Herefordshire and Gloucestershire councils have signed the UK's first joint county council deal to bring faster broadband to rural areas.

The £56.6 million deal with BT - the supplier which has also won all the previous rural broadband deals as part of a Government-financed scheme - will allow most rural homes and businesses in the regions to have access to faster fibre broadband over a four year period up to 2016.

By 2018, said BT, broadband speeds will be higher than 24 Mbps "for all those who want it". BT is building the wholesale network where services will be sold by its own retail arm and other competing suppliers.

However, BT's speed target for the regions seems modest when basic broadband speeds over traditional copper wires can already deliver around 10 Mbps, and a fibre broadband roll-out in a North Yorkshire village, as part of the same Government scheme, is now said to be already delivering up to 80mbps.

However, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire councils said their ultimate aim is to deliver 30 Mbps or more to the majority of homes and businesses, with speeds "up to 80 Mbps being typical". Small businesses will also have access to speeds of up to 330 Mbps through BT's fibre on demand service available from Spring 2013, providing they pay for such a premium service.

The Herefordshire and Gloucestershire contract, which is set to benefit more than 140,000 homes and businesses, builds on BT's current commercial roll-out of fibre broadband across the two counties.

The deal is the latest to be announced under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme. BDUK will deliver £18.17 million of the funds, £10.1 million will come from Herefordshire Council, £7.5 million from Gloucestershire Council and £20.9 million from BT.

Herefordshire council leader John Jarvis said: "This project will really put the county on the map, attracting more businesses to the county, helping existing ones grow and enabling rural properties become less isolated."

Gloucestershire council leader Mark Hawthorne said: "This deal enables us to put in place an infrastructure to support growing businesses and help people live where they want to live."