Gigaclear has become the first broadband provider to drill under the River Severn to reach two of Gloucestershire’s most remote and poorly connected villages. This significant feat of civil engineering will deliver full Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband access to 861 homes in Longney and Framilode.

The work has been carried out as part of stage 3 of Gloucestershire County Council’s Fastershire broadband project with Gigaclear, which will give more than 70,000 homes and businesses in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire access to a new ultrafast network.

Until now, these villages have been avoided by broadband providers because of their inaccessibility. They are surrounded by the River Severn on the west side and a canal on the east side, meaning there was no way of connecting these communities without navigating a watercourse. Gigaclear, the leading rural ultrafast broadband provider, is the first in the industry to have taken on such a challenging project.

It has taken many months of planning and several engineering options have been discounted during the process. The River Severn has the second-highest tidal range in the world, and a conventional dig through a river is impossible. Drilling under the canal was too difficult due to the depth of the canal’s bank stabilisation. Overhead cables could not be installed because large ships use the canal. The only option for Gigaclear to connect Longney and Framilode, was to drill under the River Severn.

This highly unusual project, delivered by Gloucestershire-based contractor, Complete Utilities, involved drilling 5 metres below the River Severn to avoid disturbing the riverbed; starting in Elmore Back and laying 6.5km of Gigaclear’s fibre cable through to Minsterworth. A horizontal directional drill, specifically a Vermeer drill with 133kn pullback force, had to be imported especially for the project.

Caine Edwards, Programme Manager at Complete Utilities, said: “As a business based within rural Gloucestershire, we are delighted to be working alongside Gigaclear to deliver ultrafast broadband to Longney and Framilode. This unique project gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the latest methodologies and see the positive impact it has on communities that have previously been avoided due to engineering difficulties.”

Residents of Longney and Framilode currently suffer internet speeds of between 1Mbps and 3Mbps. This makes simple tasks, such as checking emails, incredibly difficult and frustrating. Access to Gigaclear’s network will deliver internet speeds up to 1Gbps. This means that it will take less than one minute to download a 2.5-hour HD film. The upgrade will completely transform the online capabilities of residents and businesses in the area, making them among the best connected in Britain.

Peter Pentecost, Regional General Manager at Gigaclear, said: “We are proud to be working alongside the Fastershire Broadband Project in bringing best in class broadband speeds to Longney and Framilode through our full-fibre ultrafast network. The scale of this civil engineering task goes to show how passionately we believe in the importance of digital inclusion for all, no matter how rural their chosen home or business is. We hear time and time again how an excellent internet connection can really transform lives, be it accessing important social and retail services remotely or simply keeping in touch with family members living far away.”

Councillor Patrick Molyneux, Cabinet Member for Economy, Education and Skills and responsible for Fastershire said; “This is a tremendous engineering operation and we’re delighted to see it achieved. The scale of this project illustrates how difficult it is to reach rural areas of our county and how committed Gloucestershire County Council through Fastershire is to providing access to faster broadband.

The first homes and businesses in the villages of Longney and Framilode are due to be connected in the next few weeks, once the FTTP infrastructure is fully in place. With the remainder to be connected once outstanding access agreements with local landowners are secured.

Residents can check the Fastershire website to see if ultrafast broadband is available or planned at their address.