The Government has revealed plans to connect over 100 rural schools with gigabit speed broadband within the next few months.
Under the £3 million pilot programme, three schools have already been connected, and 52 have signed contracts with work expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
There are also ongoing discussions with another 72 schools who are interested in participating. The trial was originally planned to reach 100 schools, but the project has been delivered under-budget, allowing more schools to benefit.
“This project is a great example of the Government’s new ‘outside in’ approach to rolling out full fibre broadband, which is taking gigabit broadband to the hardest to reach rural areas first”, said Margot James, Minister for Digital.
“As well as making a dramatic difference for students in the classroom, by using the schools as broadband hubs we are also making ultrafast broadband available to thousands of rural homes and businesses across the country more quickly.”
Those schools already connected under the programme have seen their broadband speeds jump from 0.5 Megabits per Second (Mbps) to 100Mbps, and have the capability to be upgraded to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps) in the future should they wish to do so.
The government says the new speeds are enabling whole classes to simultaneously surf the internet on tablets as part of structured lessons, and gives schools easier access to online training and educational learning. Access to cloud services not only means savings as staff go paperless, but it has also enabled the decommissioning of the school’s local servers to reduce hardware, maintenance and IT support costs.
The trial is part of the Government’s £190 million Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme, and will see the schools benefit from fully-funded and future-proof full fibre connections directly into their classrooms.
In addition, the new connection being provided to schools has had the added benefit of increasing connectivity for the surrounding homes and businesses. Once the fibre has been laid (with the school acting as a “hub”) connecting other premises in the area becomes much more commercially viable to broadband providers.
The trial will be instrumental in shaping the new £200 million Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme, targeting the hardest to reach areas in the UK. Building on the same principle, the programme will deliver gigabit capable connections to key public and business buildings, including schools, as well as encouraging broadband providers to create additional connections to local homes.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “In our inter-connected world, a fast, reliable internet connection has never been more important. The schools will be connected to the world of technology, enabling teachers to realise the benefits that fast and reliable broadband has to offer, from reducing teacher workload to improving access to high-quality resources.
“I don’t want schools in villages and rural areas to be left in the slow lane when it comes to broadband, and the funding announced today will benefit the schools that are most in need.”