THOUSANDS of homes and businesses in Oxfordshire will be offered superfast broadband as a result of a £25 million investment.
Oxfordshire County Council has chosen BT as the commercial partner for its Better Broadband programme.
The scheme will be supported with £11 million from BT, £10 million from the council and £4 million from the Government.
It means that a minimum speed of 24 megabits per second will be available to 90 per cent of homes and businesses in the county by 2016.
The remaining 10 per cent will be able to receive a minimum of 2Mbps, enough to use email and the web efficiently. The current average speed is 12.3Mbps, according to Ofcom.
The scheme, which will cover 64,000 homes and businesses, will be rolled out gradually but no details about which areas are to be included have been released.
The council said the deal would bring significant social and economic benefits to rural areas, where broadband access is currently slow, and the programme would fill gaps not served commercially.
A spokesman said: “The council is ensuring that more people can get online and take advantage of a wide range of services many already take for granted.
“Making sure that everyone has access to some form of broadband connection will boost business efficiency, streamline and reduce costs for providing the council’s numerous customer services and enrich leisure and social time. Almost everybody will benefit from this major investment.”
Nick Carter, cabinet member for business and customer services, said: “This deal brings broadband to Oxfordshire two years ahead of the national roll-out programme.
“Broadband is now seen almost as a utility like water or electricity, yet there are still areas where access is non-existent or far too slow.
“Oxfordshire is the most rural county in the South-East, so we have had to be pragmatic in trying to extend the social and economic benefits of broadband to as many homes and businesses as possible.
“The deal we have struck is good value for money and demonstrates the council’s ambition for a thriving Oxfordshire. Without this intervention there is a danger that rural areas would be seriously disadvantaged.”
Henley MP John Howell said: “It’s good news that the contract has been awarded and we can now move ahead with this.
“What we are still waiting for is the maps, which will give us a better idea of what properties are and are not included. Until we have these we won’t know how many will still have to find their own way.
“What this means is that 90 per cent of the population will know where they stand. The 10 per cent that aren’t covered will now make their own decisions and the council can look to structure a deal to help them.”
The news was welcomed by people in rural areas who have to put up with slow broadband. Calvin Frankum, 51, a printed circuit board design engineer who lives in Middle Assendon, said: “I have the option to work from home and this will definitely help me.
“At the moment I have to pre-load my laptop at my place of work with the work I have to do the next day, or wait minutes at home for something to download which should take seconds.
“We can’t watch live iPlayer, we have to download programmes and then watch them otherwise it would always be buffering. Everything is on the internet nowadays, your whole life seems to be there, so you can’t imagine having to live without it.”
Better Broadband will build on BT’s commercial roll-out of high-speed fibre broadband, which is already available to around 60 per cent of Oxfordshire homes and businesses.
The council says it will continue to work with Broadband Delivery UK and BT to secure additional funding to enable the programme to go further.