06 Mar 2024
by Ceren Clulow

Bridging the Digital Divide: Celebrating the Connecting Cambridgeshire Programme

In this guest blog, Ceren Clulow, Programme Director for Connecting Cambridgeshire, celebrates the achievements of the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme over the last year and its ongoing impact on the community.

In an era where technology is the driving force behind society’s progress, the forward-thinking Connecting Cambridgeshire programme is transforming the digital landscape of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. We’re making significant strides towards bridging the digital divide by improving the region’s digital infrastructure – including broadband, mobile and public access Wifi coverage – to drive economic growth and make it easier for everyone to access public services.

Connecting Cambridgeshire

The Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, hosted by Cambridgeshire County Council, is led by Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) and supported by funding from the Greater Cambridge Partnership. The programme works with local councils, government bodies and external organisations to support the delivery of the CPCA’s Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Strategy 2021-2025 that builds on the past success of our collaborative work with these and commercial providers to ensure that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has the leading-edge digital connectivity infrastructure needed for local businesses to thrive and that no communities are left behind.

Connectivity for All

The programme is making substantial progress in encouraging the rollout and take-up up of high-speed broadband and digital connectivity to both urban and rural areas. Our superfast broadband rollout project helped the region reach almost 99% coverage (in 2011, fewer than 60% of premises could get superfast broadband services up to 24Mbps). The take-up of faster full fibre broadband has been among the highest in the country and while UK Government has a target of 85% gigabit-capable coverage for the UK by 2025, we’ve reached that target a year early with over 85% coverage by early 2023 for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Empowering Communities

Connecting Cambridgeshire plays a pivotal role in empowering local communities through its digital inclusion work. We’re continuing to expand CambWifi, our free public access Wifi service, to help people get online, support local businesses and make it easier for everyone to access vital public services. With funding from the CPCA we’re working with district councils to increase free public access Wifi provision in public buildings, open spaces and market town centres.

Fibre ducting is being integrated during the construction of new bus and cycle ways in Cambridgeshire as part of the programme’s innovative ‘Dig Once’ policy – one of the first of its kind in the country to be adopted by local councils, and is bringing measurable benefits for local people and the environment. The fibre ducting is being made available on a commercial basis, allowing telecoms operators to avoid costly and disruptive retrofitting and encouraging them to extend gigabit-capable broadband networks connecting businesses and communities that would not otherwise have access.

The policy is estimated to have brought carbon savings of over 20 tonnes CO2e* emissions over two years by using less materials – equivalent to the carbon emissions of nearly half a million miles driven by an average car. *Highways England calculator

Cross-Sector Collaboration and Innovation

One of the key factors contributing to the programme's success is its emphasis on collaboration. Connecting Cambridgeshire has brought together government bodies, businesses, and local communities to work towards a common goal – a digitally inclusive region.

The programme has successfully bid for over £10 million additional funding from government and commercial partners to support innovative technology projects aiming to unlock new connectivity opportunities and encourage investment in the county’s digital infrastructure. These include the UK’s 5G Open RAN project and the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme competition and Cambridgeshire is also among the ten successful 5G Innovation Regions, as part of England’s Connected Heartland.

Conclusion

In celebrating the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, we recognise not only the technological advancements achieved but also the positive impact on people's lives. As we navigate the digital age, it is crucial to have initiatives that prioritise inclusivity, education, and collaboration. Connecting Cambridgeshire is a shining example of how, when communities come together with a shared vision, they can build a brighter and more connected future for all.

Keep up to date with the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme on social media – X and LinkedIn.


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Authors

Ceren Clulow

Ceren Clulow

Programme Director for Connecting Cambridgeshire, Connecting Cambridgeshire