Gloucestershire’s Fastershire broadband expanded to reach more properties

Gigaclear

The rollout of ultrafast broadband in Gloucestershire has reached more than 30,000 rural properties in the county and has now been expanded to reach more.

Fastershire – the partnership between Gloucestershire County Council and Herefordshire Council to bring superfast broadband to the two counties – and partner Gigaclear have connected 30,000 of the planned 70,000 homes and businesses in rural Gloucestershire to a new ultrafast network.  Now the network design has been expanded to see the total number of properties in the county increased to 75,000.

The revised network design also includes an update of the anticipated delivery timings for each community, bringing some forward and pushing others back, with the overall completion of this significant civil engineering programme now likely to be September 2022.

The rollout has been slowed down by COVID-19, but work continued where safe to do so, as it is considered essential by government.

It has also not been without its challenges as Peter Pentecost, Regional General Manager at Gigaclear, acknowledges,  “Since our partnership with Fastershire began back in 2015 we have we’ve made great progress in Gloucestershire connecting some of the remotest rural properties in the county to ultrafast broadband.

“For example, Blaisdon is a community of around 60 properties that suffered internet speeds so slow as to be unusable at 1.8Mbps.  We started work there in October 2019, laying 4,500 metres of fibre in record time to build our ultrafast network to every property we could.

“But with any civil engineering works of this scale, it’s not always so easy.  There are a number of obstacles that can spring up unexpectedly and, because of the way our network works, delays experienced in one community build will impact the start dates for communities further down the build programme. Some communities are separated from our network by complicated obstacles like rivers, canals and rail lines, and the time it takes to negotiate wayleaves is not always in our control.  That’s why our delivery estimates have always been subject to change. But I am happy to say that, with the organisational changes we have made recently, our ability to better forecast our delivery has now improved significantly.

“We are really pleased to be able to build to more properties in Gloucestershire, and to bring delivery dates forward for some communities.  However, we do understand that for those communities where the delivery timings have moved back this will be deeply frustrating, and we appreciate you bearing with us.

“The movement in delivery timings is primarily due to three changes we have made to our programme; firstly bringing on additional contractor resources to increase build capacity has meant changing the build order to avoid the extra resources tripping over each other and causing traffic chaos. Secondly, to accommodate additional properties into the build necessitated a redesign of part of the network and thirdly, the build rollout had to be reordered to ensure all properties connected can be made live as we go, rather than having areas of network dormant waiting for other parts to be completed which is even more frustrating for customers.

“However, we are taking action to increase the speed of delivery.  We have spent the last year expanding our team in the region, opening a new office in Gloucester and vastly growing our Operational and Delivery teams. And we have made changes to some of the network designs to ensure we are building our network in the most efficient way possible.

“Over 30,000 properties have been connected and 1.8 million metres of fibre trenching has been dug. The network build now moves deeper in the remaining areas in the Forest of Dean and the south-west of Gloucestershire. We have recently opened a new backhaul link into the Forest of Dean from the south allowing build to progress into the project area from yet another direction, so things are moving forward quickly now.”

Councillor Patrick Molyneux, Cabinet Member for Economy, Education and Skills at Gloucestershire County Council says: “The importance of fast and reliable broadband has never been more relevant than it has during these unprecedented times.

“While any delays are hugely frustrating to those, like myself, who are still waiting for access, we must not lose sight that so much has already been achieved. Fastershire has already helped to increase access to superfast broadband coverage to over 95% of homes and businesses in the county.

“With Fastershire and Gigaclear’s rollout of new full fibre broadband expanded to reach an additional 5,000 properties, a large proportion of which will be in communities in and around the Forest of Dean, including Blakeney Hill, Newnham and Hewelsfield Common, this will genuinely transform rural areas for generations to come.”