The Wiltshire Online programme is designed to provide a fibre broadband service to those premises that commercial providers consider to be financially non-viable. Without Wiltshire Council’s considerable investment, approximately 40% of Wiltshire would not today have access to superfast broadband. The council’s approach is designed to deliver fibre broadband to the greatest number of premises, given the finite budget available.
The Intervention Area – Where Wiltshire Online Can and Can’t Invest
The Wiltshire Online programme must comply with EU State Aid law to ensure that public money is invested appropriately. As a first step to ensure compliance, Wiltshire Online conducted an Open Market Review with the communications’ industry, to establish the current broadband infrastructure already in place in Wiltshire and where there were also plans for investment in such infrastructure in the coming three years. The areas that were not going to be targeted commercially formed what is known as our ‘Intervention Area’ and it is where, per EU State Aid law, we can invest public money.
The Build Plans – How Do We Decide Which Premises Get Upgraded?
Once the Intervention Area had been defined, we looked to our commercial delivery partners to design the rollout. When we embarked on the programme in 2012 the broadband gap in Wiltshire was significant and we were aware that unfortunately our investment couldn’t benefit all premises. Knowing Wiltshire Council needed to do something to reduce the gap, the rollout was designed on a ‘Best Value for Money’ basis - in summary to bring fibre broadband to as many premises as possible with the funds available. Other roll-out designs were considered such as prioritising specific communities or the most rural areas, but the roll-out then becomes less efficient, costlier and ultimately reduces the number of premises we can provide a service to.
There have been three phases of deployment to date, which are detailed below:
Phase 1 – Update on progress
Wiltshire Council signed a contract with British Telecommunications Plc (BT) in January 2013. Phase 1 is now complete and reached over 80,000 premises with fibre broadband.
Phase 2 – Update on progress
Wiltshire Council signed Contract 2 with BT; build commenced in March 2016 and will bring a superfast fibre service to more than 5,000 premises.
Also, there’s a gain share clause in the broadband contract that brings additional funds back into the contract investment fund, to allow the council to further extend its build footprint. More than 50% of those able to access the new technology, because of the Wiltshire Online roll-out, have already opted for an upgrade. This high demand has helped to trigger further reinvestment through the county's partnership with BT and an additional 5000 premises are being delivered under the Contact 2 build programme. The build of the additional premises began in July 2017, with completion anticipated early 2019.
Phase 3 - Ultrafast Broadband
Wiltshire Council secured £2m from BDUK’s South West Ultrafast Fund and £1m match funding was also secured from the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP).
Following a robust, competitive procurement process, which saw an Invitation to Tender (ITT) launched in November 2016, the contract to deliver Ultrafast broadband in the north of the county was awarded to Gigaclear Plc and the contract to deliver the service in the south of the county was awarded to BT.
Both contracts commenced delivery in 2018 and collectively will deliver an Ultrafast broadband service to over 8,000 premises across Wiltshire by the end of 2020.