MORE than 2,000 homes and businesses in rural Somerset will have superfast broadband by Christmas next year.

The major Connecting Devon and Somerset project has been given the go-ahead for the roll-out by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK, it has been announced.

Gigaclear is building a new full fibre broadband network, on behalf of the project, for around 20,000 homes and businesses initially, in hard to reach rural communities across Somerset by December 2019.

Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council Cabinet member for resources and economic development, said: “CDS is making a huge positive difference to people’s lives with over a quarter of million homes and businesses now having access to superfast broadband. We want to do more for our hardest to reach communities and I’m delighted that the Government has backed our plans to expand the programme in Somerset so that we can provide superfast broadband to even more people.”

A huge amount of preparatory has been undertaken and work is already underway to connect the first 16 Somerset communities – around 9,000 homes and businesses - to the ultrafast network by February 2018.

Today’s announcement paves the way to extend the network even further by December 2020.

Connecting Devon and Somerset has already provided over a quarter of a million homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband in some of the hardest to reach areas of Devon and Somerset.

More than 248,000 miles of fibre cable have been laid, enough to circle the Earth ten times, in a programme that has taken more than two million-man hours to date.

On behalf of the four Somerset district councils in the CDS partnership (Taunton Deane, Sedgemoor, West Somerset and Mendip), Councillor John Williams, leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, said: “I am delighted that the programme is being expanded and will see even more of our area being connected to superfast broadband. It is great that the locations and sequencing of the rollout is now is being publicised on the website.

“Digital connectivity is vital if businesses and communities in our rural economy are to thrive, and this latest announcement is recognition of that. The delivery across Somerset is already having a positive impact, bringing real benefits to rural communities and the many small businesses in them and I look forward to these opportunities being more widely available through the CDS programme.”

CDS connects rural communities and businesses where the commercial market alone will not provide the infrastructure. It does this by awarding public subsidised contracts to companies through competitive tender to build the infrastructure needed, such as fibre or wireless connections. CDS is only able to invest where suppliers have no declared and credible plans to invest their own resources to extend their networks.

It is backed with funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the EU’s European Regional Development Fund, Heart of South West Local Enterprise Partnership, local authorities and the private sector.

The proposed expansion complements an increased level of commercial investment in broadband in the county.