Superfast Essex Broadband Extension Programme approved

An extra multi-million pound cash boost to further improve superfast broadband speeds across the county has been agreed today by Essex County Council’s Cabinet.

The expected total additional £20.5m investment will enable an extension of the existing Superfast Essex programme which is currently rolling out fibre broadband across the county.

At its meeting today, Tuesday 22 July, Cabinet agreed to commit a £5.5m contribution from Essex County Council towards the Superfast Essex Broadband Extension Programme, which will be match-funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). A further contribution of around £9.5million is expected to be secured from the supplier(s), yet to be procured, who will be contracted to work in partnership with Essex County Council to carry out the work.

Delivery for the current £24.6million Superfast Essex programme is progressing well and on track. By the end of June, 22 fibre-enabled cabinets were live and able to accept orders from 2,300 homes and businesses in Colchester, Braintree and Harlow districts. The first fibre cabinets in Brentwood and Tending districts are expected to be launched in the coming months.

The aim of the Extension Programme is to increase the number of homes and businesses with access to fibre broadband (and the potential to achieve superfast speeds of 24Mbps or above) to 95%, up from the 87.4% to be achieved by the commercial rollout and existing Superfast Essex programme by 2016.

Essex County Councillor Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and Infrastructure, said: “Broadband is a necessity for businesses looking to expand, communicate and compete in a global market, and just as important for residents who want to keep up with the digital world, and work at home. This is why we have decided to invest further in our Superfast Essex programme to help improve connections for even more homes and businesses than we are currently set to reach.”

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – the team within DCMS tasked with managing the national delivery of superfast broadband – allocated additional grant funding to enable Extension Programmes across the UK in February this year, subject to funds being matched locally. The decision to make available a grant of up to £10.72m for Greater Essex recognised that significant parts of the county were not being reached by the existing BDUK programme.

ECC submitted a request to take up a proportion of the grant for Greater Essex and this was accepted by BDUK on Thursday 10 July, subject to ECC Cabinet approval.

The intention is to use the new ECC investment across two projects as follows:
• £4m for a Fibre Extension Project (an extension of the existing work), with the expectation of reaching an additional 40,000 homes or businesses with fibre.
• Up to £1.5m for a Rural Challenge Project (designed to focus on rural areas and to consider innovative technology and commercial approaches), with the aspiration to provide superfast broadband to a further 20,000 rural homes or businesses.

As ECC is unable to provide match funding for the full grant allocation, discussions are continuing to seek further contributions from districts and other funding sources. So far Braintree District Council, Tendring District Council and Epping Forest District Council have indicated they would contribute.

In order to define where the Extension Programme will target the investment, ECC is currently conducting an Open Market Review to establish the existing broadband provision and commercial investment plans for the next three years. Broadband providers can find out more about the Open Market Review and how to respond here. A public consultation on the scope of the proposed programme will follow in the autumn.