A £122m project will bring lightning-fast broadband to 45,000 rural homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire.
Whole fiber provider CityFibre will connect the connections as part of the government’s £5 billion Gigabit project, designed to help grow the economy.
Villages and hamlets around Ely, Newmarket, Roston and Huntingdon, along with many others, will be among those areas that will benefit from full gigabit-capable fiber links, which have the potential to deliver speeds over 30 times faster than ultra-fast broadband.
The government said it was investing £69m in the county, with CityFibre investing a further £53m, in one of Project Gigabit’s largest contracts to date.
Detailed planning has begun and the first properties are expected to be delivered as early as 2024, with the project scheduled for completion in 2027.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez, who visited Cambridge on Monday, told the Cambridge Independent: “We all know people get really frustrated if they have to work from home if they have really poor connections, so what we’re doing as government is giving £69m Under contract with CityFibre to reach all of rural Cambridgeshire previously unreachable by the market, so people living in the countryside can get a great connection.
“Wherever you live in the county, we hope you can get really good broadband — the kind of broadband that will be future proof. It’s not just about the speed you need now but the speed you will need in the future.”
The Minister suggested that the upgrade to gigabit broadband should be transformative.
“It gives you more options,” she said. “It means you can have a country office or a home and get a really good connection.”
And with a thriving life sciences and technology business in Cambridgeshire playing an increasing role in the UK economy, the minister said the need was overwhelming.
“Scientists who work in places like the genome sanctuary live in the area and they need that great connectivity to work from home and so we want to offer it to them,” the deputy said.
45,000 properties are selected for utilization after a market review.
“All the providers give us their best estimates for those properties they think they will cover in a commercial offering. We overlay all those different maps and identify buildings that are deemed not commercially viable. We bundle them into one contract, and we put it on the market for it.” Cambridgeshire already has a lot of CityFibre working, in places like Cambridge and Peterborough, so it’s a natural partner for this part of the country.”
As part of its own investment, CityFibre has committed an additional £300,000 local stimulus package to create local jobs and provide training that includes:
Digital Futures Fund of £200,000 to identify charity and third sector partners who will provide grants delivering innovative solutions for those digitally disadvantaged, increasing access, skills and equipment.
£100,000 to fund construction and engineering training targeting disadvantaged and COVID-affected groups, Armed Forces graduates, people with disabilities and young people.
CityFibre will provide free contact with 50 local charities and social organisations, 50 18-month apprenticeships with their local construction partners and work experience for 60 young people following T-levels of construction or digital pathways.
The company has already invested over £100m in the province, completing commissioning operations in Peterborough and March, and is active elsewhere in the province.
“Having already fully rolled out fiber to 2.5 million homes in towns and cities across the country, we know how important it is to free rural communities and ISPs from their dependence on cracked copper networks, and finally be able to enjoy the benefits of digital connectivity,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. Fast and reliable.
This is why we are delighted that the government has selected CityFibre as a partner in the Project Gigabit programme. We look forward to a long and effective partnership on this exciting program that not only supports rural connectivity but also a healthy competitive market in the long term, benefiting consumers and businesses nationwide.”
Cllr Lorna Dupré, Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Environment and Green Investment Committee, which oversees the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, said:
“Improved digital infrastructure is critical to our county, and given the significant economic and social benefits for Cambridgeshire, I am delighted that we are among the first regions in the country to benefit from government gigabit project funding.
“Access to a fast and reliable internet connection should not be a luxury. It is a basic necessity for all of our residents, local businesses and the delivery of public services. This initiative will greatly enhance the digital infrastructure in the region and support economic growth, education and innovation.
“The £122m investment will support our ambition for our businesses to have the leading digital connectivity needed to help them succeed and grow sustainably, and for our communities, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas, to be digitally connected so that residents have access to education.” jobs, health and welfare, and other public services.”
More than £160m of contracts have already been signed elsewhere in England, including in Cumbria, Teesdale, Northumberland, Dorset and Cornwall.
The government, which said the project was the biggest broadband rollout to date, said more than 73 per cent of the UK has access to gigabit-capable connections – up from just six per cent three years ago.
The aim is for 85 per cent of the UK to have a gigabit-capable connection by the end of 2025, with national coverage by 2030.
Suffolk, Norfolk, Hampshire and Shropshire are among the areas to be awarded contracts by summer 2023.
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