A PLAN to roll-out superfast broadband across Somerset has seen less than two per cent of the targeted properties connected.

Connecting Devon and Somerset commissioned Gigaclear to connect 28,689 properties by the end of June this year.

But new figures have revealed only 496 properties were done.

Gigaclear had five contracts with CDS, which was supposed to see 41,000 properties connected by December, with an expansion of the programme set to reach a further 6,810 properties by June 2020.

In response to the poor performance, CDS has fired Gigaclear.

The company, under new ownership since last summer, had incurred significant delays with its broadband roll-out due to previous failings and the collapse of Carillion in early 2018. Those delays, details of which were set out in a joint CDS/Gigaclear briefing in November, meant the company could not meet its original 2019-20 contract deadlines with CDS.

CDS has withheld public subsidy while Gigaclear has been attempting to produce a satisfactory recovery plan.

Councillor David Hall, CDS board member, said: “Despite painstaking work by all concerned, it has not been possible to agree a recovery plan that CDS and the Government’s Building Digital UK agency could support with confidence.

“CDS is working closely with BDUK on a new procurement process and taking all necessary steps to secure alternative full-fibre broadband providers for our residents and businesses. They are our top priority and we are determined to achieve the best possible outcome for them.

“We have already held productive meetings with a number of companies interested in building full fibre networks in Devon and Somerset.

“CDS will also be expanding its Community Challenge Fund later this year, following successful pilots in Devon and Somerset. We are advancing a new collaboration with BT to extend coverage in rural areas, good progress is being made through our contract with Airband to provide 21,000 premises with superfast broadband. We are also now offering broadband vouchers to residents and businesses under the national BDUK Better Broadband scheme and the Rural Gigabit scheme. This is all on top of the more than 300,000 homes and businesses who now have access to superfast broadband through the CDS programme.”

CDS will now start its procurement process again, bringing it to the open market in the autumn, commencing a tender process to identify new providers of the services.

Problems with the company have been ongoing for some time, with county councillor John Thorne speaking out against them on numerous occasions.

He said he was shocked CDS continued to give Gigaclear a second chance after it was let down 'on more than one occasion'.

"This is no surprise to me as I have been predicting the collapse of this project for the past year," He said.

"As I said last year, it is a scandal, and the board of CDS should be sacked and replaced.

"If I could see it coming, why could not they?

"Part of the issue is that CDS lost sight of the fact that they were supposed to be serving the public, and part of the reason for that is they have been allowed to get away with.operating in Soviet-style secrecy where it seemed only those in the know knew anything.

"Working in that kind of bubble has allowed them to become detached from the council taxpayers they have been letting down.

"People in the rural communities I represent on the Blackdown Hills and Neroche areas have been crying out for superfast broadband and were promised time and again over the past two years that they were just about to get it."

Cllr Thorne added superfast broadband as essential to people's lives as the traditional utility services.

He added: "We would not expect homes and businesses on the hills to manage without electricity or running water, we should as a council and as a country, be doing more to supply better broadband and to supply it more quickly.

"I don't blame Gigaclear. It is a private business looking to turn a profit from their work.

"They were commissioned to deliver a service for CDS. They failed to deliver.

"But did CDS do what you or I would have done if we ordered something online and were let down, did they go and find another supplier instead?

"No, they continued to stick with a company which let them down on more than one occasion.

"Now, it has finally collapsed and CDS says they have to start all over again.

"I believe we should also be starting over again with a new CDS, new faces, more openness and transparency."