The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is backing a bid to extend £18.7 million of funding for superfast broadband in Devon and Somerset up to March 2023.
The news has been welcomed by Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), England’s largest public-funded broadband programme. CDS has been working closely with the Department to secure the funding extension following the delays incurred by Gigaclear with the roll-out of its full fibre broadband network. CDS is one of a number of local programmes in the UK affected by delays involving different providers.
Councillor David Hall, CDS Board Member, commented: “The decision by DCMS to back the bid to extend the broadband funding spend-by deadline is a huge boost to our economy and rural communities, and a vote of confidence in the CDS programme.
“In recognition of representations made by DCMS and CDS, I am delighted there has been positive response from HM Treasury which is finalising an agreement for the funding extension with DCMS subject to the Spending Review process.
“The effect of such an extension will be to provide CDS with the flexibility to either agree an acceptable revised timetable with Gigaclear to complete a new ultrafast full-fibre network or for CDS to pursue alternative full-fibre solutions for our residents and businesses.
“CDS is agreeing similar support from other funders. Whilst every effort to resolve the situation with Gigaclear is being made, CDS is also working with DCMS and the Heart of the South West LEP to consider alternative options and develop a Digital Strategy for the area.
“We are grateful to Digital Minister Margot James and her team at DCMS with whom we’ve been working closely, to Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and to Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane who has played an important role in co-ordinating the support of Members of Parliament. CDS has also benefited from the strong support of local authorities and LEPs.”
To date, CDS has provided access to superfast broadband to 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.
Public funding is leveraging greater commercial investment with the result that the CDS programme and commercially-funded networks are, together, providing over 950,000 homes and businesses across Devon and Somerset with access to superfast broadband out of a total of 1,083,000 premises currently.
The programme continues to work to extend broadband coverage across Devon and Somerset, this includes construction by Airband of a new superfast wireless network for CDS that will provide access to superfast broadband for around 16,000 homes and businesses across mid, north and west Devon by June 2020. Airband is also completing a network to serve around 5,000 hard to reach properties in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks with superfast broadband.
The take up rate for all CDS-funded services currently stands at 54% and is generating significant resources for reinvestment thanks to the Government’s gainshare agreement with BT. Work is advancing on plans to extend BT’s network in the CDS area applying the first £6 million from this fund.
Gigaclear is under contract with CDS to provide 47,810 homes and businesses with access to full fibre broadband. Gigaclear has committed to investing £60.5m in the public programme and a further £67.3m to connect an additional 43,000 premises under its commercial roll-out.
However, the company has incurred delays partly resulting from the collapse of the giant engineering contractor Carillion which meant the company could not meet its 2019-20 contract deadlines with CDS.