In 2018 Oxfordshire County Council successfully applied for £6.3m of funding from The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), which contributes funds to the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). The funding aims to connect as many rural businesses as possible to full-fibre broadband with the funding. Following an OJEU procurement in 2019, both BT and Airband were awarded contracts to collectively deliver full-fibre broadband to nearly 1,000 businesses in the most rural parts of the county. Under these contracts, a further 900 residential properties will also be connected. Delivery began in Autumn 2019 and will run through to 2021. Premises in scope of this programme are displayed on the coverage map in yellow with the annotation of Business in plan for Businesses in Rural Oxfordshire (BiRO) programme. The residential premises due to be covered under the programme are annotated as Residential in plan for Businesses in Rural Oxfordshire (BiRO).
The ability for residents and businesses to have access to ultrafast broadband connectivity is a central policy objective of both the county council and central government. The infrastructure currently providing connectivity is based predominantly on telephone wires that were installed over a century ago and are not fit for the huge increase in digital traffic today. Openreach is planning to switch off the existing copper wire telephony service from 2025 which means new fibre infrastructure is needed to be built to over 30m homes across the UK. Whilst much of this work will be undertaken on a commercial basis, with Openreach, Virgin Media, and other Operators upgrading their infrastructure in urban and semi-urban areas, Oxfordshire County Council is making sure rural and semi-rural areas are not left behind on ancient infrastructure, which is why we have active projects with Airband and Openreach to install new fibre infrastructure to several thousand rural businesses and residential properties.
Another key rationale for the council’s support of this kind of intervention is the evidential means of securing economic growth and sustainability of employment whilst reducing the need for travel. This is a significant enabler for reduced carbon emissions as a tool for meeting our carbon-neutral targets. For reasons of cost, let alone preserving the natural environment, Telecoms Operators re-use existing infrastructure wherever possible. Most will always use existing Openreach ducts or existing poles, to avoid the high cost of civils works associated with building new ones. Where this is not possible (for example the existing telephone wires are just buried cables, or the duct is collapsed and damaged beyond repair), then alternative delivery mechanisms are considered. Such alternatives include extensive civils works to the highway or verge in which new duct is installed, or standing new telegraph poles on which the fibre may be hung. Telecoms Operators are granted Code powers by Ofcom which entitle them to, inter alia, “…install and maintain apparatus on, under, or above land…”