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Preparations are well underway for the rollout of the full fibre network through the recently awarded contracts from the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme.

Around 56,000 homes and businesses will be provided with access to Gigabit capable broadband by internet providers Airband, Truespeed and Wessex Internet.

While most of the construction is expected to start in the autumn, Wessex Internet is due to start building the first links to its network in the Galhampton area of South Somerset in mid-April. This main framework, known as the “backhaul network” will connect to the company’s nearest pre-existing infrastructure in the Bruton area.

The Wessex Internet fibre network will rollout area by area to more than 3,600 homes and businesses over the three-year contract. It’s anticipated that the first live connections will be up and running from this coming autumn in North and South Barrow, Woolston and surrounding areas.

Airband is due to start construction of its first link for the new network in July – this will take place in Staplegrove and Monkton in Somerset, while in Devon it will include Powderham, and the area between Tiverton and Nomansland. Survey work is underway in these areas, and due to start imminently in Taunton, Halberton and Bradninch. It’s anticipated that properties in Staplegrove and Monkton will be the first to be connected by around September.

Airband has already provided superfast access to 18,700 homes and businesses across Devon and Somerset and its latest full fibre programme will extend its network to a further 40,150 premises.

In Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and Mendip area, Truespeed is contracted to provide full fibre broadband to 15,170 homes and businesses. Truespeed has begun its primary “backhaul” connection in Bath, Kingston Seymour, Wells, Saltford, and Nunney, and it anticipates that by this autumn the first premises in each of these areas will be connected. It also plans to publish its detailed rollout plan this summer.

All of the internet providers working on behalf of CDS are continuing to “mobilise” staff, materials and equipment and are securing any sub-contractors needed to deliver the programme.

CDS is currently completing a refresh of its Open Market Review which was carried out before going out to tender in February last year. This has to be double checked after the contract is awarded to ensure any areas earmarked by CDS for coverage are not in the plans of commercially funded programmes. This enables public funding to be spent where the need is greatest.

CDS, BDUK and the contractor carrying out the work can decide if the public money should be redeployed to another area in need of subsidised coverage. Some limited “overbuilding”, overlapping commercially built networks, can happen in some areas where it provides the most cost-effective route.

Before construction can start, surveying, design and planning work also has to be undertaken. This involves examining the geography of the area, determining the build route and most efficient timescales.

As this critical work develops prior to construction, discussions have to be held with landowners and local councils to find the best and most cost-effective route for the new network. This requires securing landowner consent and access to highways.

Councillor David Hall, CDS Board Member and Somerset County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure, said: “A huge amount of work goes into planning the network prior to construction starting, and it’s essential work to ensure the CDS investment can achieve maximum impact to provide homes and businesses with a future-proof broadband network. While this does take time, it’s great to see the companies looking to make a start on expanding the fibre network in the CDS region. Wessex Internet alone will be constructing around 300 kilometres of fibre in South Somerset over the next three years which has to be applauded.”

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, CDS Board Member and Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, said: “Everyone is keen for construction to start at the first possible opportunity. CDS, BDUK and the contracted internet providers are working closely to provide tens of thousands of homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband. Unfortunately not every premise in the area can be included with the public funding available through the programme, but we will be delivering access to superfast broadband to some of the hardest to reach premises in the CDS region – providing an all important boost to local communities and businesses.”

Karl Tucker, Chair of Heart of the South West LEP, said: “It’s fantastic to see this progress being made on the fibre rollout through the CDS programme. We’re delighted that the Heart of the SW LEP has been able to support this project through Growth Deal funding. It is a vital investment for rural homes and businesses right across our area, which will help bolster the recovery of our local economy and provide the digital connectivity that rural communities desperately need.”

Hector Gibson Fleming, Managing Director, Wessex Internet, said: “We’re excited to start construction next month to bring full fibre broadband to more rural South Somerset communities. We have spent the first part of this year working on detailed plans to ensure we can complete the full programme as quickly and efficiently as possible, giving Somerset residents in some of the hardest to reach areas the fast, reliable broadband connection they deserve.”

Redmond Peel, founder and Managing Director of Airband, added: “Gigabit capable fibre broadband is a game changer for rural areas and access to this future-proof technology will help so many rural communities and businesses to prosper and grow. A lot of time, money and effort is going into this project because providing better connectivity for our rural areas is so important, and never more so than now, as being connected online has become increasingly important to all aspects of modern life as a result of Covid-19.”

Evan Wienburg, Truespeed CEO, said: “We’re thrilled to be bringing much needed full fibre broadband to under-served communities struggling with poor connectivity. Our teams have been working meticulously to ensure a smooth roll out of the network, and we look forward to bringing communities truly reliable connectivity that will benefit them for generations to come.”

For all homes and businesses without superfast broadband which cannot be connected under this contract, CDS will work with BDUK and the commercial sector to find alternative solutions. Options may include the use of vouchers to fund connections, securing additional Government funding or inclusion in the National Gigabit Programme, or attracting commercial investment.

CDS has delivered superfast access to more homes and businesses than any other broadband programme in England, with over 300,000 homes and businesses receiving access to superfast broadband as a direct result of investment by CDS.

The initiative is being funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Heart of the South West LEP, CDS local authorities, European Regional Development Fund and the Rural Development Programme for England.

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