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£122m Project Gigabit rollout to bring lightning-fast broadband to 45,000 rural properties in Cambridgeshire

A £122million project will bring lightning-fast broadband to 45,000 rural homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire.

Full fibre provider CityFibre will deliver the connections as part of the government’s £5billion Project Gigabit, designed to help grow the economy.

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, with digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez in Cambridge to mark the announcement of £122m partnership. Picture: Keith Heppell
Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, with digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez in Cambridge to mark the announcement of £122m partnership. Picture: Keith Heppell

Villages and hamlets around Ely, Newmarket, Royston and Huntingdon, along with many other areas, will be among those to benefit from the gigabit-capable full fibre connections, which have the potential to offer speeds more than 30 times that of superfast broadband.

The government said it was investing £69m in the county, with CityFibre investing a further £53m, in what is one of Project Gigabit’s largest contracts to date.

Detailed planning has begun and the first properties are expected to be connected early in 2024, with the project due to complete in 2027.

Visiting Cambridge on Monday, digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez told the Cambridge Independent: “We all know that people get really frustrated if they have to work from home if they have really poor connections, so what we are doing as a government is giving £69million in a contract with CityFibre to reach all of those rural areas of Cambridgeshire that otherwise wouldn’t be reached by the market, so that people living in the countryside can get fantastic connectivity.

“Wherever you live in the county, we’d hope that you would be able to get really good broadband - the kind of broadband that will be future-proof. It’s not just about the speeds you need now but the speeds you are going to need in the future.”

The minister suggested the upgrade to gigabit broadband will be transformative.

“It gives you more options,” she said. “It means you can have a rural office or home and have really good connectivity.”

And with Cambridgeshire’s burgeoning life sciences and technology businesses playing an ever-increasing role in the UK economy, the minister said the need was acute.

The MP said: “The scientists working in places like the Genome Campus live in the area and they need to have that great connectivity to work from home and so we want to deliver it for them,” she said.

The 45,000 properties to benefit are being chosen following a market review.

“All the providers give us their best estimates for those properties that they think they are going to cover in a commercial roll-out. We overlay all of those different maps and work out which premises are considered commercially unviable. We pull those into a single contract, which we go out to market for. CityFibre has been successful in the Cambridgeshire contract. Cambridgeshire already has a lot of CityFibre work, in places like Cambridge and Peterborough, so they are a natural partner for this part of the country.”

Minister Julia Lopez with Tom Brydon, CityFibre head of area. Picture: Terry Harris
Minister Julia Lopez with Tom Brydon, CityFibre head of area. Picture: Terry Harris

As part of its private investment, CityFibre has committed an additional £300,000 local stimulus package to create local jobs and provide training comprising:

A £200,000 Digital Futures Fund to identify charity and third sector partners that will provide grants offering innovative solutions to those who are digitally disadvantaged, increasing access, skills and equipment.

£100,000 to fund construction and engineering internships targeting disadvantaged groups those affected by Covid, Armed Forces leavers, people with disabilities and young people.

CityFibre will provide free connectivity to 50 local charities and social enterprises, 50 18-month apprenticeships with its local build partners and work experience for 60 young people following construction or digital pathways T-levels.

The company has already invested more than £100m in the county, completing roll-outs in Peterborough and March, and is active elsewhere in the county.

CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch said: “Having already rolled out full fibre to 2.5 million homes in towns and cities across the country, we know just how important it is that rural communities and internet service providers are freed of their dependency on creaking copper networks and finally able to enjoy the benefits of fast and reliable digital connectivity.

“That’s why we are delighted that CityFibre has been selected by the government as a partner in its Project Gigabit Programme. We look forward to a long and effective partnership in this exciting programme which supports not only rural connectivity, but a healthy competitive market for the long term, benefiting consumers and business nationwide.“

Cllr Lorna Dupré, chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s environment and green investment committee, which oversees the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, said:

“Improved digital infrastructure is crucial for our county and given the significant economic and social benefits for Cambridgeshire I am delighted that we are among the first areas in the country to benefit from the government’s Project Gigabit funding.

“Access to fast, reliable internet connectivity should no longer be a luxury. It is a basic necessity for all our residents, local businesses and the delivery of public services This initiative will greatly enhance the region's digital infrastructure and support economic growth, education and innovation.

“The £122million investment will support our ambition for our businesses to have the leading-edge digital connectivity needed to help them succeed and grow sustainably, and for our communities, particularly in rural and harder to reach areas, to be digitally connected so that residents can access education, jobs, health, social care and other public services.”

More than £160m of contracts have already been signed elsewhere in England, including in Cumbria, Teesdale, Northumberland, Dorset and Cornwall.

The government, which said the project was the biggest broadband rollout yet, said more than 73 per cent of the UK can access gigabit-capable connections - up from just six per cent three years ago.

The target is for 85 per cent of the UK to have gigabit-capable connectivity by the end of 2025, with nationwide coverage by 2030.

Suffolk, Norfolk, Hampshire and Shropshire are among the areas in line for contract awards by summer 2023.

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