Cheshire councils have awarded BT a rural fibre broadband deployment contract worth around £19.5 million as part of an ongoing national government-funded scheme.

High-speed fibre broadband will be rolled out to around 96 percent of Cheshire homes and businesses in the next three years as part of the scheme, which is backed by Cheshire East Council, Cheshire West and Chester Councils, Halton Borough Council and Warrington Borough Council, which have formed the Connecting Cheshire Partnership.

The Partnership has secured funding to provide additional rural broadband infrastructure to over 80,000 premises that will build on BT's on-going commercial investment in fibre across the county.

As a result more than 400,000 premises (around 96 per cent) should eventually have access to broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps at their disposal by 2016 through wholesale arrangements.

The Connecting Cheshire Partnership is contributing £1.85 million to the scheme, with £4 million coming from the government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funding body, and a lion's share of £13.6m from European Regional Development Funds (ERDF).

David Brown, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, on behalf of the Partnership, said of the deal: "The social, environmental and economic benefits will be huge, making Cheshire one of the best connected regions in the country."

All rural broadband deals so far financed through BDUK have gone to BT, which initially only faced competition from Fujitsu under a framework programme. Fujitsu pulled out of that framework earlier this year, saying it couldn't compete on many contracts up for grabs.