A multi-million pound contract to bring faster broadband to thousands more homes and businesses has been signed by Dorset County Council.
The local authority has agreed a £31.75m deal which will see high-speed fibre optic broadband becoming available to 97% of premises in Dorset within three and a half years.
The Superfast Dorset project builds on BT's commercial roll-out of fibre broadband, which has already made the technology available to more than half of Dorset's homes and businesses - more than 190,000 premises.
The agreement was signed on Wednesday (10 July). The commercial programme will reach more than 260,000 premises by the end of Spring 2014.
The new fibre network will transform broadband speeds across the county and its rural area, said Dorset County Council.
According to the regulator Ofcom in November 2012, the average downstream speed in Dorset was 8.7Mbps whilst 13.9% of premises received less than 2Mbps.
The partnership will also aim to ensure broadband speeds of at least 2Mbps in the minority of places where fibre broadband isn't viable.
BT was chosen following an extensive and thorough selection process, said the local authority.
Dorset council leader Spencer Flower said: "It's very important this broadband technology is made available to as many residents and businesses as possible.
"We want everyone in Dorset to have access to reliable and faster broadband within the next three and a half years."
Councillor Flower added: "We know that some residents and businesses are frustrated by slow or no broadband access in Dorset, especially in rural areas – it's one of the biggest issues facing our county."
"With the contract now signed, work on the project can get underway. This will give Dorset the competitive edge it needs to attract new businesses and will empower our communities by providing access to services, jobs and education."
BT is contributing £12.87m towards the overall cost of deployment in "non-commercial" areas, while Dorset County Council and the county's district and borough councils are contributing £9.44m. The government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) a further £9.44m.
The Dorset councils have invested a further £1.3m to make sure the benefits of the network are maximised.
Surveying work on the project will start in the autumn and the first locations to be upgraded will be announced later this year.
Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT, said: "Fibre broadband will provide a strong, reliable connection to the rest of the world – opening new horizons, helping us to be more efficient and keeping us in touch with vital services.
"Faster broadband will help local businesses grow, attracting inward investment and boosting the local economy.
"If they thrive then everyone thrives – local businesses are the lifeblood of every community, creating jobs and stimulating growth."
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