Superfast Essex ‘Rural Challenge’ set to be met with ultrafast speed

A new project to bring ultrafast broadband to rural communities in Essex has been given the official go ahead with the decision by Essex County Council to award a delivery contract for the Rural Challenge Project to fibre broadband operator Gigaclear plc.

The Rural Challenge is part of the Superfast Essex broadband rollout programme, which is already set to enable 116,000 premises across Essex to access broadband speeds of 24Mbps or more by 2020, under a delivery contract with BT deploying predominantly Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology.

The new project will be implemented alongside the Superfast Essex rollout being delivered by BT and is designed to test alternative ways of bringing superfast connectivity to rural communities and businesses. Gigaclear will deploy Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology to more than 4,500 properties within the pilot area in Epping Forest District, enabling these homes and businesses access to broadband speeds of 50Mbps and up to 1000Mbps.

The £7.5m project is part-funded by UK Government, Essex County Council, Epping Forest District Council and Gigaclear. Once this project is completed, and subject to further funding being identified, Superfast Essex will consider expanding this approach to other rural areas in Essex not yet included in current plans.

Essex County Council’s Cabinet approved the Rural Challenge Project contract award to Gigaclear at its meeting on Tuesday 23 June. The contract will be signed by both Essex County Council and Gigaclear next Monday 29 June.

Essex County Councillor Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, Infrastructure and Waste and Recycling, said: “This is very exciting news for Essex. Providing broadband access in rural areas of our county is important and it is exactly what the BDUK programme is working to address. We hope this project is the start of overcoming these challenges.”

Matthew Hare, Chief Executive, Gigaclear said: “We are thrilled to have been selected by Essex County Council to deliver what will be one of the fastest broadband networks in the UK. Once connected, customers on this purely fibre based network will benefit from a transformed Internet, work, communications, entertainment and play experience. Everyone in a household or business can have enough broadband capacity to do online, whatever they want, whenever they want, saving time and reducing frustration.”

Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, said: "The Superfast Essex programme has made tremendous progress in rolling out superfast broadband to rural communities. I'm delighted to hear that even more people and businesses in Epping Forest will now benefit from this project with Gigaclear as part of our commitment to ensure 95 per cent of the UK has access to superfast speeds by 2017."

The Rural Challenge Project will form the next building block in the Superfast Essex broadband programme as Essex aspires to become one of the best connected counties in the UK.

In line with UK Government’s national target, Essex is aiming to ensure 95% of homes and businesses can access superfast broadband, which will contribute to the Government’s ambition to make the UK one of the best connected countries in the world.

The Rural Challenge Project will focus on the north-east of Epping Forest District. Homes and businesses within the intervention area in the following five parishes (nine locations) will be able to access ultrafast broadband speeds: Fyfield, Stapleford Tawney, Ongar, Moreton, Bobbingworth and the Lavers (Magdalen Laver, High Laver, Little Laver), and Theydon Mount.

Some homes and businesses in the following 13 parishes will also benefit: High Ongar, Willingale, Abbess Beauchamp and Berners Roding, Stapleford Abbotts, Stanford Rivers, Matching, North Weald Bassett, Lambourne, Theydon Garnon, Sheering, Epping Upland, Theydon Bois and Chigwell.

Epping Forest District Council is supporting the project with a £84,000 local funding contribution.

Councillor Alan Lion, Portfolio Holder responsible for Technology at Epping Forest District Council, said: “I am very pleased that Epping Forest has been selected to pilot the rural challenge project in Essex.

“Faster broadband speeds means that our residents and businesses based in rural areas of the district will benefit from much better connectivity than currently available and will provide a much more reliable internet service.”

Gigaclear plans to begin work in November 2015, with the first customers expected to gain access to the new broadband services a month later. The deployment is expected to be completed by December 2016. Once the Gigaclear fibre network is available customers will need to switch or buy a fibre broadband service, in a similar way to the other projects deployed by the Superfast Essex programme. Residents and businesses will be able to choose from a number of service providers.

Essex residents and businesses from areas not covered by the Rural Challenge or other plans can register their demand for faster broadband via the Make the Connection Survey at www.superfastessex.org/getinvolved.