Stoke-On-Trent To Roll Out City-Wide Fibre Network

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Stoke-On-Trent City Council has kicked off a fibre network pilot project as the government announces a voucher scheme for ultrafast connections

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is to begin trialling Gigabit-speed full fibre broadband in partnership with Swedish networking company Vxfiber, the council has said, as new government measures push the rollout of fibre infrastructure across the country.

One of those measures is a new voucher programme to help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and user community groups connect to full fibre networks, the Treasury has announced.

In delivering the Spring Statement earlier this week, chancellor Phillip Hammond said the government has allocated £95 million of a £200m Local Full Fibre Network fund to projects around the UK.

The fibre programme in Stoke-on-Trent will aim to deliver ultra-fast networks to homes and businesses as part of a scheme to make the area a ‘Gigabit city’.

Fibre optic quantum cryptography light © asharkyu Shutterstock

Open access

The system is to be based on Vxfiber’s Open Access platform and the company said it would allow providers of all sizes to deliver services using its infrastructure.

An initial project will see the council delivering connectivity to the Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone, a 140-hectare brownfield site that’s being redeveloped for business purposes. The site, which is located north of the city, has so far attracted more than 1,000 jobs, the council said.

The council, which will retain ownership of the city ring fibre network, said it intends to ultimately extend the scheme across the city.

“The traditional part copper based broadband offering currently available simply isn’t good enough to keep pace with the fast-changing connectivity demands of today’s increasingly digital society and economy,” said councillor Abi Brown, deputy leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. “Full-fibre Gigabit connectivity addresses these needs and is the cornerstone of our vision for the future growth and prosperity of our city and its residents and businesses.”

Gigabit broadband vouchers

The government’s new broadband voucher programme is similar to a £100m scheme that ran from 2013 to 2015 and funded SMEs to connect to broadband networks faster than 30 Mbps. That programme ended once its funds had been distrbuted to more than 55,000 SMEs.

The new Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) will target full-fibre networks and will aim to fund £67m in vouchers over the next three years.

SMEs will be able to apply for grants of up to £3,000 and end-users up to £500, although individuals can only apply if they’re part of a community group programme that also includes businesses.

The funds are to be drawn from the £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund, the Treasury said.

“We are backing Britain’s small businesses by investing £67m to bring full-fibre broadband to more businesses up and down the country,” stated chancellor Philip Hammond. “This means faster, more reliable broadband access as we build the digital infrastructure we need to make our economy fit for the future.”

Matt Hancock, secretary of state at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which will oversee the programme, said the scheme would help lay the foundations for next-generation digital infrastructure.

fibre
Residential connections

The programme is to begin at the end of this month and will run until March 2021 or until all its £67m has been allocated.

It follows a trial in four areas around the country, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, Bristol with Bath and North-East Somerset, Coventry and Warwickshire, and West Yorkshire and York, issuing a total of about £1,000 vouchers.

The Bristol trial included residential vouchers, which weren’t included in the previous programme.

The vouchers must be used with FTTP suppliers registered with the scheme and can be used by both new and existing customers.

The government said it envisions the funding helping to defray or cover installation costs, with customers left to pay ongoing line charges out of their own pockets.

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