THE Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is backing a bid to extend £18.7 million of funding for superfast broadband in Devon and Somerset up to March 2023.

Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), England’s largest public-funded broadband programme has been working closely with the Department to secure the funding extension following the delays incurred by Gigaclear with the roll-out of its full fibre broadband network.

CDS welcomed the news as it is one of a number of local programmes in the UK affected by delays involving different providers.

Councillor David Hall, CDS Board Member, also welcomed the DCMS's decision and said it will bring 'a huge boost to our economy and rural communities, and a vote of confidence in the CDS programme.'

He said: “In recognition of representations made by DCMS and CDS, I am delighted there has been positive response from HM Treasury which is finalising an agreement for the funding extension with DCMS subject to the Spending Review process.

“The effect of such an extension will be to provide CDS with the flexibility to either agree an acceptable revised timetable with Gigaclear to complete a new ultrafast full-fibre network or for CDS to pursue alternative full-fibre solutions for our residents and businesses.

“CDS is agreeing similar support from other funders. Whilst every effort to resolve the situation with Gigaclear is being made, CDS is also working with DCMS and the Heart of the South West LEP to consider alternative options and develop a Digital Strategy for the area.

"We are grateful to Digital Minister Margot James and her team at DCMS with whom we’ve been working closely, to Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and to Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane who has played an important role in co-ordinating the support of Members of Parliament. CDS has also benefited from the strong support of local authorities and LEPs.”

To date, CDS has provided access to superfast broadband to more than 300,000 homes and businesses, often in sparsely populated rural areas and over challenging terrain and a further 38,000 homes and businesses have also benefited from improved broadband speed.

CDS says its programme and commercially-funded networks are, together, providing more than 950,000 homes and businesses across Devon and Somerset with access to superfast broadband out of a total of 1,083,000 premises currently.