Speed is very much the buzzword of our times. The rapid rollout of the UK’s vaccination programme. Fast-tracked laws to stop the horrid European Super League from ever killing English football. Normal life returning as quickly, and as safely, as possible.
As a community broadband provider building full-fibre infrastructure, speed is one of our main driving forces (another being reliability). We are firing on all cylinders to deliver our multi-million-pound rollout across rural East Anglia and have made significant investments.
This has resulted in hyperfast growth here at County Broadband. Within the last three years, our workforce has doubled several times over: from around a dozen employees at the start of 2018 to almost 110 by April 2021. That’s well over 600% of business growth.
“Our growth can only be seen as nothing short of phenomenal,” said Lewis Simington, our Director of People Operations. Who could disagree with that?
This achievement has prompted us to reflect on the things that have contributed to our success story – and to remind us of what we need to continue doing to realise our goals.
A roaring rollout
We received a £46 million private investment from Aviva Investors to kickstart our full-fibre broadband rollout across rural and remote parts of East Anglia in 2018.
We have since engaged with over 100 rural communities in Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, including the large market town of Sudbury. Thousands of people in dozens of villages have given the green light to have their outdated copper-based networks replaced with our world-class digital connectivity. In some cases, the networks are already live.
Before Covid, we held well-attended and well-engaged community public meetings where residents and local business owners could find out more details about our exciting rollout plans, participate in Q&A sessions and have one-to-one chats.
We also attend marquee events in high streets and have Community Engagement Champions to really get to know our communities. We have adapted this approach amid the pandemic and have shifted our operations online without losing touch with our communities. We look forward to reuniting in person with ‘new and old’ villages as our rollout expands.
Playing an active and supportive role in the communities with which we engage is a vital responsibility as part of our rollout, we believe.
We have previously announced that schools and community halls are being offered free connections and services. More recently, we donated brand new Kindles to St Andrew’s Primary School in Weeley during the third national lockdown this year to help children catch up on their learning whilst supporting the school’s ambitions to future-proof education.
Elsewhere, we have held Christmas fundraising activities for Age Concern Colchester and North East Essex. Our staff knitted over 200 Innocent Smoothie hats as part of the popular Big Knit Appeal. As a local company based in Aldham near Colchester, we have also raised hundreds of pounds for Colchester Foodbank.
Local skills and training investment
“Our company values are Ambitious, Loyal and Proud and we hold ourselves accountable to them – and something we pride ourselves on is ensuring all employees develop with us as we grow as a business.”
Those are the thoughts of Lewis Simington, Director of People Operations at County Broadband. And it’s true: as a local employer, we have a strong commitment to professional development and nurturing local talent – young or old, telecoms background or not. We value and recognise hard work and dedication with training investment and promotions.
We have teamed up with the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) to back calls for more investment in training and skills to boost the number of engineers in the region and help build world-class full-fibre networks in rural communities.
Lewis adds: “Increased knowledge and appreciation for fibre technology is a given but we also make sure that each person knows and understands how they contribute to the success of the company. We also have a high percentage of internal moves and promotions as we believe in nurturing our internal talent.”
We believe we are on track to establish ourselves as a big player in the broadband world. We have access to millions of pounds of private investment, thousands of connected homes and businesses receiving gigabit speeds in rural areas, and a wealth of talent, knowledge and experience within our growing ranks.
We have gained national and trade press coverage with reactive statements to the National Infrastructure Strategy and the Spending Review, various Budgets, political manifesto pledges, and recently our CEO Lloyd Felton was panel speaker at Total Telecom’s online Connected Britain conference.
Meanwhile, we were also a runner-up in the Best Rural ISP category at the virtual ISPA Awards 2020. This was our first-ever national recognition at the most prestigious awards event in the UK’s internet industry.
We have discovered that losing your broadband connection is more frustrating than having your fridge, boiler or car break down – according to residents in East Anglia and beyond. Our market research has also found a “digital postcode lottery” within our region.
The findings of our ongoing surveys help to shape our rollout and how to best serve the needs of our communities. They also provide the opportunity for both ourselves and the media to help maintain pressure on central government and awareness in society on the undeniable benefits of full-fibre and the need to banish our Victorian copper networks.
Indeed, our research revealed that one in seven (15%) people have experienced disruption to work or loss of business due to poor broadband. The average household also now has nine devices connected to its home network.
Myth-busters and Thought leaders
Finally, we have enjoyed writing about and bringing to your attention a kaleidoscope of industry insight, ideas and research over the years.
We will endeavour to continue bringing to you the latest leading news and views. Stay tuned!