Roll-out of superfast broadband continuing in Devon and Somerset

Devon County Councillors were assured today (Thursday 3 October) that work is continuing on delivering superfast broadband in Devon, despite Connecting Devon and Somerset’s (CDS) recent cancellation of contracts with broadband provider Gigaclear.

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, updated the authority’s Full Council about the on-going work of CDS.

CDS announced last month that it was ending Gigaclear’s five contracts to deliver full-fibre broadband in Devon and Somerset. CDS and the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency were unable to agree an acceptable recovery plan with Gigaclear following the significant delays incurred by the company in its roll-out of full fibre broadband.

However, CDS’s roll-out is progressing with other providers and the commercial sector is also connecting communities across the region. Of the 47,000 premises Gigaclear was contracted to connect, around 15,000 have already been covered by other commercial providers while Gigaclear delayed.

Photo of Councillor Rufus Gilbert

Cllr Rufus Gilbert

Councillor Gilbert 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.”

CDS is working closely with BDUK to launch a new procurement process this autumn, and is aiming to issue an invitation to tender in December to identify new provider(s) of these services. In the meantime, CDS is working on:

– 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 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.

– 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.

Among the expected commercial investment in the area, Jurassic Fibre has announced a £250 million roll-out of a Gigabit-capable full fibre broadband network by the end of 2025. The first phase is due to start this autumn in east Devon communities stretching from Exeter Airport to Exmouth.

Government officials at the Building Digital UK agency have confirmed that extending the Government’s £18.7 million of funding for the CDS programme is a top priority in the agency’s spending commitments, and that this was reaffirmed by the Digital Minister personally when he met with CDS recently. This meeting confirmed that BDUK is aiming to put forward its own funding case to Treasury as part of the spending decision process to support CDS, as well as other programmes that are in delay through the superfast scheme and, looking to the future, the opportunities from the Government’s £5 billion programme to support the roll-out of full fibre, 5G and other gigabit-capable internet networks in the hardest to reach 20% of the country.

Nearly one million homes and businesses in Devon and Somerset now have access to superfast broadband thanks to the Government supported CDS programme and stimulation of the commercial market which is an important element of CDS’s role.

Over 300,000 homes and businesses have access to superfast broadband as a direct result of investment by CDS.

Superfast coverage funded by CDS is as high as 59% in some rural districts – and 82% in one – compared with the average 33% that Government estimated the public sector would need to fund.

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.