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Staffordshire fibre broadband 'success story' nears completion

Tuesday, January 5th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

Another 20,000 homes in rural Staffordshire can expect to get access to fibre broadband in 2016 as the county’s multimillion-pound programme nears completion.

Superfast Staffordshire, launched in 2012, has already connected tens of thousands of premises and will continue to roll out fibre to more challenging rural areas.

The project successfully connected more than 40,000 premises across the county in 2015 including Flash – the highest village in England – last month, where superfast broadband is now available to 40 properties.

The later part of the rollout, which is due to wind up in 2017, is taking place thanks to £1.6m funding from the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme.

Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for economy, transport and infrastructure, said: “This has been a real success story for Staffordshire, because we acted quickly and decisively in 2012.

“We recognised the importance of this for our rural economy and made the decision immediately to invest £7.4m in a partnership with BT and Broadband Delivery UK to make sure the county’s residents got the service they needed for their home or business.”

The programme will not only connect the hard-to-reach rural areas, but urban pockets which were left out of commercial rollouts, he said.

“We don’t see any reason why people and businesses should be missing out on opportunities created by fast broadband connection just because of where they live or work.”

Colin Bannon, BT’s regional director for Staffordshire and the West Midlands, said: “The multi-million pound rollout of superfast fibre broadband is making a huge difference to the lives of people throughout the county.

“It’s one of the largest investments locally in recent times and is transforming the way people use the internet, both at home and at work.

“But much remains to be done and 2016 will undoubtedly be a landmark year for this vital investment.”

'Not the end of the story'

Each month during 2015, an average of 4,000 extra premises gained access to fibre broadband as part of the programme, he said, with average broadband speeds in Staffordshire almost doubling in the past three years.

“And even that is most certainly not the end of the story," added Mr Bannon.

“Our ambition is to ‘never say no’ to any community and we welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with them to find a suitable and affordable fibre broadband solution.”

But despite the good news, one community in Staffordshire has told Cable.co.uk that access to superfast broadband is literally splitting it down the middle.

The villages of Tixall and Ingestre form a joint parish but while the majority of Ingestre residents can look forward to getting superfast broadband this year, their Tixall counterparts remain in the ‘final 5%’ of the country that is unlikely to form part of any rollout.

According to one resident, it means one half of the vibrant rural community has no choice but to wait on the “funding lottery” to see whether residents get “reliable, let alone superfast, broadband”.

Ingestre is expected to be included as part of the Superfast Staffordshire rollout, which covers those areas not already covered by a commercial rollout, with fibre hoped to arrive in June 2016.

Various options are being explored for Tixall, including community funding and BDUK funding.

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