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Wi-Fi for Wiltshire libraries

July 6, 2012 4:55 PM
By WC

The "Wiltshire Online" Programme aims to bring superfast broadband to homes and businesses across the county. At present, not all parts of Wiltshire have access to broadband and those that do may experience slow speeds and poor service. This means that residents and businesses in the county struggle to make full use of the internet and online services. Poor broadband services are seen as a major obstacle to sustained economic growth and investment in the county.

The main aims of the programme are:

  • To improve access to broadband for citizens and businesses in Wiltshire. Between 85% and 95% of premises being able to access over 24Mbps by 2015 and all other premises to have access to a minimum broadband service of 2Mbps
  • To ensure that every adult has the opportunity to be a confident user of technology.
  • To increase the uptake and usage of council online services.

WC is spending £16 million to improve broadband provision. An additional grant of £4.66 million from the government has been secured and along with investment from South Gloucestershire and Swindon brings a total of over £23 million. Investment from the successful contractor will make a total of at least £30 million.

Summary of Progress

Since July 2011, Wiltshire Council has been working with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). BDUK was set up by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport as its body to establish a national framework contract for superfast broadband. In March 2012, BDUK completed its evaluation of final tenders and informed two successful suppliers of its intention to make them suppliers on the framework agreement after a period of contract finalisation. Wiltshire Council, in partnership with South Gloucestershire and Swindon Councils is one of four lead projects that will be first to use this framework contract. The partnership is now fully prepared formally to launch its procurement once the Framework Agreement has been signed.

In parallel, BDUK has been following a process to notify an umbrella State Aid agreement with the European Commission. This is a requirement to allow councils to use public money to part fund broadband projects in the UK. BDUK had planned for the Commission to have granted approval for the UK's umbrella State Aid agreement by April. However, BDUK has not yet received approval and is still working with the European Commission to finalise agreement on the remaining aspects of the scheme. As soon as an agreement over the remaining outstanding issues has been made with the Commission, BDUK intends that the two companies sign the Framework Agreement. Wiltshire Council will then work rapidly to minimise any delay and complete the procurement.

At this stage the procurement is still on course to be completed by August; however this is dependent upon a quick resolution of the State Aid scheme by the European Commission.

The Leader, Jane Scott, has written to David Cameron, Vince Cable and George Osborne to raise our concerns about the possibility of the implementation being delayed if there is no approval of the State Aid scheme by the European Commission and she has asked them to intervene to resolve this issue.

The sequence of events is dependent upon the European Commission:

Issue of the Invitation to Tender was done on 29 June

  • Award of contract (15 October, pending State Aid award)
  • Survey work and development of implementation plan, autumn / winter 2012
  • Contract work commences early 2013

In addition and as part of the overall programme WC is tryingto develop a Wi-Fi solution for libraries to allow members of the public to use their own laptop, smartphone or tablet. Melksham Library will be the first to trial this service in July. Once this has been evaluated the council will roll it out to all libraries during the coming months.