Residents and businesses in more remote parts of rural Staffordshire without superfast broadband are being urged to find out more about a Government scheme which has been boosted by additional county council investment and now extended.
As part of Project Gigabit, the UK Gigabit Voucher Scheme was relaunched in April 2021 with a £210m boost. It provides funding of up to £1,500 to eligible rural residential properties and £3,500 to eligible rural small and medium sized business properties to enable them to get connected directly to ultrafast broadband.
Thanks to an additional £1m investment by the county council, people can apply for an additional £2,000 through the Staffordshire Top-up, meaning residents can apply for up to £3,500 and businesses £5,500.
More information and how to apply for vouchers can be found at: https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/
Gigabit-capable broadband (also known as ultrafast broadband) provides speeds of up to 1000Mbps or 1Gbps. It means residents and businesses will be getting the latest technology, delivered straight to their homes. They will then be able to choose an internet package from a provider to suit their needs and budget.
To qualify for the scheme, residents and businesses must live in a rural area, be unable to get broadband speeds of 100Mbps or more, not be in an existing plan for a broadband upgrade and apply as a group of two or more premises.
Whilst the original Superfast Staffordshire programme, combined with commercial roll-out, has enabled 96 per cent of county properties to connect to superfast broadband, four per cent currently miss out. Now these communities are being urged to find out more about the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and Staffordshire Top-up.
Connection will take place in a 12-month period after funding has been agreed. It will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
The county council is working with several suppliers and communities, including Consall Forge resident Les Hankin, who spearheaded an Openreach Community Fibre Partnership in the village, which was recently connected. He said: "after years of really poor and unreliable connectivity, Consall Forge has been transformed by the installation of superfast fibre across the northern end of our valley, with firm plans to connect the southern end. We were able to achieve this by forming a community fibre partnership of residents and businesses, with the great encouragement of Staffordshire Superfast. The council's generous matched-funding got us over the line financially and here we are."
Sue Tyson, who led her Community Fibre Partnership in Dunston Heath, South Staffordshire, said: "with a download speed of up to 2Mbps on a good day the broadband at my own property was effectively useless.
But thanks to funding from the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme our community project comprising 70 plus homes and small businesses now has the best FFTP network available in the UK.
It's incredibly fast and very reliable. It's a bit like swapping your push bike for a Ferrari! Gone are the days of downloading programs overnight or only being able to connect a single device at a time. We recently had Wi-fi security cameras installed which we were unable to have previously.
The reality is that without the funding from the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme and the support from the team at Superfast Staffordshire who guided us through the process and the Openreach teams who designed and built the new network it would never have happened.
It has made such a difference to our daily lives and we now have a network for the future. We'd like to thank the team for improving the quality of life for our community."
Staffordshire County Council's cabinet member for environment, infrastructure and climate change Simon Tagg said: "ultrafast broadband connection in our rural communities is a priority to use and will make a huge difference to people's day-to-day living as well as business productivity. We're in an age where rural location should not stand in the way of connectivity or remains a barrier to choosing a place to live or do business. The importance of this has never been more evident than through our experiences during the pandemic period.
We're pleased to have been able to top-up the existing government scheme to give even more reach and accessibility to our rural communities.
Our Superfast Staffordshire programme was huge success and together with commercial roll-out enabled 96 per cent of county properties to connect to superfast broadband. We have always set out our commitment to finding solutions for the final four per cent, often in the most remote rural locations.
The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and Staffordshire Top-up are making a real difference and so we want more communities to come forward."