Southwest One, the joint venture between IBM and the Somerset public sector, is building a new high-speed fibre broadband network for Somerset's schools.

Somerset's 269 schools and other educational establishments will benefit from the first dedicated fibre-optic network for schools anywhere in the Southwest of England. It will give 70,000 children and young people, as well as 10,000 teachers and support staff, the ability to make better use of learning resources, the venture said.

In addition to faster access to the internet and to Somerset's e-learning portfolio of courses, the network will provide a platform for new video and voice teaching applications in the future, for example, video-conferencing for specialist teachers.

The new network is being built on BT’s next generation national fibre network. Rollout will start over the next few weeks, and will be largely completed by 31 March 2011. Secondary and middle schools will be provided with data connection speeds of 100mbps (megabits per second) – over ten times today's average speed.

Councillor David Huxtable, cabinet member for resources at Somerset County Council, said: "This is great news for Somerset and our schools. We hope this will be a catalyst that allows significant improvement to Somerset's broadband and communications infrastructure, enabling significant opportunities for Somerset's future economic and social growth."

Southwest One led the project and will manage the new network as part of the services it provides to schools on behalf of Somerset County Council, which include a range of technology and administrative functions, including procurement, property and facilties management, and payroll.

"We see the upgrade of this network as key for our schools and are excited about the possibilities it opens up for the wider Somerset community," said Fiona Capstick, chief executive of Southwest One.

Southwest One is a joint venture company set up by Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon and Somerset Police and IBM.

The venture has experienced problems with the rollout of a major SAP business system, becoming a political point of contention in the run up to European elections last year.