New Contracts – what happens next…

An update on the new contracts

  • Getting ready for construction
  • What’s happening now
  • Why it’s too early say which homes and businesses will be covered
  • What happens if my home or business isn’t covered by the new contracts?

Introduction

On December 23rd Connecting Devon and Somerset, with support from Government, signed contracts with Airband, Truespeed and Wessex Internet to deliver full fibre broadband to 56,396 homes and businesses in earmarked areas of Bath and North East Somerset, Devon, North Somerset and Somerset. Delivery will be in phases between 2021 and 2024.

The accompanying maps show areas in blue earmarked for coverage under the new CDS contracts along with current CDS coverage, coloured green, and commercially-funded coverage, coloured red.

However, until essential preparatory work has been completed it is too early to say exactly which individual homes and businesses will be connected.

It is important to also note that although the contracts seek to connect as many homes and businesses without superfast* broadband as possible not every premise can be included within the public funding available. *Minimum 30Mpbs download speed. 

This briefing summarises what CDS and our contractors are doing now in preparation for construction of the new networks, where construction is due to start and how CDS will be looking to help areas not covered by these contracts.

Preparation

Preparation includes mobilising resources, double-checking any commercial operations in the earmarked areas, and surveying. These last two will greatly determine which premises in which areas are finally to be connected. One other factor determining final connections is a cap on public subsidy per premise.

Mobilising resources and surveying are ongoing activities as new networks are rolled out.

Mobilisation

The first task in any new contract is assembling the additional resources – staff, materials, equipment and sub-contractors – a company needs to do the job. This is known as the “mobilisation” period.

Whilst it is a behind-the-scenes activity, mobilising the team resources and systems in good time is pivotal to a successful network build and addresses all aspects required to guarantee timely and cost-effective delivery. 

Open Market Review Refresh

Before going out to tender for new contracts CDS conducts a detailed survey of private sector broadband plans. Known as an “Open Market Review”, the survey helps identify which areas will be covered by the private sector commercial investment and which will need public subsidy. After contracts are awarded this is checked again and updated to make sure nothing has changed. This “refresh” of the survey is underway now and due for completion in April.

Why is this necessary?

Sometimes during a procurement period an area previously earmarked by CDS as requiring public subsidy is covered by a commercially-funded roll-out or becomes the subject of definite plans to do so. If that happens CDS will look to redeploy public funding to another area still in need of subsidised coverage. Final decisions are taken with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) on behalf of DCMS and in consultation with the contractor.

This process is essential to ensure that public money is spent where the need is greatest and over-building of existing networks is avoided as far as possible. Although rare, occasionally, some limited overbuilding is necessary because premises lie along the most cost-effective route for the new network and avoiding them would make new connections further along the route too expensive to complete.

Surveying

The term “surveying” does not do justice to the full scale of activity that has to be completed before network construction can begin. Design and planning are also key elements and taken altogether they form the most crucial part of the pre-construction process, determining the build route, efficiency and timeline.

This is much more than a back room process, it involves talking to landowners and parish councils, gathering all the information and community help needed to come up with the best and most cost-effective route to take for the new network. As the work develops it will require securing wayleaves and access to highways.

Potential routes will be walked to identify any engineering difficulties and inform the scheduling of the construction.  The condition of poles will be examined where overhead cabling may be required. Traffic management requirements are identified and confirmed, other alternative routes are also investigated. For example, where a soft dig may reduce time and traffic management and time. 

As hard to reach areas are amongst the most difficult and costly to deliver, on the ground surveys are essential to minimise construction risks and difficulties as much as possible.

Cost cap

CDS agrees a cap on the amount of public subsidy per premise that can be invested in building a new network with BDUK and the contractor as part of the contract award process. The aim is to strike the best possible balance; sufficient subsidy to attract commercial providers whilst achieving the maximum number of premises covered. The subsidy plus a provider’s commercial investment in the contract is what pays for the construction of the new network.

Occasionally unexpected difficulties encountered during construction can increase the cost. If cost exceeds the cap, the contractor notifies CDS who, in consultation with BDUK, must then determine whether to authorise the build or switch the subsidy to other premises.

Where is construction starting?

Wessex Internet is due to start building the first links for its new network in the Galhampton area of South Somerset in mid-April. This main framework, known as the “backhaul” 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 contracted to provide full fibre connections to 40,154 homes and businesses. It 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.

Truespeed is contracted to provide full fibre broadband to 15,170 homes and businesses in Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and Mendip District Council’s area. 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.

What happens if my home or business isn’t covered by the new contracts?

For all homes and businesses without superfast broadband which cannot be connected under these contracts, CDS will work with the Government 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.

Where and When

The postcode checker has been temporarily removed while the data for the rollout of the latest CDS contracts is updated. We hope to have it up and running again as soon as we can. Until then, see below for indicative maps of coverage.

COVID-19 Info

Whilst measures to contain COVID-19 continue to evolve, CDS will attempt to maintain a Business As Usual approach, though there may be some unavoidable impact on our ability to respond to queries.