Cornish firm lands £41m government internet contract

Thousands of homes and businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will get access to gigabit-capable broadband after a third major investment in the county by the government through its £5 bn Project Gigabit programme.

Cornish company Wildanet has been awarded a £41m contract to roll out new connections to over 16,800 homes and businesses in East Cornwall, West Cornwall and the island of St Mary’s located within the Isles of Scilly.

It follows an investment of £36 million by the government in 2023 which saw Wildanet awarded two contracts to connect up to 19,250 homes and businesses in South West and Mid Cornwall.

Towns and villages to benefit from the latest funding stretch from Bude to Looe in the east of the county, and from Portreath to the Helford River in the west. Initial work on network planning and surveys will start soon and installation works are expected to get under way in the autumn.

Gigabit-capable broadband is capable of delivering speeds of up to 1,000 megabits (or one gigabit) per second – up to 30 times faster than superfast connections which rely on traditional copper cables.

Project Gigabit is the UK Government’s flagship programme to enable hard-to-reach communities to access lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband. It targets homes and businesses that are not included in broadband suppliers’ commercial plans, reaching parts of the UK that might otherwise miss out on getting the digital connectivity they need, and supports small and medium-sized enterprises, which play a pivotal role in driving progress within their regions.

The investment in the region reflects the government’s commitment to roll out gigabit broadband nationally and will help to create a level playing field for hard-to-reach communities and businesses around the county, bringing with it economic, environmental and social benefits for local people.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said:  “Government-backed gigabit broadband for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly promises lightning-fast connectivity for remote communities, making tasks like uploading files and streaming content quicker and more reliable, while also boosting local businesses and sparking new job opportunities.

“This is the third multi-million investment we have awarded to Wildanet to deliver better broadband for the region, demonstrating our commitment to give rural communities the digital infrastructure they need to thrive in today’s digital world.”

Helen Wylde-Archibald, Wildanet Chief Executive Officer, said: “The latest investment through Project Gigabit and the awarding of this contract is excellent news for Cornwall and for its many remote and hard-to-reach communities. It will help to bridge the digital divide, rectifying the historic imbalance in rural broadband provision whilst furthering the Government’s ambition to grow the economy by rolling out first-class digital infrastructure.

“People living and working in Cornwall will also benefit from all the social and financial benefits that digital inclusion brings, such as digital health, internet of things, remote schooling and further job creation through remote working.

“Wildanet is incredibly proud to be playing a pivotal role in such an important initiative and we are committed to delivering the best possible result for the people of Cornwall and South West England and repaying the trust that been put in us by the Government.”

Wildanet, which has been backed by specialist alternative asset manager Gresham House’s sustainable infrastructure strategy with close to £100m invested since 2020, has grown to become a major regional employer, more than doubling its workforce in the last 18 months to over 220 staff as well as driving significant economic activity and employment through its commitment to using local businesses in its supply chain.

Kevin Monaghan, chief commercial officer of Complete Technology Group, said: “The Government is, of course , right to invest further in ensuring rural areas have access high-speed broadband. But the return on investment is what counts – can contracts be fulfilled, and will the funding make a significant impact in boosting digital connectivity across the UK.

“A balance must also be struck between rural and urban areas; it’s easy to assume that efforts must be focused on the former to connect hard-to-reach places, but there remain major issues in urban areas where swathes of people still live without reliable broadband. The difficult economic conditions of the past four years – a pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and interest rates spike – have exacerbated the issue, resulting in building works and digital infrastructure projects stalling.

“Digital connectivity is essential for consumers and businesses today, as the Government says, but we must also acknowledge that injecting more money into the broadband rollout will not tackle the lack of awareness that is heavily impacting take-up. Full Fibre, lightning fast, superfast, ultrafast – working directly with landlords and residents, we know that a notable proportion of people are confused by this sort of industry jargon, in turn hindering take-up.

“It’s crucial the Government works with the telecoms sector to implement a nationwide education programme so consumers can make informed decision about broadband services and providers. Simply plumbing in the infrastructure is not enough; digital connectivity will only be achieved when there is greater awareness among consumers on the value it provides, and how to navigate the broadband market with confidence.”