Pioneering Somerset villagers turn high-speed fibre broadband dream into reality

Claverton is first UK village to privately co-fund with BT a completely new network 

infrastructure to enable fibre broadband

A tiny Somerset village of just 70 homes is spearheading the superfast broadband revolution with a pioneering project, which is the first of its kind in the UK.

Villagers in Claverton, two miles south east of Bath, have raised the funds to help BT’s local network business, Openreach, bring high-speed fibre optic broadband to their community.

The project includes laying two kilometres of underground ducting and the installation of four kilometres of overhead and underground fibre cabling as well as two new roadside cabinets – one to deliver fibre broadband and the other to deliver services, such as phone calls and ADSL broadband over copper lines. Claverton is believed to be the first village in the UK to privately co-fund with BT both types of roadside cabinet and a new network infrastructure for the local community.

Dr Rodger Sykes, a parish councillor and chief executive of a technology company, who has led the local residents’ campaign, said: “We realised the high costs involved meant Claverton would not be upgraded as part of BT’s normal commercial fibre broadband roll-out for some time, so we set about working with the company to jointly solve the problem.

“It has been hard work over three years to get to where we are today both for the residents of Claverton and the BT people involved, but we have worked together very well. Claverton residents really appreciate the benefits superfast broadband can bring and are excited at the thought that this project provides everyone in the community with the kind of speeds we could only dream about having in the past. It is significant that almost every Claverton household has made a contribution to the village’s superfast broadband fund.

“Because of the distance the village is from the local telephone exchange and a roadside cabinet, most residents were previously getting download speeds of less than 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), but now our internet experience has been transformed.”

Now Claverton residents can benefit from download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps*.

He added: “Rather than just complaining and waiting for someone else to solve the problem, I’m very proud of the way the community got together and with BT’s help found a way forward. This is truly Big Society in action.”

The Openreach network is open to all internet service providers on an equal wholesale basis, so residents can choose from a range of suppliers.

An unexpected benefit of the project has been bringing the small community even closer together. “We have always been quite a tight knit community, but this initiative has involved almost every resident in the village and so we have been able to reach out to people with whom we previously had relatively little contact,” said Dr Sykes. “This potentially increases the opportunity for more community projects to benefit local residents. For example, we are now planning to provide wi-fi at the village church so that, in the absence of a village hall, it can play a greater role in community activity.”

Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT, which also invested in the project, said: “The people of Claverton are true national trail-blazers and are setting the pace for rural communities through their collaboration with BT. They have worked tirelessly with us to turn this ambitious project into reality. Their enthusiasm and commitment is infectious and we’re pleased to have worked in partnership with them.

“Elsewhere, we’re working in partnership with local authorities and communities to make high-speed broadband available in the more challenging areas of the UK. There are many examples of us doing so, but this is the first village to work with us on creating an entirely new broadband network for the local community. Given the focus on delivering superfast broadband in this region, it is no wonder the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Wellbeing report last year listed the South West as best UK region for household broadband access.”

Joe Garner, chief executive of Openreach, said: “I am thrilled that Openreach has successfully collaborated with the community of Claverton to deliver fibre broadband. As Openreach continues to bring fibre to more and more of the UK, this innovative community partnership is a leading example of how we are building Britain’s connected future.”

A spokesperson for Bath and North East Somerset Council said: “Superfast broadband has become essential to ensure that our businesses remain competitive and our economy continues to grow. Superfast broadband can enable rural communities and businesses to operate sustainably and reach beyond their own borders to an international business community. This is a good example of how a community and business can work together to achieve a set goal.”

Openreach is investing more than £3 billion on rolling out fibre broadband across the UK either through its own commercial programme or by working with the public sector to make the high-speed technology available in areas which fall outside the private sector’s plans. It is a major partner in the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme, which is rolling out fibre broadband in more challenging areas in the two counties.