Cornwall is set to experience the largest rural fibre optic roll-out in the UK to date, after BT confirmed it will soon start to roll out super-fast broadband to up to 90 percent of homes in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The project, which will cost £132 million, will make the south west of England one of the best connected locations in the world. Cornwall is already home to most of the UK’s cabling hubs that physically connects the UK to North America via undersea cables.
The roll-out of the project will begin immediately and run until 2014, with the first customers expected to be connected early next year.
The funding for such a mammoth roll-out is being shared between BT and the European Regional Development Fund.
BT will shoulder the lion’s share of the cost (£78.5 million), with the EU picking up the rest of the tab (£53.5 million). It has been estimated that the project will create 4,000 new local jobs and protect a further 2,000, and will give the region some of the UK’s fastest broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps.
And as BT is the provider, it means that the fibre network it installs will be open to all communications providers on a wholesale basis. This is unlike other rural areas of the UK, which because of high installation costs from the likes of BT, have opted for a fibre connection from a single service provider.
And it seems that BT is not just content to run a fibre connection to the street cabinet, so called fibre to the node or cabinet (FTTN or FTTC). This is a cheaper option for the carrier but it relies on copper cables to carry the connection into the home or premise over the last mile, and consequently connection speeds would not be as quick as a purely fibre-based option.
Instead however, BT said that it expects half of local businesses and homes to have FTTC, while the other half will enjoy fibre to the premise (FTTP) technology.
This will no doubt entail a great deal of civil construction (i.e road and pavement digging) to lay the fibre optic cable, and possibly even some micro trenching.
BT is hoping that this £132 million project will serve as an example to other rural areas.
“Building on the success of the actnow project, the introduction of next generation super-fast broadband has the potential to transform the local economy over the next twenty years and we’re delighted to be working closely with BT, the South West RDA and the Convergence Programme in bringing this to Cornwall,” said Alec Robertson, Leader of Cornwall Council.
“This partnership shows what can be achieved when people work with BT. The ‘final third’ of the UK is undoubtedly challenging to reach with fibre but this project shows it is possible,” he added. “Our door remains open to others who are keen to work with us to bring fibre broadband to their areas.”
Indeed, the move will provide some welcome respite for the UK carrier, smarting from a recent experiment that highlighted the sad state of rural broadband in the UK when a pigeon beat a computer in a file transfer challenge.
The move has also been welcomed by the government.
“This project is very exciting news for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It shows how the public and private sectors can work together to deliver local solutions to local problems,” said communications minister Ed Vaizey. “Households and businesses in this largely rural area can now look forward to having one of the best broadband connections in the world, thanks to Cornwall Council’s vision, European funding and BT’s investment and expertise. The Government wants the UK to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, so today’s announcement is a big step towards that goal”.
“This is also the largest investment of its kind supported by European funds in the EU and I’m sure will serve as inspiration for other regions,” said European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn.
Earlier this week, it was announced that residents of the Shetland Islands will be able to access high-speed broadband, following a cash injection from the European Regional Development Fund.
In June, BT announced a deal with the Welsh Assembly to provide super-fast broadband to the villages of Beulah and Ystrad Meurig in Ceredigion and Cil-y-Cwm and Llanfynydd in Carmarthenshire.