now delivering for residents and businesses like IDN and Blackwell Environmental, and for the taxpayer. The levels of people taking up superfast broadband in areas where we invested public money are beyond our expectations. “We’ve come a very long way in a relatively short period. There have been challenges along the way due to the scale, geography and engineering complexity of the project. It has been a fantastic accomplishment by all those concerned to deliver the phase 1 programme, with the support of all our contractors.”
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, cabinet member for economy and growth for Devon County Council, said: “Connecting Devon and Somerset and its partners have been a driving force in solving the challenge of bringing next generation access to businesses and communities in the region.
“Completion of our phase 1 programme means that thousands of homes and businesses now enjoy the benefits of having much faster internet speeds, which supports modern day living and working practices as well as being critical to the local economy. We recognise there is still a long way to go to ensure everyone can enjoy the same speeds and benefits across the region. CDS has now launched a further publicly funded programme (Phase 2) to reach even more properties.”
Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT, which has invested £41 million in the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme, said: “Connecting Devon and Somerset has been an outstanding success, overcoming considerable engineering and geographic challenges, including the worst flooding in Somerset in living memory, to deliver a major boost to households and businesses across the two counties.
“The target of making fibre broadband available to 320,000 premises has already been easily exceeded by more than 12,000, whilst the target of making superfast speeds of 24Mbps and above available to 278,000 premises has also been achieved and, indeed, we expect to comfortably exceed it in the coming weeks.
“The successful roll-out of this exciting technology is great news for Devon and Somerset communities because whatever you do online you can do it better with fibre broadband. When BT’s commercial programme is also included, it means that we have been involved in making fibre broadband available to more than 868,000 premises across the two counties.”
Local people have also been benefitting from CDS’s Get up to Speed programme which provides a range of drop in sessions to enable communities to get the most out of superfast connectivity.