MORE than 100,000 households and businesses are now reaping the rewards of a £39 million broadband project – but councillors say there is still work to do.

Since 2013, 106,000 premises have been reached by the Connecting Cheshire broadband rollout scheme – with 85 per cent of those premises receiving at least ‘superfast’ broadband.

The scheme has prioritised locations which are not seen as commercially viable by broadband providers, and 75 per cent of premises reached are in rural areas.

But there are still almost two per cent of homes that are yet to reach the Government-set standard speed of broadband in the county – and now Connecting Cheshire is pushing for more funds to finish the job.

In a statement read out on her behalf to a Cheshire West and Chester Council meeting on Wednesday night, Cllr Lynn Riley, Conservative member for Frodsham, welcomed the ‘significant progress’ that had been made in six years.

But she warned that coverage is still non-existent in some rural areas and called on CWAC to push for pioneering new technology to stop the borough being ‘held to third world standards’.

“It is clear that fibreoptic capability will never be a viable option for some communities under the current arrangements with BT Openreach,” she said.

Northwich Guardian:

“And in spite of incentives for self-help, some areas and businesses will continue to fall digitally behind – but it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Connecting Cheshire is a project run between Cheshire West, Cheshire East, Warrington and Halton councils – with BT Openreach contracted to carry out the work.

It has smashed its original target of reaching 103,000 premises by this summer – and it has laid more than 4,500 miles of fibreoptic cables as part of the scheme.

In the two worst constituencies for broadband speed back in 2013, 89 per cent of premises now receive superfast broadband in Eddisbury compared to just 38 per cent when the project began, while 98 per cent can now access it in Weaver Vale compared to 64 per cent six years ago.

The average coverage for superfast broadband across Cheshire has also soared in that time from 76.3 per cent to 96.5 per cent – but there are still some communities left behind.

Andrew Arditti, representing Connecting Cheshire, told CWAC’s people overview and scrutiny committee that there are a number of challenges that have halted progress.

He said: “We have tended to bolt on the technology to existing infrastructure, like the copper network, rather than building it from scratch – and quite a lot of other countries have built from scratch.

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“And without getting too political, I think a lot of other countries have nationalised telecoms companies, and they have decided to do that for the good of the country.

“There has been quite a bit of legislation that has reduced barriers – so there can be more installation of equipment without the need for too much consultation.

“But it’s a difficult situation. We’ve had quite a few landowners who have flatly refused [access to BT], they have effectively held those communities to ransom and we have tried as best as we can to find a workaround.”

Connecting Cheshire is now waiting for the Government to unveil a new infrastructure strategy later this year and the outcome of Brexit to see what funding opportunities will be available to continue its work.

Labour Cllr Richard Beacham, cabinet member for housing, regeneration and growth, told the committee that it is important the council helps rural areas get connected.

“We need a strategy which separates out rural areas from urban areas so we are not playing one against the other in terms of funding,” he said.

Northwich Guardian:

“We need to look at each individual case, particularly in rural areas, in a unique way because they are unique cases, and try not to come up with a blanket idea that works in all areas.

“Because I think there is going to be a combination of different things that can be funded and meet the delivery that is required in each area.”

The committee will receive an update next year on funding opportunities and a strategy for rural areas.