As part of the UK’s largest public sector Local Full Fibre Networks programme, 17 community sites in the Greater Manchester Area are to benefit from free fibre broadband connectivity until 2025.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority have partnered with Virgin Media Business to provide 2,700 kilometres of fibreoptic broadband infrastructure to more than 1,500 public sector buildings in the region, including over 150 children’s centres, 97 schools, and 70 libraries.
One of the sites benefitting from the free connectivity is Deeplish Community Centre in Rochdale. Their operations manager, Sohail Ahmad, said:
“The free fibre broadband at Deeplish Community Centre is improving people’s prospects and breaking down digital exclusion barriers made worse during the pandemic. Without the improved connectivity at our site, many in our community would be locked out of today’s digital society.
“Instead, more than 500 local people can now get online for free at our centre, learning new skills: from online banking, to using digital tools to support the language barrier we have in our community – or even young people visiting the site to complete their homework. Thanks to the programme, we’re seeing improved wellbeing and new prospects for our people.”
Digital exclusion is a major issue in the Greater Manchester area, with as many as 1.2 million residents possible being excluded from accessing the benefits that digital can bring. To combat this, the deal between Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Virgin Media Business included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives, supporting Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint. This has seen significant social and economic benefits in the region.
Councillor Eamonn O’Brien, Leader of Bury Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority Lead for Education, Skills, Work, Apprenticeships, and Digital, said:
“In Greater Manchester, we’re ensuring everyone. Whatever their age, location, or situation, can benefit from the opportunities digital brings.
“I’m encouraged to see digital infrastructure being used to directly benefit our communities. This programme has set a standard and a legacy for industry, public sector, and communities working together on meaningful change towards fixing the digital divide, as we equip the region with the infrastructure it needs to become a world class digital city region.”
Matt Warman, Digital Infrastructure Minister, added:
“Our £19 million investment has funded hundreds of faster internet connections across Greater Manchester to put public services in the digital fast lane, so they deliver more for communities and encourage more broadband firms to roll-out fibre networks across the region.
“We have upgraded thousands of schools, libraries, and hospitals across the UK to first class broadband fit future and through our £5 billion Project Gigabit we’re making sure rural areas don’t miss out either.
“With more of the sites now connected to the full fibre network, a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects can begin. This part of a wider drive to bring digital infrastructure investment to Greater Manchester, which has seen GMCA and Greater Manchester local authorities streamlining regulations and inspection work. The work has also laid the foundations for the upcoming initiatives, such as Greater Manchester One Network.”
The Local Full Fibre Networks programme was backed by millions of pounds worth of investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, and has seen close collaboration between Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Virgin Media Business, Greater Manchester’s local authorities, Fire and Rescue Services, and Transport for Greater Manchester.