Key public services will be better connected with residents across Plymouth, the South Hams and West Devon, thanks to a new ultrafast fibre broadband network that will be rolled later this year.
Plymouth City Council together with NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, West Devon Borough Council and South Hams District Council and Delt Shared Services Ltd have secured a £2.2 million grant from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for a subsidised gigabit-capable connection for 131 buildings in Plymouth and South West Devon.
Following a tendering process, BT Group has been awarded the contract to install the fibre broadband network.
It means hospitals, clinics, doctors’ surgeries, schools, youth centres and libraries and council buildings across the area will all be better connected. This investment will significantly extend access to full fibre networks, making it easier and cheaper for businesses and homes to connect.
Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans OBE said: “The lockdown illustrates exactly why we need to make sure our technology and our networks are up to the job - not just now but in the future.
“We’ve all had a wakeup call for how important our broadband network is - just on a personal basis let alone on a business continuity side - so I am chuffed to bits that this is going ahead. The possibilities are limitless.”
Full fibre networks have connections with download speeds of up to a gigabit per second (Gbps). The benefits are not just about keeping us connected in a lockdown situation. It could allow patients to access healthcare services digitally, including video consultation to GP surgeries. It will allow greater use of online and digital teaching skills for schools.
For organisations such as councils and health providers, it would allow residents and patients to access more services remotely. For businesses it would make the area more attractive to creative and digital industries that rely on a fast and stable digital environment to work effectively which in turn provides a boost to the local economy.
BT has committed to significant inward investment to the region’s communications network worth over £22 million over the next few years which will help make the region more attractive to business and create new jobs in the area. It includes developing a new 5G network and a commitment to use that technology to bring cheaper broadband to deprived areas of Plymouth. The network will also open to the possibility for a range of new smart functions across the city.
The fibre installation programme is expected to start in the Autumn and to continue into the follow year. The management and oversight of the installation will be carried out by Delt Shared Services on behalf of the partnership. The team is working on a programme to ensure as little disruption on the roads in and around Plymouth, South Hams and West Devon as possible.
Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council, said: “I’m delighted that to hear that the contract has been awarded and that full fibre broadband will be available in our district. Faster and more stable internet service is vital for our businesses and farmers, not just in the current situation but going forward into the future as well.”
Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, said: “This is a fantastic first step in ensuring that everyone in our Borough has access to a stable, fast broadband network. With our staff and councillors currently homeworking, I think we have all come to realise that broadband is now as vital a utility as electric and water, especially in rural areas. Businesses, residents and farmers will be very pleased with this announcement.”
Dr John McCormick, a local GP and chief clinical information officer at NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Practices in the Plymouth area have been ahead of the game in pioneering the use of online and video consultations in Devon, meaning they are well placed to help local people access vital primary care services in the current COVID-19 outbreak and beyond.
“Faster internet connections at hospitals and GP practices in the city will help us develop digital health services that will improve access, make appointments more convenient and reduce waiting times for local patients.”
Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman MP, said: “We're making sure hospitals, schools and libraries are among the first to benefit from faster gigabit-capable connections. And with our £2.2 million investment in the South West we are boosting connectivity for public services across Plymouth and Devon. This funding is alongside our future commitment to invest £5 billion across the country so the hardest to reach areas aren't left behind.”
Samantha Toombs, BT's director of public sector and corporate in the South West, said: “As a major employer in the area, we're really pleased to be working with partners in Plymouth and South West Devon on this new ultrafast broadband network. Using the latest broadband and our 5G mobile network will help critical public services run more efficiently and offer new, innovative solutions. It will also benefit council staff and healthcare providers, helping them improve the services being provided to residents and patients here. That means improving the economy and the lives of people living in and visiting this area.”