Cheshire UK Finish Rollout of Superfast Broadband to 95% of Premises

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The £22m+ state aid fuelled Connecting Cheshire project has finally completed Phase 2 of their contract with Openreach (BT) to rollout a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) network – FTTC (VDSL2) and a little FTTP – to cover 95% of local premises (100,000 additional premises), albeit 7 months later than planned.

The deployment contract, which has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), BT, Building Digital UK and 4 local authorities, was originally planned to complete by the “end of 2018” but when that didn’t happen they simply updated the website to say “by the summer of 2019” instead.

The network footprint actually stretches to cover around 98% of premises, although a small portion of those are unable to achieve 30Mbps+ speeds via Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology and hence how we get to the 95% figure. Otherwise the final FTTC street cabinet was deployed in Windle Hill (near Neston) and it joins over 650 others that have been installed as part of the programme.

We do however note that the latter parts of the rollout have seen an increased focus on building Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology, although that still only accounts for a tiny proportion of premises in Cheshire.

NOTE: The 100,000 premises figure actually falls to around 82,000 when only looking at 30Mbps+ capable properties.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach Partnership Director, said:

“I am proud to be part of the team that’s delivered one of biggest feats of civil engineering undertaken in Cheshire in recent years. It’s ironic that this broadband cabinet – the last to go live – has also been one of the most difficult to complete.

It has taken almost two years of working with multiple organisations including Cheshire West and Chester’s Highways Agency, Scottish Power, landowners our contractors and the residents themselves, who have been very patient while we battled through multiple and extremely complex wayleave and power issues. Without this close collaboration this cabinet would not be live today.

The Connecting Cheshire team and all the Openreach engineers who have worked to make this happen should be very proud of their achievement and for the overall success of the programme.”

Councillor Richard Beacham, Cheshire West and Chester Council, said:

“This is a significant step forward in the campaign to deliver full and fast digital connectivity across Cheshire. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in our borough now have access to fibre connections, releasing the huge advantages that faster broadband speeds can bring.”

However Richard Beacham said he recognised that there are “some rural communities where there is still more to do” and the project website confirms that they’re “currently in the process of trying to source additional funding for further Connecting Cheshire roll-out” (they should have some gainshare / clawback returned via BT in the near future), although we couldn’t find any mention in recent council documents of a future contract.

We also note from recent council documents that the project had in fact been targeting 99% coverage of superfast broadband for 2018/19, although this is not a figure that we’ve seen widely publicised before. Previously they’d only ever talked vaguely about 98% “fibre broadband” coverage or 95% superfast.

In the meantime those in the final 5% are being encouraged to seek out some of the Government’s various broadband voucher schemes or to consider a co-funded Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) with Openreach. From March 2020 there will also be the option of a 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO) from BT.

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