In a bid to improve connectivity and digital inclusion across the county, Neos Networks, one of the UK’s leading business connectivity providers, has been selected by Oxfordshire County Council to build full fibre gigabit capable broadband infrastructure to a range of public sector and local authority sites in the region, including schools, libraries, county council buildings, GP surgeries, fire stations, leisure centres, community centres and museums. As part of a 20-year deal, Neos will work with Openreach, Virgin Media Business and locally based Gigaclear.
The project is funded with a £5m investment from Oxfordshire County Council and circa £2m investment from the Government’s DCMS GigaHubs project, part of Project Gigabit. The GigaHubs project provides a footprint of rural full fibre that will incentivise broadband providers to connect surrounding homes and businesses to next generation speeds.
Currently 98.4% of Oxfordshire has access to superfast broadband, however this initiative will significantly improve connectivity for over 200 buildings which provide a public service, many of which are located in rural locations where fibre connectivity is both difficult to facilitate and expensive to provision. Neos will manage the implementation with the first phase of the programme set to be delivered by March 2022. This marks the first majority council-funded project aimed at improving the service offering available at community centres and village halls whilst also offering a more cost-effective connectivity solution for public sector sites.
Julia Lopez, Digital Infrastructure Minister said: "This huge government-funded deal for Oxfordshire will mean better public services that deliver more for communities and faster rollout of better broadband for surrounding homes and businesses. Upgrading schools, hospitals, libraries and other public buildings is just one way our £5 billion Project Gigabit scheme is levelling up the UK, with thousands of rural homes and businesses set to receive the fastest, most resilient connections available. This is not just about fantastic internet speeds but about future-proofing homes and businesses for a world in which technology plays an increasingly important role, from healthcare and education to industrial application."
The project builds on Oxfordshire’s wider commitment to improve connectivity across the county through its Digital Infrastructure Programme. It will enable Oxfordshire County Council to realise its ambitions for equipping community centres to become ‘community working hubs’ offering enhanced community services, health and social care support, and reducing the need for people to travel further afield to access these services. This will in turn help the county council in meeting its objective for net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Additionally, the new infrastructure will allow the council to migrate to lower cost fast broadband connections for its office buildings.
Councillor Glynis Phillips, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate Services, commented:
“This is an exciting time for Oxfordshire. We are putting a lot of time and resource into ensuring that we are one of the best-connected counties in the UK. This project strengthens our commitment to our Digital Infrastructure strategy and to improving local access to services, reducing the need to travel. We particularly look forward to finding ways to maximise the range of services that will be enabled in Oxfordshire’s vibrant community centres and village halls where collaboration with parish, district, and the county council will be key alongside our colleagues in the NHS”.
Neos was awarded the contract following a competitive procurement process, due to its ability to aggregate and manage multiple broadband suppliers to deliver the best and most cost-effective solution to Oxfordshire County Council. In doing so, Neos will leverage existing infrastructure as well as delivering entirely new full fibre connectivity to the sites in scope. In addition to driving the delivery of gigabit services for the council and its stakeholders, the new infrastructure will also encourage the build of FTTP services by AltNets in the region.
“We are delighted to be working with Neos Networks and its suppliers on this project,” said Craig Bower, Oxfordshire County Council’s Digital Infrastructure Team Programme Director. “This project builds on the success of our superfast intervention programme, with the county council investment being entirely sourced from the take-up gainshare funds accrued from our recently completed ‘Better Broadband for Oxfordshire’ contract with Openreach.”
Jess Tweedie, Headteacher at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School said: “We are developing our school’s technology provision and the use of ICT and online platforms and are investing in devices as a tool in the classroom. This hopefully will enrich and enhance our curriculum as well as the efficiency of work with staff. We would also like to host more online parents’ events to support our community who largely work at the hospital and can find it difficult to attend meetings in person. Our current internet can only just cope with this and there is often buffering when many of us are in online at the same time, so having access to full fibre broadband will be a huge benefit.”
Commenting on the new deal, Colin Sempill, CEO at Neos Networks, said: “We’re excited to be working alongside Oxfordshire County Council to deliver the next stage in their connectivity strategy. Councils up and down the UK are having to deal with sub-par connectivity, particularly in more rural locations. In building and deploying this new fibre infrastructure, we’re able to provide Oxfordshire County Council with an important core fibre network that will bring new digital services to its premises, as well as to the homes of many across the county in the near future.”
Neos was formerly a division of the national energy provider SSE. It has built a strong reputation for its nationwide, high capacity fibre network, and today works with a number of businesses and public sector organisations, Neos was most recently appointed by local authorities in Perth & Kinross and Aberdeenshire for their connectivity deployments.