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Devon UK Council Reaffirms Commitment to Broadband Rollout

Friday, October 4th, 2019 (8:54 am) - Score 1,046
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The recent cancellation of UK ISP Gigaclear’s “full fibre” (FTTP) rollout contract under the Connecting Devon and Somerset project (here) has left many rural areas with concerns. As a result the Devon County Council has now moved to assure them that the roll-out of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) is continuing.

In an update posted yesterday, councillors say they have been “assured” that the work is continuing on delivering superfast broadband in Devon and they again reaffirmed their plan to launch a new procurement process for the problematic Phase 2 areas this autumn, with an invitation to tender being expected to follow in December 2019 to identify new suppliers.

As we reported earlier in the week, the outcome of this supplier hunt is unlikely to be known until the end of 2020, which means that no new rollout will probably begin until sometime in 2021. Despite this the roll-out under CDS is on-going via other providers (Openreach (BT) and Airband) – through existing contracts in other areas and new extensions to those.

Interestingly it was also noted that some 15,000 of the 47,000 premises that Gigaclear was originally contracted to cover had “already been covered by other commercial providers” while the ISP delayed. We’d be interested to know how many of those deployments occurred as a direct response to the delays (i.e. strategic commercial opportunism) or were already planned before the delays became public knowledge last year.

Some may also recall that, due to the Gigaclear problems, CDS has been working with the Government on a proposed plan to secure an extension for £18.7m of public funding to March 2023 (beyond the original December 2020 end date). As previously reported and echoed again below, a decision is expected next month, although the council was keen to show that a positive outcome is likely and said that this is now considered by Building Digital UK (DCMS) to be a “top priority in the agency’s spending commitments.”

Rufus Gilbert, Devon Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, said:

“BDUK and the Digital Minister are conscious of the timetable to launch the new CDS procurement process. We understand that Government decisions on capital funding for broadband programmes are to be made in November.

CDS funding will deliver new coverage this year, the commercial sector will be delivering more, and we would want to see any new services procured by CDS completing as soon as possible. Ultimately, that will depend on the total funding available, how long the Government extends its funding, the number of homes and businesses we will need to help, and what providers can do for the money on offer. This is all part of the work we’re doing now with BDUK.

Importantly, the commercial sector will also be continuing its investment in new broadband infrastructure. CDS will also be stepping up its community engagement to promote, help and advise those interested in taking up the national broadband voucher schemes.”

So far the CDS programme has helped to extend the coverage of superfast broadband to around 300,000 extra premises (nearly 1 million when you include separate commercial deployments across both counties), which exist in areas that the private sector either wouldn’t have connected through its own investment (i.e. no public match funding) or where they might have taken years longer to reach if left to their own devices.

Yesterday’s update also included a summary of related CDS projects and plans, which is mostly nothing new but does include a few updated statistics.

Active CDS Projects

– The CDS Community Challenge Fund will be launched later this year, following successful pilots in Devon and Somerset. A £295,000 fund will enable local communities to have a hands-on say in new networks for their areas. It’s anticipated that between six and eight more community solutions can be supported and work has begun to identify opportunities, working with a range of suppliers.

– A new collaboration with BT will extend coverage in rural areas, delivering full fibre (FTTP) to a further 2,000 premises across Devon and Somerset. This is due to the take-up of CDS-funded broadband services being nearly 60% – compared with a national average of 52.4% – which, thanks to the Government’s gainshare agreement with BT, is generating millions of pounds of new money to invest in expanding the CDS coverage (we believe this to be worth around £6m previous public money being returned via BT for reinvestment to expand coverage).

Airband is continuing to make good progress with its roll-out superfast wireless broadband for CDS in northern and west Devon. CDS-funded contracts with Airband have so far delivered superfast access to over 12,000 homes and businesses. It is also providing a network to serve around a further 5,000 hard to reach properties in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks.

– CDS and BDUK are also working closely together to ensure as many residents and businesses have the opportunity to benefit from the Government’s national broadband voucher schemes.

– CDS is also working with the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and other partners to develop a Digital Strategy and a refreshed Local Broadband Plan.

We should also highlight this week’s launch of another commercial alternative network in the region by Jurassic Fibre (here), which has openly talked about holding an aspiration to use £250m of investment in order to cover 350,000 premises across poorly served parts of Dorset, Devon and Somerset in England .

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all

    They should attempt to construct a regional procurement to cover all the South West. There is no more than c120k premises left and monies exist to get it all done. If you leave City and Town centres to the market, subtract the pending and recently announced there is less than 100k to do.

    This would solve 1/4 of the remaining challenge.

  2. Avatar AnotherTim

    With the government’s stated ambition for ubiquitous Gigabit broadband, is it at all likely that superfast (rather than ultrafast or gigabit) broadband will be contracted, especially given that the new CDS contracts won’t be awarded for another year or so?
    i.e. have Airband (and Broadway Partners in Monmouthshire et al.) a place in future BDUK plans?
    Will long term FTTP plans override shorter term pragmatic improvements, leading to further delays to areas that don’t yet have superfast broadband?

    • Avatar NGA for all

      To date BDUK if we inlcude Cornwall have paid for some 450,000 FTTP deep in rural. Last month BDUK paid for 10k FTTP deep in rural.

      There is still a £668m capital deferral in BT’s accounts for this work and an unknown amount of capital contribution yet to be reconciled.

      All the above work assumes mostly FTTP – Gigabit capable.

      All that is happening is that the 2012 budgets for in-fill are emerging from the mists of disinformation on costs.

      It is a bit like the wedding feast of Cana!

  3. Avatar NE555

    “Devon County Council has now moved to assure them that the roll-out of “superfast broadband” (24bps+) [sic] is continuing.”

    I suspect 24bps is not the speed they want to be aiming for 🙂

    • I’d agree :). Typo corrected.

    • Avatar Andy R

      24+ Mbps across Topsham would be awesome, but we can’t even get that. Neither are we in the plans of BDUK, Openreach or anyone else, so we’re starting a Community Programme in partnership with Openreach, however we’re a population of 5,000, hardly a rural small community.

  4. Avatar Jon Norris

    I am in one of those “problem areas” in Devon. Luckily for me, I now have reasonable coverage from 3 mobile providers, Vodafone being the fastest at about 30-35mbps, not ultra-fast but usable and much better than 1.2mbps over BT’s copper. And with unlimited data at £30pcm its a no brainer to stay where I am.

    Will FTTP and 300mbps plus speeds ever reach me? Unlikely imo despite Boris’s promises.

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