Seven rural towns and villages have been named as the first to benefit from a £94 million project to install superfast broadband in Devon and Somerset – the largest of its kind in England.
High-speed fibre optic broadband will start to become available in Moretonhampstead, Holsworthy, Sticklepath, Bradford-on-Tone, Bishops Lydeard, Creech St Michael and Monkton Heathfield by the end of this year with work at Sticklepath and Bradford-on-Tone having already started three months early.
The major Connecting Devon and Somerset superfast broadband partnership aims to deliver the high-speed technology to 90% of premises in the two counties by 2016.
It follows in the wake of the huge Superfast Cornwall initiative which is expected to achieve its target of 95% connectivity in the Duchy and the Isles of Scilly by next year.
Once installed the superfast technology can deliver download speeds of 80Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mdps – ten times the average speed for the two counties.
The project has attracted £32 million of funding from the government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, with further financial contributions from Devon and Somerset County Councils and £41 million from BT, as well as funding from other public sector partners.
The development has been welcomed by leaders from both councils with both hoping it will attract inward investment and economic growth.
David Hall, deputy leader of Somerset County Council, said: "High-speed fibre broadband is a key driver of economic growth and development. It has the potential to transform our rural businesses and communities, improve productivity, and enable business to access new markets while breaking down the digital divide within our communities. It will also improve and transform the delivery of public information and services."
Andrew Leadbetter, cabinet member for economy and growth for Devon County Council, said it was terrific news, adding that the project represented a massive engineering challenge.
He said: "It will boost our businesses and make our area more attractive for inward investment and business development, encouraging companies to relocate while creating new jobs. It will transform both our competitiveness and our communities as they enjoy all the benefit that high-speed fibre broadband can bring."
Connecting Devon and Somerset builds on BT's commercial roll-out of fibre broadband, which has already made the technology available to about 185,000 premises in Somerset and about 189,000 in Devon.
Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access at BT, said: "High-speed fibre broadband is a very exciting step forward for these communities. It will provide a major boost for local businesses and households."