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Guildford Council Approves Further Investment in Rural Broadband

Published on: 5 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 6 Jun, 2022

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Households in some Surrey villages could see their broadband speeds improve after a budget of £60,000 was approved for a not-for-profit social enterprise.

Guildford Borough Council’s Executive has agreed to invest a further £40,000 in broadband for Surrey Hills, which has brought faster internet to 200 homes in the borough in the last three years.

The company, known as B4SH, plans to roll out connections to 200 properties in Farley Green, Hound house, Winterfold, Peaslake, North, South and West Albury during the coming year.

There are further plans to plans to roll out superfast broadband to 1,225 properties over a five-year period.

Councillors approved the transfer of £60,000 from its capital budget, with £40,000 going towards the purchase of shares in the company, after an initial investment of £10,000 was agreed in 2018.

See: New Broadband Infrastructure Planned for Surrey Hills

The remaining £20,000 is being used to cover the council’s costs because it is not charging for access to council land for laying equipment, and has been responsible for costs normally covered by utility companies such as mapping and surveys.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Council Leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) told the meeting he had £3,000 of shares in the company.

He declared this was a “non-pecuniary” interest, meaning it would not affect his decision-making in the case and described B4SH as providing “an incredibly good service”.

Cllr Bigmore said: “It is quite inspiring to see a social enterprise like this, that is just volunteers, making a huge difference to those that are digitally disadvantaged in our rural areas.”

Since the council’s original £10,000 investment in 2018, council documents show the investment equals around £50 per subscriber.

The social enterprise has worked to get the agreement of private landowners to grant free access to land to install equipment, as well as getting homeowners and community volunteers to dig the routes and lay cables.

Meeting documents shows that the borough council was making its investment as a social investment, rather than for financial return because B4SH is set up as a community benefit society and is a not-for-profit social enterprise.

An officer’s report said: “Supporting B4SH through further financial investment is an opportunity for the council to ensure our own rural communities do not get left behind in a social and economic landscape that increasingly demands fast and reliable broadband to access opportunities and services.”

During initial discussions in 2018, Guildford Jobcentre Plus and the Apprenticeship and Skills Hub highlighted transport links as a “major barrier for rural job seekers”, with the council saying faster more reliable internet gave job seekers greater flexibility in looking at opportunities.

The organisation also receives grant funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s ‘Project Gigabit’ scheme, which gives money to help with better internet connections in various parts of the country.

But the areas of the borough with poor broadband provision are not just within the Surrey Hills area, as the map below shows. Some residents within two miles of the town centre are unable to obtain fast data speeds, it has been reported.

Surrey’s Broadband Coverage by postcode (the Guildford borough boundary has been roughly superimposed in red): White – indicates premises with no gigabit network infrastructure and none is likely to be developed within 3 years;  Black – premises with two or more qualifying gigabit infrastructures from different suppliers being available, or will be deployed in the coming 3 years;  Grey – premises with a single qualifying gigabit infrastructure from a single supplier is available, or is to be deployed within the coming 3 years; Under Review – premises where suppliers have reported planned commercial broadband coverage, but where those plans have been judged through an open market review as potentially being at risk of not being completed. Source Gov.UK

 

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test One Response to Guildford Council Approves Further Investment in Rural Broadband

  1. Chris Stanton Reply

    June 6, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    I am delighted to see GBC’s significant new investment in the rural economy, especially as the pandemic led to widespread working from home, making the case for access to faster broadband.

    The wider future of work will be built on digital commuting, but for those who live and work in rural Guildford the “superfast” broadband offer will simply not be fast enough.

    Broadband for Surrey Hills (B4SH) is delivering a 1 Gigabit full-fibre network (no copper wire!) to our rural communities using mole-ploughs. Through its negotiation of free wayleaves across estates, farms and common land B4SH has demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of the “soft-dig” network it has installed with the support of local landowners, including Guildford Borough Council.

    The “symmetric” 1 Gigabit fibre being installed by B4SH – where the upload speed is the same as for download – will bring digital commuting closer sooner.

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