The joint Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) scheme in England has finally signed a £94m contract with BT that will make “high-speed fibre broadband” ISP services available to “around” 90% of local homes and businesses by the end of 2016.
The deal, which was initially delayed following “significant” contract issues between the county councils and BT, was officially signed on 29th January 2013 at County Hall in Taunton (Somerset). Surveying work on the project is expected to begin immediately and the first locations to be upgraded will be announced during the spring.
As expected £32m of State Aid will come from the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, with another £10m from the local Devon and Somerset County Councils and the final £41m is match-funding from BT. In addition the operator will also need to ensure that all local premises have access to a minimum internet download speed of at least 2Mbps by the same date.
Bill Murphy, MD of BTs Next Generation Broadband, said:
“This project is vital to the future economic strength of the heart of the South West. Reliable access to broadband is an integral part of 21st Century living. It’s much more than streaming video and music or online shopping: it’s increasingly the way business is conducted and services are delivered. It will enable businesses to compete on a level footing regardless of location – making Devon and Somerset a more attractive proposition for business re-locations and start-ups – including the creation of new, high-tech jobs.”
Ed Vaizey, Communications Minister, added:
“Superfast broadband is a powerful tool for driving growth, and this ambitious £94m project, set to generate an additional £750m [Gross Value Added] for the local economy by 2020, will bring countless benefits to both businesses and households alike.”
It’s worth noting that the original Local Broadband Plan (LBP) was to make superfast broadband speeds of 25Mbps+ available to 85% of local premises by 2015 (rising to 100% by 2020). The 2020 date is conspicuous by its absence from BT’s press release.
But Devon and Somerset’s semi-delay is by no means unique, with the recent Herefordshire and Gloucestershire deal also pointing to a 2016 slip and Hampshire likely to follow suit. In fact we expect to see a lot more end-dates slipping to 2016, although it remains to be seen whether or not this will impact the government’s target for 90% coverage by mid to late 2015. The issue can be at least partly blamed on late EU funding approval and negotiation quibbles.
As usual BT’s roll-out will be dominated by its up to 80Mbps FTTC technology and some 330Mbps capable FTTP (this will also become available from all FTTC cabinets during the spring but it will cost over £1,000 to install). Ofcom data indicates that the average broadband speed for Devon is currently 9.2Mbps with 13.7% of the county getting less than 2Mbps. The average broadband speed for Somerset is 8Mbps with 14.7% getting less than 2Mbps.