New £4.7 million superfast broadband investment in Devon and Somerset

Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) and BT are pleased to announce a new collaboration, working together to examine opportunities for Openreach to provide superfast broadband to even more homes and businesses in rural areas.

The initiative will be targeted at helping areas not included within current publicly-subsidised or commercially-funded broadband roll-out plans.

This extension of broadband coverage will be financed initially by a £4.7m return on the public investment in phase one of the CDS programme, which was successfully delivered by Openreach.

Thanks to an agreement reached between the Government and BT, the repayment is the first in a series that the company committed to under the contract if and when customer adoption reached a certain level.

CDS and Openreach are jointly developing proposals to invest the repayment in expanding superfast broadband coverage to as many additional homes and businesses as possible.

Following a public consultation by CDS, the proposals will include a focus on areas with the lowest available speeds and with significant levels of deprivation. Numbers will not be known until detailed modelling – a process involving the analysis of network data for thousands of premises – is completed.

Final proposals will be subject to approval by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK agency and are unlikely to be announced until early 2019.

Councillor David Hall, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure, said: “We all know how important good connectivity is to this area, for domestic users but also the small businesses that drive our economy and create jobs.

“We will be working closely with Openreach to make sure this investment, and the investment still to come, goes as far as possible and brings superfast broadband to as many people as possible across Somerset and Devon.”

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills and a member of the CDS Board, said: “The announcement of this new collaboration is excellent news, and while this is a significant investment, this is just the first of a series of repayments from BT.

“This additional funding highlights the success Openreach has had in take-up of its services in our region and it will enable CDS to extend superfast broadband coverage in areas which have so far not been covered as part of ongoing roll-out plans.”

Kim Mears, Openreach Managing Director for Strategic Infrastructure Development, said: “This is great news for the people of Devon and Somerset. We’re proud of our investment and the achievement of our engineering teams in the South West, and we’re delighted that the success of this programme means we can hand back money to take superfast broadband coverage even further.

“We’re now working closely with Devon and Somerset councils to explore further opportunities, as we’re keen to deliver better broadband to the few remaining ‘not-spots’ across the region.”

Openreach’s work on the first phase of the CDS programme has made superfast broadband services available to over 280,000 homes and businesses and exceeded the contract target set by CDS.  This has made a major contribution to the success of the CDS programme which is the largest public-funded broadband roll-out in England.

So far, the CDS programme has provided access to superfast broadband for more than 300,000 homes and businesses, often in sparsely populated rural areas and over challenging terrain. A further 38,000 homes and businesses have benefited from improved broadband speed.

CDS calculates that its programme, when combined with wholly commercially-funded broadband coverage, means that over 950,000 homes and businesses across the whole CDS region now have access to superfast broadband out of a total of 1,083,200 premises.

There are approximately 55,000 homes and businesses without access to superfast broadband because they are currently outside commercially-funded plans or one of the CDS supported areas. CDS’ new collaboration with Openreach will target helping as many of these as possible focussing on more disadvantaged areas.

Future repayments will be invested in expanding coverage even further. In line with an agreement between the Government and BT, this additional funding will be available to finance new broadband infrastructure through competitive procurement on the open market.

CDS, working with the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, is developing a Digital Strategy, and as part of this a revised Local Broadband Plan will be published. The Strategy will set out the digital infrastructure, skills and innovation required to support jobs and growth in Devon and Somerset, while the Local Broadband Plan will set out the approaches and programmes for digital infrastructure investment.

The Local Broadband Plan will help shape the priorities for new investments in broadband, alongside other funding including opportunities under the Government’s Local Full Fibre Network programme and additional Growth Deal funding awarded to CDS by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Opportunities to extend broadband vouchers and support community development approaches will all be considered.

The LEP and CDS hope to publish the strategy and local broadband plan in early 2019.