Infrastructure provider Openreach has announced details of one of its biggest ever investments in rural broadband, setting out plans to bring ultrafast full fibre service to more than three million homes and businesses in remote parts of the UK.

The scheme is part of the company’s £12 billion investment in fibre-to-the-premise technology, which aims to reach a total of 20 million properties by the mid to late-2020s. The new focus on rural areas will see 251 rural locations covered over the next three years and focus on the ‘final third’ of the country not covered by existing plans.

Towns and villages set to benefit from the newly-announced expansion range from Thurso in the far north of Scotland to Aberystwyth in west Wales and Lingfield in Surrey.

Chief executive of Openreach Clive Selley said his company is “leading the charge” to meet government targets of making gigabit connectivity available nationwide by 2025, adding that full fibre broadband will be at the forefront of the UK’s economic recovery in these challenging times.

“Right now, we’re building a new, ultra-reliable full fibre network that will boost productivity, cut commuting and carbon emissions, and connect our families, public services and businesses for decades to come,” he continued. “We’re determined to find inventive engineering solutions and effective partnership funding models to reduce costs and enable us to connect as many communities as possible across the UK without public subsidy.”

Openreach highlighted research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research that found bringing full fibre connectivity to every premises in the UK could boost the country’s productivity by £59 billion a year, as well as bringing half a million people back into the workforce and enabling 400,000 to work from home.

This freedom to live and work wherever people choose could also help rural locations by encouraging up to 270,000 people to move out of cities to these areas, thereby stimulating regional growth.

The news was welcomed by rural affairs organisations, with Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, saying it will provide a huge economic boost for areas that have traditionally lagged behind when it comes to connectivity.

“As we have seen during the COVID pandemic, digital connectivity has been essential for the millions who are homeschooling and working from home. If we are all to play our part in rebuilding the economy, then good digital connectivity across the country is absolutely essential, so we welcome this important move,” he added.

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