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First phase of council's free internet plan completed

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Swindon has completed the first phase of its plan to offer free internet access across the borough.

Snow in January and logistical problems meant that the completion of the network serving the 3,500 homes in the Highworth area was delayed - and put back the roll-out across the borough.

The scheme is a join venture between the council and a commercial telecoms company, Digital City, set up with a £450,000 loan from the council.

It has been criticised locally for being in competition with private providers of broadband to Swindon’s residential areas.

Swindon’s leader Rod Bluh says: “I’ve taken a bit of political heat over this but local people are taking to it like ducks to water.”

While he admits Digital City is a competitor to some degree, he maintains the real goal is the wider commercial benefit to the council is selling on the product and more than a dozen other authorities are said to be interested.

The loan is secured against the digital network if the project folds, says Cllr Bluh, and he expects it to deliver savings of £150,000 on the council’s telecoms budget in the financial year as well as offering other possible economies such as in social care.

The chief executive of Digital City, Rikki Hunt, believes the company will provide around 18% of business in the borough.

Everyone can register for up to two hours’ free and unlimited internet access for two hours or pay £9.99 for a 24/7 provision.

Now that the Highworth phase has been completed, Mr Hunt will be inviting interested councils to see the project at first hand in the coming weeks.

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