Rural communities benefit from voucher scheme investment

Rural communities in mid Devon and west Somerset have received a huge boost to their broadband, thanks to Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) in partnership with Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Exeter based broadband provider Technological.

A £350,000 investment through the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme and CDS’ Community Challenge Programme has enabled Technological to deliver a full fibre network to over 180 premises in a number of hard to reach rural areas – with a further 400 in construction and 120 scheduled to be connected early next year.

The full-fibre network currently spans 70km of underground fibre, connecting the communities of Loyton, Claypits and Timewell Hill in Devon, and Skilgate, Upton, Huish Moor and Huish Champflower in Somerset.

Community facilities such as Skilgate village hall has also benefited, being provided with a free connection as part of the build by Technological.

Jim Weir, from Technological Services Limited, said: “This is a community focused scheme, working with local landowners, residents and their Parish Councils to leverage the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme, and we’re grateful for the support from Connecting Devon and Somerset in helping us to deliver the broadband upgrade these communities desperately need.

“These are extremely challenging rural build locations and our team has worked incredibly hard to connect these communities despite the physical and environmental difficulties we have faced in the last 12 months. Some connections are over 1km of build from the main network, so these really are the most remote of properties but we’ve proven we can deliver access to them.

“Most of our team live around the area allowing us to harness that local knowledge which in turn is crucial to our success. The feedback from live customers is amazing and keeps us all motivated to reach more of the hard-to-reach communities who have struggled for years on sub 2Mbps connections.”

Take-up across the scheme demonstrates both the critical importance of reliable fast broadband and the positive community engagement within the project, with the network enjoying 96% take-up, including 45 rural SME businesses that are now able to work effectively despite the pandemic.

Philip Ghazala, Managing Director at Paddocks Farm Partnership Ltd in Huish Champflower, said: “From the depths of the Brendon Hills in West Somerset to have 300Mbps down and upload makes us a competitive business meaning that we can continue to provide rural employment and maintain an environmentally friendly operation.”

Huish Champflower resident Marc Vivian Jones commented: “We went from 0 – 100kbps to 40Mbps, from only using one device at a time to many. Now we open websites, and send or receive emails, instantly; previously opening websites could be impossible and emails could take an age.”

The project, which launched in September 2019, has had to contend with extreme weather and Covid-19 lockdown disruptions. The CDS Community Challenge Programme has played a vital role in offering support to communities embarking on using the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme.

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, CDS Board Member and Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, said: “The Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme is the perfect solution to help fill in the gaps of the fibre broadband network to many harder-to-reach rural communities. I’m delighted to see these rural communities spanning the Devon and Somerset border have made the scheme work for them and they will soon be reaping the benefits of their new connections and faster broadband.”

Councillor David Hall, CDS Board Member and Somerset County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure, said: “It’s great to see rural areas benefiting from some of the best broadband speeds and it’s encouraging that it’s making a real difference to local businesses. Technological have shown exactly how the support from the Rural Gigabit Voucher scheme and CDS’ Community Challenge Programme can help to reach areas that wouldn’t attract commercial investment.”

To date, over 3,300 premises in Devon and Somerset have been connected to fibre through the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme, representing an additional investment of nearly £4 Million in full fibre across the CDS region. Work is continuing with other communities with another 2,700 vouchers approved for build over the next 12 months.

A further 8,000 homes and businesses will be provided with fibre broadband connections direct to the premises by the end of 2021 through the CDS Fibre Extension Programme, working with Openreach and Airband. Airband’s current ongoing contract with CDS has also delivered connectivity to around 19,000 homes and businesses in northern and west Devon, central Devon and west Somerset.

Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) has delivered superfast broadband access to more homes and businesses than any other broadband programme in England – providing access to over 300,000 premises.

Contracts within CDS’ new procurement are due to be awarded later this month.

Rural Gigabit Vouchers are still available. If your community is interested in the scheme and would like to find out more, the CDS Community Challenge Programme can help. Contact [email protected] or [email protected]

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.