30 January 2020
Virgin Media has transformed rural homes and businesses in Test & Dun Valley with ultrafast broadband speeds after a local campaign group lobbied the company for faster broadband.
Residents living in 12 villages in Test & Dun Valley, which stretches across Hampshire and Wiltshire, previously experienced some of the slowest broadband speeds in the UK.
That is now a thing of the past thanks to an innovative and first-of-its-kind scheme for Virgin Media which was created after a local campaign group – Need4Speed – asked the company to bring its network to the area following a string of broken promises from other providers.
With average broadband speeds of 516Mbps – which is over 500 times faster than the previous connectivity experienced by some villagers – locals are now reaping the benefits of this collaboration and investment.
Using numerous devices simultaneously around the home, Virgin Media customers can stream the latest TV shows and movies in the highest quality, shop, bank and play games online as well as work from home – activities that were not possible for many people before.
Their speeds will be further boosted when gigabit connectivity (1000Mbps) comes to the area by the end of 2021 as part of the company’s ongoing investment to make Gig1, the UK's fastest home broadband service, available to everyone on its network.
Community Champions help bring ultrafast broadband to Test & Dun Valley
Locals have campaigned for years for faster broadband but many providers were put off by the challenging nature – and high cost – of the work required to implement a fibre network in the area.
To overcome this challenge, and ensure the network investment was commercially viable, Virgin Media agreed an initiative which required at least 30 per cent of premises to commit to taking up its services once work had been completed.
Demand was so strong that, in some villages, more than three-quarters of residents signed up, allowing for work to start in early 2018. Virgin Media expects this innovative investment model to lead to similar community-backed projects across the UK.
Virgin Media working in partnership with the community
In addition to developing the sign-up pledge, Virgin Media was able to connect the community to its ultrafast broadband network by working closely with local residents and businesses – something that was essential to make such a complex and rural civil engineering job possible.
To connect 4,000 homes and businesses, Virgin Media laid 60 miles of micro duct and fibre optic cables through the 12 villages. It minimised disruption on the narrow, country lanes by using a ‘mole plough’ to dig 9 miles of channels through farmers’ fields to lay fibre.
This was made possible thanks to landowners who granted Virgin Media wayleave access to carry out the necessary work on their land. Securing permission to install gigabit networks on private land has often been an issue for broadband providers, resulting in lengthy delays to expansion works.
To get locals online quickly, Virgin Media also made use of Openreach cable ducts as part of the build, taking advantage of Ofcom’s Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) remedy to connect 137 tricky premises in Broughton, Kings Sombourne, Timsbury, Winterslow & Wherwell.
As a reward for the locals’ patience, Virgin Media has provided free connectivity for two village halls in Broughton and West Tytherley and is in discussions to connect more community areas in other villages.
Residents go from ultraslow to ultrafast
Jon Ambler, an IT Manager for the Hunt Forest Group that supplies John Deere machinery to the agricultural sector, says the improved connectivity has revolutionised his work place:
“There is almost a stigma around the agriculture sector. So much of what we do is done online. We used to, on a good day, get speeds of 5Mbps which made working near-on impossible. Our new connectivity has helped the business to track issues with our customers’ tractors in real time and this has helped save customers money by identifying issues remotely.”
Julie Connor, who lives in Chilbolton with her husband and three children, says that Virgin Media’s broadband has improved their home life:
“Our speeds used to be so slow, often below 4Mbps, and this was challenging when you’ve got three boys all wanting to play computer games online at the same time. This all changed once our home was connected to Virgin Media’s network. My husband can also now work from home as he can send and receive files much faster.”
Rob Evans, MD Network Expansion at Virgin Media, said: “Our network investment and expansion in Test and Dun Valley has brought life-changing connectivity to an area forgotten by other providers. This was a completely new concept for us which required a unique approach in what was one of our most rural broadband builds to date. It has been a real collaborative effort from the start and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support from residents and landowners. We’re proud to give this community the broadband boost it deserves.”
Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said: “I am absolutely delighted with the works carried out in the Test and Dun Valleys over the last two years by Virgin Media. The community vision to bring this project together deserves the utmost praise and I know that it would not have been possible without the community champions, the generosity of local landowners and Virgin Media. We had some of the slowest internet connection speeds in the country, but now we have some of the fastest. Rural connectivity is key to our economic growth and I am so pleased to hear that Virgin Media are looking at options to mirror the success in the area to other parts of the country.”
Cate Bell, a spokesperson for TVNeed4speed and former Chairman of West Tytherley, Frenchmoor and Buckholt Parish Council, said: “The completion of the 12 villages with full fibre broadband is really fantastic and I can’t praise enough the dedication and hard work of the community champions. I would like to thank local residents for their patience while works were carried out but I think that the benefits will be seen for years to come. It is excellent news that other local villages in the area are already approaching Virgin Media asking for connections and I hope that the model that we employed will be used again to connect more rural residents and businesses.”
Notes to Editors
The 12 villages in the Test and Dun Valley include: Broughton, Chilbolton, Clatford, Firsdown, Goodworth,Houghton, Kings Somborne, Michelmarsh, Stockbridge, Timsbury, West Tytherley, Wherwell and Winterslow.