THE first spades have entered the ground to bring ultrafast broadband to an array of small towns and villages.

Rob Evans, managing director of the Virgin Media Lightning Programme, welcomed politicians and Need4Speed, a broadband campaign group, to Chilbolton to watch the build in action on Friday.

Due to the rural environment of the area, and the lack of any significant broadband infrastructure, it did not initially meet Virgin Media’s usual commercial requirements for expansion.

However, Need4Speed, a group which advocates better broadband for 12 small villages in the area, was fed up with download speeds of only 2Mbps.

So the group approached Virgin Media in 2016 and requested it bring its ultrafast broadband network to the area with the company helping them confirm it was commercially viable by ensuring residents and businesses were committed to the initiative.

Work is now underway already with completion expected by the end of 2019.

Once complete, users will be able to download a standard HD movie file in three minutes, compared to nearly six hours on the average local connection; and a 25GB console game in 12 minutes, compared to nearly 30 hours on the average local connection.

The areas set to benefit are Broughton, Chilbolton, Clatford, Firsdown, Goodworth, Houghton, Kings Somborne, Michelmarsh, Stockbridge, Timsbury, West Tytherley, Wherwell and Winterslow.

Cate Bell, a spokesperson for TVNeed4speed and Chairman of West Tytherley and Frenchmoor Parish Council, said: “The new FTTP network being built by Virgin Media across 12 villages in the Test and Dun Valleys is the result of a huge community campaign, championed by several individuals across the area.

"We are thrilled that Virgin Media recognised the opportunity presented by this rural build. This initiative is a brilliant example of how communities and private companies can work together to make great things happen.”

Hampshire County Council’s executive member for economic development, Councillor Mel Kendal, said: “Reaching more remote areas is a challenge, which is why we have specifically invested £1million in initiatives like the Community Match funding scheme to ensure this happens.

"The work of the Dun and Test Valley pilot and its community champions is very welcome indeed, demonstrating what can be achieved by residents working collaboratively to find effective broadband solutions in ‘hard to reach’ areas."