UK fibre programme brings free fibre to 17 Manchester sites
A total of 17 community buildings across Greater Manchester in the UK have been set up with free internet connectivity for five years as part of the UK’s local full fibre networks (LFFN) programme.
The digital infrastructure and inclusion programme from Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GCMA), in partnership with operator Virgin Media Business began in March 2020 and is now reaching completion. It has connected more than 1,500 public sites to a new fibre optic broadband network over the past two years, delivering economic benefits worth around £19.7m for local people.
The LFFN programme also had significant involvement from Greater Manchester’s local authorities, Fire & Rescue Services and Transport for Greater Manchester. It was backed by millions of pounds in funding from the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
In total, 17 public sites in Greater Manchester– including homeless shelters, charities and community centres – are benefiting from free fibre broadband connectivity. Deeplish Community Centre in Rochdale is one of the sites to benefit. Sohail Ahmad, operations manager at the centre explains: ‘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. Thanks to the programme, we’re seeing improved wellbeing and new prospects for our people.’
The work has also provided a number of social and economic benefits in the region. For example, it exceeded GMCA’s local employment target, with an average 78 per cent of the LFFN workforce based in Greater Manchester. Since the programme began, Virgin Media Business has also taken on 38 new Greater Manchester-based apprentices, running ahead of the original apprenticeship targets it set at launch.
Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, leader of Bury Council and GMCA lead for education, skills, work, apprenticeships and digital says: ‘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 and towards fixing the digital divide, as we equip the region with the infrastructure it needs to become a world class digital city region.’
Adds digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman: ‘Our £19m 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 for the future and through our £5bn Project Gigabit we're making sure rural areas don't miss out either.’
Mike Smith, large enterprise and public sector director at Virgin Media O2 Business concludes: ‘Providing the infrastructure to connect so many public buildings in Greater Manchester to a fast, reliable and accessible broadband network has been a landmark project for us. Today, digital connectivity is not just a nice to have, it’s an essential part of the way we live and work. It’s been wonderful to see the social impact the LFFN programme has had on people across the city-region – and we’re looking forward to continuing to tackle digital exclusion in local communities as we plan out the programme’s legacy.’