96% of Cheshire premises to have access to fibre broadband …

High-speed fibre broadband will be rolled out to around 96% of Cheshire homes and businesses in the next three years under a 28.5m project between four Cheshire councils and BT.

The Connecting Cheshire Partnership has secured funding to provide additional rural broadband infrastructure to over 80,000 premises that will build on BT’s on-going commercial investment in fibre across the county.

As a result more than 400,000 premises (around 96%) across Cheshire, Halton and Warrington, should have access to broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps by the end of 2016. Those premises in the remaining 4% that currently experience low speeds will also see an uplift, as the project aims to deliver a minimum of 2Mbps or more to almost all homes and businesses.

The project will transform broadband speeds across Cheshire, narrowing the gap between speeds in urban and rural areas. According to Ofcom, the county’s average downstream speed is currently around 11Mbps, while approximately 12% of the population receive less than 2Mbps.

Cheshire East says the investment in fibre broadband will boost the local economy and help to create or protect local jobs.

A recent study for Cheshire, Warrington and Halton estimated that full coverage of superfast broadband would generate a gross impact of 1.3 billion in gross value added (GVA) over 15 years and create 11,500 jobs, with a further 330m of economic benefits to households.

BT was awarded the contract following a procurement exercise through the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework.

The company is contributing 9m towards fibre deployment in ‘non-commercial’ areas, while The Connecting Cheshire Partnership is contributing 1.85m, with a further 4m coming from the Government’s BDUK funds and 13.6m from European Regional Development Funds.

Openreach, BT’s local network division, will now start the work on the ground with engineers surveying locations around the county and analysing the best way to roll out the network. This initial survey work will take about eight months, so Connecting Cheshire should be in a position to announce which communities will be included in the first stage of the roll-out by December 2013.

Fibre to the Cabinet will be the main technology deployed. This delivers wholesale downstream speeds of up to 80Mbps and upstream speeds of up to 20Mbps.

Fibre to the Premises technology delivering speeds of up to 330Mbps will also be deployed in some areas and will be available on demand throughout the whole of the fibre footprint, should local businesses want the ultra-fast speed it offers.

Councillor David Brown, Deputy Leader of Cheshire East Council, on behalf of the Connecting Cheshire Partnership said: “The award of this contract to BT marks the end of a comprehensive process to secure the best broadband deal for Cheshire.

“The four councils across Cheshire are committed to providing reliable high-speed fibre broadband for both our home and business users. From children doing homework, to caring for our elderly population and from social media, to ecommerce and home entertainment fast broadband is the critical enabler. The social, environmental and economic benefits will be huge, making Cheshire one of the best-connected regions in the country.”

Tatton MP George Osborne said: “This is great news for not just my Tatton constituency but the whole of Cheshire.

Extending the reach of fibre broadband is a real opportunity to provide a huge strategic boost to our urban and rural areas, for both homes and businesses to become better connected.”

Bill Murphy, managing director of BT Next Generation Access, added: “Cheshire has a large number of small and medium sized enterprises and a high volume of business start-ups, which collectively contribute a substantial proportion of the regional economy. The rollout of more fibre broadband will act as a powerful economic driver for these businesses.

“Ensuring enhanced connectivity is vital to secure future growth. Exploiting the strategic benefits of high-speed broadband across Cheshire, Halton and Warrington will deliver huge returns on investment.

It is no longer enough to be connected, it must be fast, reliable and affordable to fully realise the county’s potential.”

BT’s network will be open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis and so Cheshire consumers and businesses should benefit from a highly-competitive market, in turn bringing greater choice and affordable prices.

Photo: Pictured in the Alderley Edge telephone exchange, one of the many Cheshire exchanges to be upgraded to provide fibre broadband, from left to right: representing the Connecting Cheshire Partnership, Councillor Michael Jones, Leader of Cheshire East Council; George Osborne MP; Kieran Simpson, Openreach apprentice engineer; and Bill Murphy.

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