Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) has been awarded £6.3m of government grant funding from DEFRA’s Rural Broadband Infrastructure Scheme. This funding is aimed at ensuring superfast broadband is available to as many rural businesses as possible in Oxfordshire and is specifically targeting an improvement in business productivity.
OCC will soon be issuing an Invitation To Tender (ITT) for this requirement with an expectation of contracting with suppliers by January 2019 and it is anticipated some 1500 rural businesses will be upgraded mostly to full fibre services, with many more adjacent premises connected as an additional benefit.
A great example of the difference this can make is Hundred Hills Vineyard in the Stonor Valley. This business set up by Stephen and Fiona Duckett is producing world class English sparkling wines from traditional pinot noir and chardonnay varieties. Hundred Hills has incorporated the latest technologies to monitor the conditions, with hundreds of sensors amongst the vines collecting data on temperature, humidity and soil conditions. This is then collated and sent to advisors from Champagne in France who monitor continuously to aid optimum management of the vineyard. This will now be significantly easier to automate with the advent of full fibre broadband delivered by the Better Broadband for Oxfordshire programme, a partnership between OCC, BDUK, and BT.
Stephen Duckett said:
“Not only is the business increasingly dependent on fast broadband for data collection and analysis, but we are competing in an international market where marketing and sales are highly dependent on ultrafast broadband. Managing an efficient supply chain is also simply not possible without decent digital infrastructure. We are heading for a superb vintage this year and having access now to world class broadband will be a great benefit for improving the productivity of the business”.
Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner said:
“Rural areas should not be left behind in the connectivity slow lane, missing out on the opportunities high speed broadband can bring. The funding made available through the Rural Broadband Infrastructure Scheme champions our countryside communities and businesses by opening up access to broadband of at least 30 Megabits per second, in some of the most hard to reach areas.”
David Bartholomew, OCC Cabinet Member for Finance said:
“This is another big step that will help ensure that the Oxfordshire’s infrastructure is properly equipped to continue economic growth. The county is significant net contributor to the national exchequer, generating approximately £22 billion of high value goods and services in the UK economy. As we develop our Local Industrial Strategy, this project will assist us to enhance and balance Oxfordshire’s economy in rural areas – any initiative that helps drive access to fibre across the county is of high strategic value. Digital Infrastructure is now as important as traditional infrastructure such as road and rail. It also paves the way for development of agriculture productivity which is increasingly reliant on digital survey imaging, monitoring, and automation.”