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Devon and Somerset communities hoping for £4.6m broadband boost

Monday, June 13th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A community group is hoping to scoop £4.6m to boost broadband provision in the Blackdown Hills area.

The Blackdown Hills Parish Network (BHPN), which represents 39 parish councils in Devon and Somerset, has applied for European funding to improve coverage in the area.

A decision on whether the group is successful in its outline application to the European Regional Development Fund is expected in July.

If successful, the BHPN will need to submit a full application before the end of October.

East Devon District Council has agreed in principle to be the BHPN’s delivery partner and so will help find appropriate suppliers and manage the project.

The BHPN said potential suppliers, who will be required to provide a broadband service of at least 30Mbps irrespective of technology, are likely to be invited to bid for the project in early 2017.

Parishes in the Blackdown Hills AONB will be the first to benefit. Services will be extended to adjoining communities, funding and technology permitting.

Heather Stallard, chair of the Blackdown Hills Parish Network, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for all Blackdown parishes, many of whom have missed out on the current county-run broadband programme.

“It will enable our residents and businesses to have access to the technology and trade routes of the 21st century and we hope that the Department of Communities and Local Government will look favourably upon our outline application.

“We are pleased to be working with East Devon District Council as our delivery partner in pursuing this opportunity.”

Delays

In September last year, MP Hugo Swire welcomed the “symbolic” arrival of fibre broadband in the East Devon village of Tipton St John as part of the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) rollout.

But CDS, which aims to take superfast speeds to 90% of premises in the two counties by the end of 2016, has faced criticism over delays to the second phase of the programme.

Organisations representing more than 19,000 businesses in Devon and Somerset said delays could be “fatal” for businesses in the area.

Since then, EU approval of the national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme has allowed the second phase of the CDS programme to move to the procurement stage.

Project bosses said the tender process would get underway as soon as BT and other broadband providers had told CDS of their commercial rollout plans for the area.

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