With the demand for fast, reliable internet connectivity never being so evident than in the past few months, with a greater reliance on online services and many more people now working from home, Ceredigion has been chosen as a trial area for a UK Government initiative aimed at increasing fibre broadband in rural areas.
The trial provides an opportunity for both businesses and residents to take action to solve their connectivity issues to bring about positive changes to the both the economy and the standard of living within the county.
On 27 July 2020, the UK Government launched a pilot scheme as part of its existing Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme, which will make it easier for residents and businesses to demonstrate the demand for the installation of fibre enabled broadband throughout the county. Called the “Broadband Upgrade Fund”, the pilot scheme aims to support businesses, employees and rural communities to take advantage of all the benefits associated with faster and more reliable internet connections
Including the additional Welsh Government ‘Top Up’ fund, residents in Ceredigion are eligible to claim up to £3,000 and small to medium sized businesses up to £7,000 to upgrade to gigabit broadband, which is capable of download speeds of 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second and is much faster than the current speeds experienced across Ceredigion.
Ceredigion County Council continues to work proactively with commercial suppliers and both Governments to secure better connectivity for the County and are encouraging all business owners and residents to come together, to increase the overall fund their community is entitled to through the UK Government pilot scheme.
Registering alone will not guarantee that fibre installation will follow – but the more properties that register, the more likely a commercial supplier will recognise demand and take up the opportunity to complete the installation of fibre broadband in the area.
UK Government Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, said: ''Better broadband enhances people’s lives and the government is making it easier for rural communities in Ceredigion to access the economic and social benefits of gigabit-capable broadband. Those suffering with slow internet speeds can receive a significant contribution towards the costs of getting quicker and more reliable internet connections into their homes or businesses through this initiative. I urge people to sign up to find out if they’re eligible for this next-generation broadband boost.”
It comes as new research finds that reliable broadband can play a key role in keeping people connected during Covid-19. Almost six in ten (58%) Ceredigion broadband-using residents surveyed say the internet has played an important part in helping combat feelings of isolation or loneliness during lockdown.
During lockdown two thirds (67%) of all broadband-using, working respondents in Ceredigion worked from home all or most of the time, but almost half (46%) were at times frustrated at an unreliable internet connection. Four in ten (40%) claim they would be able to do their job better if they had a faster internet connection.
Better and more reliable broadband should be especially helpful in Ceredigion, where four in ten (40%) said the quality of their video calls whilst working from home were ‘frequently poor’ because of their internet connection and 31% have struggled to join or dropped out of virtual meetings.
Councillor Clive Davies, Ceredigion County Council’s Digital Champion, welcomed the scheme: “With very little commercial investment by the main broadband providers in Ceredigion, its welcome news that like the Welsh Government , the UK Government have introduced this website to simplify the voucher scheme to generate clusters to entice providers to help our communities achieve better broadband connectivity. As such, I strongly encourage all of our residents and businesses who are currently experiencing poor or no connectivity to register. It will be important then that the Governments work constructively with the private sector and ourselves to scope and deliver solutions to our communities.”
To find out more and to register, residents and SMEs should visit the Broadband Upgrade Fund Campaign website.