In December 2020 a consultation was launched on the draft procurement strategy for the UK Gigabit Programme setting out plans to connect the first one million homes and businesses with gigabit speed broadband and maximise coverage in the hardest to reach 20% of the UK by 2025.
Homes and businesses that do not yet have access to superfast broadband will be prioritised increasing speeds from less than 30 megabits/second to more than 1,000 megabits/second, or one gigabit/second. Gigabit-capable broadband connections offer the fastest and most reliable speeds available paving the way for new and unexpected social benefits alongside jobs and economic growth over the coming decades, and revolutionise rural communities by giving people the freedom to live and work more flexibly.
Dorset has almost 96 per cent superfast coverage thanks to the council’s partnership with Openreach, which began nine years ago. However, when it comes to the next generation of gigabit capable broadband, Dorset only has seven per cent coverage, compared with 38 per cent nationally.
Following months of behind-the-scenes lobbying for better broadband in Dorset – led by West Dorset MP Chris Loder and Dorset Council’s deputy leader Peter Wharf Dorset will be among the first areas in the country to benefit from the Government’s new £5 billion gigabit broadband fund.
Cllr Wharf said: “This is fantastic news. Improving connectivity is essential for ensuring the county can prosper.”
Identifying the areas most in need is underway, with contracts for the work expected to go to tender in late summer and plans to build the infrastructure could start by the end of this year. Projects will prioritise Dorset areas that currently have slow connections. When connected, these premises will have available speeds that could rocket to more than 1,000 megabits or one gigabit per second. It will mean families in rural areas being given the freedom to live and work more flexibly. It is predicted to also provide a boost to businesses and the economy.
Ian Girling, Dorset Chamber chief executive, said: “This is incredibly welcome news and I’m pleased Dorset businesses will be among the first to benefit from Project Gigabit. It’s essential for our thousands of SMEs in rural areas to have the fastest broadband connections possible to allow them to compete on a level playing field with businesses in urban areas both in Dorset and nationwide. As more businesses switch to remote working from home or relocate into more rural areas away from the larger cities in the wake of the Covid pandemic, it will be more important than ever to ensure the digital infrastructure can cope.”
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