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Ultrafast fibre broadband connection is transforming rural community life

Connection to some of the fastest fibre broadband in the UK for a rural Staffordshire community – through one of the first schemes of its kind nationally – has transformed day-to-day living and business operations.

Villagers in Cotwalton, near Stone, have seen their broadband download speeds increase – from around 3Mpbs to more than 300Mbps – after becoming the first premises to benefit from the county council’s Community Fibre Partnership Support Fund (CFPSF).

The scheme is thought to be the first local authority-led initiative of its kind.

It gives participating properties access to ultrafast broadband, which is transforming their day-to-day living and the way they do business.

Connecting with customers more easily, an ability to speak to family in Australia and backing up thousands of photos online are just some of the things people can now do in Cotwalton, thanks to the Support Fund.

It was launched by Superfast Staffordshire – the partnership led by Staffordshire County Council and BT Group – earlier this year.

Staffordshire County Council devised the CFPSF as part of its drive to reach the final four per cent of county premises not currently part of any public or private sector fibre broadband upgrade plans.

The Superfast Staffordshire partnership – which is part of the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme – set aside £400,000 for co-funding projects through the fund.

As part of the scheme, any money raised by households and businesses in an eligible community can be matched.

Additional funding towards the extensive engineering work will come from Openreach, the business responsible for Britain’s largest telephone and broadband network through its Community Fibre Partnership programme, which is already working with hundreds of communities across the country.

Cotwalton resident Brian Scott brought the community together to lead the scheme. He said people thought they’d be stuck in the Dark Ages if they didn’t act. He added:

Cotwalton is in the middle of nowhere – we are a tiny village and would never be economically viable for connection through the normal programme.

We heard about the community fibre partnership, which is a way of communities like ourselves can get some funding, together with our own funding and get our own project off the ground.

But what was special about this is that Staffordshire County Council also contributed to the project so that reduced the costs to the residents even further. I’d definitely recommend that any villages which would not be included in the normal superfast Staffordshire roll-out to get in touch with the county council.

It’s such an easy process. It literally is just a phone call and the guys there will do all the work for you and you can get your own project up and running.”

Wendy Lewis runs a building company with her husband from home. She said:

From a business perspective we quite often send and receive quite large documents. We can now receive those and action them in a timely manner.

We can send estimates out to customers with supporting documentation and we can respond to customers’ requests for further information in far greater detail than we could before. Sending photographs and documents before was always a real chore and quite often our service dropped out before those documents were sent. Now we look more professional.”

Retired Cotwalton resident John Clowes said:

We now have the ability to contact our daughter who lives in Melbourne, Australia. We Skype her most Sunday mornings and we can see my granddaughter and son in law in the flesh and talk for around an hour – just like a family gathering.”

Premises connected through the scheme will be able to access some of the fastest broadband speeds in the country when the extensive upgrade work is completed within the next 12 months*.

Engineers from Openreach are installing Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology, which is capable of delivering Ultrafast download speeds up to 1 Gigabit and upload speeds of up to 220Mbps.

Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council’s economic growth leader, said:

Staffordshire is leading the way with a unique solution to connect our most hard to reach communities to superfast fibre broadband. The Superfast Staffordshire partnership has been a resounding success and will enable 96 per cent of properties to access fast broadband by the end of 2018. We have always said we would do all we could to reach the final four per cent and the Community Fibre Partnership Support Fund initiative is one of a number of ways we can do that. It is the first of its kind in the UK and other areas are already looking to follow our example. Access to superfast broadband improves quality of life and means businesses can thrive and that is why connecting communities is a priority to us.”

Steve Haines, Openreach’s managing director of next generation access, said:

Partnerships like these help us to bring high-speed connections to challenging areas that the private sector would have difficulty reaching alone.

This innovative approach in Staffordshire is giving an important new dimension to our own Community Fibre Partnership programme, which is already helping hundreds of similar projects across the UK. As a result, more households and businesses will be able to access faster broadband speeds at highly competitive prices from a wide choice of internet service providers.”

For more information and to apply to the Superfast Staffordshire Community Fibre Partnership Support Fund go to: www.superfaststaffordshire.co.uk/other-information/CFPFund

So far Superfast Staffordshire has enabled around 74,000 households and businesses to connect to superfast broadband speeds. The figure rises to more than 477,000 when combined with commercial fibre roll-outs by private sector companies, such as Openreach.