One year on: Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly take note of superfast broadband progress

It’s a year since the announcement to invest up to £132 million in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to roll-out superfast broadband. So what exactly has happened over the last 12 months? We take a look at the progress made so far.

Openreach vanBy anyone’s standards, it was an ambitious plan. Even those behind it admitted as much. BT and Cornwall Council - supported by European funding – announced that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were to become ‘one of the best connected locations in the world’

The pioneering initiative would benefit thousands of local businesses, create 4,000 new local jobs and protect a further 2,000.

Speaking at the time, Alec Robertson, Leader of Cornwall Council, said that the introduction of next generation superfast broadband “has the potential to transform the local economy over the next twenty years and we’re delighted to be working closely with BT, the South West RDA and the Convergence Programme in bringing this to Cornwall”.

He went on: “Local businesses will be given an all important head start through early access to world class communications and this will dramatically increase their competitiveness. The high speeds on offer will attract new business investment into Cornwall, creating thousands of new job opportunities.”

That was in September 2010. Six weeks later and the pace of progress was clear as it was announced that eight Cornish communities – covering more than 10,000 businesses and homes – were in line to have superfast broadband less than five months from the start of project.

Speaking then Carolyn Rule, Cornwall Council cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said that businesses and people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had good reason to be very optimistic about the years ahead.

Bright future

“The project has been making very good progress since it was announced less than two months ago,” she said. “It shows the power of the public and private sectors working together to help build a bright, strong future for us all.”

Behind the plaudits, though, was the serious business of rolling out superfast broadband. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are rural and remote. For the engineers tasked with installing the infrastructure, they were faced with some major challenges. A huge amount of engineering work was required for this complex project but they have proved more than a match.

Dubbed the Cornwall ‘big build’, the project involves laying 130,000 km of optical fibre cable, enough to circle the globe three times. It is thought to be the largest ever build of a superfast broadband infrastructure in a rural area, with some 400,000 engineering man-hours required to bring superfast broadband throughout the county.

Fast-forward to March 2011 – just six months after the contract had been signed – and the first 50 Cornish customers had already been connected. They were among more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the Chiverton Cross and Chacewater areas to be wired up to superfast broadband. And within days, superfast broadband was available to another 14,000 premises.

The progress was nothing short of staggering. Ordinarily, such a project would take about a year but those working on the project managed it in about six months.

So what was the initial reaction to the arrival of superfast broadband? Among the first customers to be connected was the Britannia Hotel, a pub in a 19th century listed building in the centre of the village of Chacewater. Michael Owen, who runs the Britannia Hotel with his wife Sheila, said superfast broadband had "transformed" the services offered by the pub.

"superfast broadband is fantastic," he said. "I had high expectations, but it has been even better than I imagined. We are the first superfast pub in Cornwall and because we offer free wi-fi to our customers, people can experience superfast broadband first hand while enjoying a pint of real ale. Our customers have been blown away by it.”

A few months later a traditional upholstery business in the quiet village of Blackwater, near Truro, became Cornwall’s 1,000th superfast broadband customer.

Tristan Kimber, 39, who specialises in restoring traditional and modern upholstery for homes and businesses, said that superfast broadband would be playing a vital role in his future expansion plans for the firm.

Building relationships

“It will revolutionise the way we can communicate with our customers, some of whom live in London,” he said. “We will be able to use online video calls to maintain a more personal relationship with them and even show them fabrics and work in progress on their furniture.

“In fact, the technology is helping us to improve all our business operations. Superfast broadband allows us to order supplies on-line and carry out internet-based research far more quickly; and now new state-of-the-art ‘cloud computing’ applications, such as back-up of our files and records on-line, become much more viable,” he said.

It is clear, that in just 12 months the progress in this beautiful part of the UK has been marked. Businesses are making the most of the opportunities offered by superfast broadband. Over 1500 businesses and homes have already connected to superfast broadband.

By March 2012, the roll out will have achieved coverage of 90,000 premises in communities throughout Cornwall, including some of the most rural scattered villages.

superfast broadband is being made available in Cornwall through a growing number of communication providers with 12 already offering the service to their customers.

Not only is it maintaining and creating jobs, superfast broadband is also building a legacy for the future.

That legacy includes a new superfast broadband training centre for engineers recently opened in Bodmin, providing training for more than 150 engineers over the next 12 months. And they will be needed. By 2014, at least 80 per cent of households and businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are expected to have access to superfast broadband with alternative technologies, such as wireless and satellite, being used to boost speeds in those locations where superfast broadband is not currently viable.

New horizons

superfast broadband isn’t just about fast broadband. It’s about providing a giant fillip to the local economy, helping businesses and creating new jobs. It is also about improving the quality of life for all, expanding horizons and opening new doors through online learning, flexible working and increased access to information and services.

The ‘Superfast Cornwall’ programme includes a strong focus on digital inclusion, with skills training for people of all ages and backgrounds. The programme is also being used as a test-bed at the frontiers of innovation, trying out new technologies and solutions and offering advice to those looking to create similar initiatives elsewhere.