By Claire West

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are set to become one of the best connected locations in the world under an ambitious £132 million[1] project announced today by BT and Cornwall Council and supported by European funding. The project will benefit tens of thousands of local businesses, create 4,000 new local jobs and protect a further 2,000.

The area will benefit from faster broadband thanks to the creation of a high speed network that will be open to all communications providers on a wholesale basis. The aim is to give between 80 and 90 per cent of local businesses and homes access to super-fast fibre broadband by 2014. Fibre to the premise (FTTP) technology will feature heavily with the expectation being that half of local businesses[2] and homes will have access to it. FTTP delivers the UK’s fastest broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps. These are among the best speeds on offer anywhere in the world and will transform the competitiveness of local businesses.
BT said the £132 million project sets an example to other rural areas, showing what can be achieved through partnering and public funding. BT is providing £78.5 million and there will be ERDF[3] Convergence investment of up to £53.5 million. This investment has the potential to transform the local economy by boosting local business productivity. It will also help to attract a more diverse range of high growth, high value companies to the area thanks to the world leading connectivity on offer.

For local businesses, the super-fast network will underpin the introduction of many new services and applications. Users will be able to run multiple bandwidth-hungry applications at the same time and send and receive large amounts of data much more quickly and efficiently. Computer processing and storage of files will also become more sophisticated and secure using ‘cloud computing’ technology. There will be faster back-up of computer systems and wider use of high quality videoconferencing within firms and between them and their customers.

Alec Robertson, Leader of Cornwall Council, said:

“Building on the success of the actnow project, the introduction of next generation super-fast 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.

“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.”

Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT, said: “This is a very significant project that once again positions Cornwall as a broadband leader. It will make the county one of the best connected areas in the world and provide a major boost to its prosperity.

“This partnership shows what can be achieved when people work with BT. The ‘final third’ of the UK is undoubtedly challenging to reach with fibre but this project shows it is possible. Our door remains open to others who are keen to work with us to bring fibre broadband to their areas.”
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This project is very exciting news for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It shows how the public and private sectors can work together to deliver local solutions to local problems. Households and businesses in this largely rural area can now look forward to having one of the best broadband connections in the world, thanks to Cornwall Council’s vision, European funding and BT’s investment and expertise. The Government wants the UK to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, so today’s announcement is a big step towards that goal”.

European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn added: "The single biggest investment backed by European regional funds in England, Next Generation Broadband will play a major role in transforming Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly into a more innovative, lower carbon economy. I am delighted that EU support will play such a key role in boosting the local economy - stimulating business productivity, deriving wider benefits. This is also the largest investment of its kind supported by European funds in the EU and I'm sure will serve as inspiration for other regions."

The project will see a range of different broadband technologies deployed. Fibre broadband will be the most prevalent and will give between 80 and 90 per cent of local businesses and homes access to super-fast speeds. The expectation is that approximately half of local businesses and homes will also be able to enjoy fibre to the premise technology making Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly one of the best connected areas in the world.

Businesses and homes outside the fibre footprint will also receive faster speeds than today through a mix of alternative technologies such as advanced copper, wireless and satellite broadband. These technologies are more suitable to deploy than fibre broadband in the remotest and hardest to reach locations.

The roll-out will begin immediately and run until 2014 with the first customers being connected early next year. BT will work closely with Cornwall Development Company, the council’s economic development company, to plan deployments and will also engage with planning and highways departments. The project will be supported by a major marketing programme, skills programmes and support to ensure businesses make the most of the new technology.
The areas to benefit will be announced on a rolling basis and will be agreed by the project partners in consultation with other broadband service providers. The new network will be available on an open, wholesale basis to all communications providers ensuring local businesses and homes benefit from a competitive market.

Cornwall has a strong reputation for pioneering initiatives, such as the actnow broadband project which was recognised by the EU as an exemplar project for e-business. Since 2002 actnow has helped more than 10,000 Cornish businesses make the most of broadband through marketing, grants, advice and technical support.