A £94m project to transform broadband speeds for businesses and residents across Devon and Somerset within the next four years has been announced.
Connecting Devon and Somerset has agreed a deal with BT which aims to deliver high-speed fibre broadband to around 90 per cent of premises by the end of 2016 and to ensure a minimum of 2Mbps broadband speeds for all – making the counties one of the best connected areas in the UK.
Surveying work on the project will start immediately after a contract between the partnership of local authorities and BT was signed this week. The first locations to be upgraded will be announced in the spring.
The programme team estimates that the project will boost the counties' economic output by £750m by 2020, creating high tech jobs and attracting new businesses and investors to the area.
BT is investing £41m in the programme while Devon and Somerset County Councils are contributing £10m each and £32m in Government funding is coming from Broadband Delivery UK and contributions from other public sector partners.
Average broadband speeds are currently around 9 Mbps in Devon whilst approximately 14 per cent of premises across the two counties receive less than 2Mbps.
Most of the programme area will receive Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) broadband, where the fibre runs from the telephone exchange as far as the nearest BT street cabinet. It can deliver download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps.
BT is already in the process of rolling out fibre broadband to homes and businesses in some areas of Devon and Somerset as part of its commercial plan to reach around two-thirds of UK premises.
Councillor John Hart, leader of Devon County Council and Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership board member, said: "This is a project of huge significance to businesses and local communities across Devon and Somerset.
"Superfast broadband will enable even our smallest businesses to compete on a level playing field with other companies nationally and internationally. That means Devon businesses can expand without having to relocate and benefit from improving productivity.
"It'll mean a big boost to our economy and the creation of new jobs as firms take advantage of their new-found competitiveness. And families in rural areas will be able to enjoy all the benefits of our digital age, such as downloading films and music, which have so far been denied them."
Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation broadband at BT Group, added: "This project is vital to the future economic strength of the heart of the South West. Reliable access to broadband is an integral part of 21st century living.
"It's much more than streaming video and music or online shopping: it's increasingly the way business is conducted and services are delivered. It will enable businesses to compete on a level footing regardless of location – making Devon and Somerset a more attractive proposition for business re-locations and start-ups – including the creation of new, high-tech jobs."