AN INDEPENDENT internet service provider started by a man who needed a reliable connection on his farm has doubled its employee numbers in the past year.

Wessex Internet has grown rapidly during a four-year move to offering superfast, full-fibre internet.

It was founded by James Gibson Fleming and Matthew Skipsey on the Ranston Estate at Blandford more than a decade ago and previously focused on wireless connections, serving rural areas considered unviable by other providers.

The business now employs 81 people at the estate, 100 per cent up on last year.

Managing director Hector Gibson Fleming said: “Our focus is to expand our fantastic service to even more of the countryside. We want to significantly grow our customer base and continually improve our service experience for existing customers.

“We have everything in place to achieve this – robust systems, a strong management structure and the specialist skills that contributed to a successful 12 months. We will continue to recruit more people over the coming year.”

Wessex Internet has a community project-based approach to building networks, with more than 80 “community champions” in local areas who work collaboratively with its in-house team. It helps rural homes and businesses receive a broadband service which it says is on a par with towns and cities through the government Rural Gigabit Connectivity Voucher (RGCV) Scheme.

Last year, it significantly increased its network footprint, leading to a 27 per cent year-on-year rise in the number of customers it connected. It achieved a 59 per cent increase in the number of rural communities it connected to full fibre.

The company also installed 624km (388 miles) of fibre in the ground across Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset and Hampshire and expanded its reach from Warminster almost to Fordingbridge, as well as to Lulworth and Yeovil.

Its non-residential customers include churches, farms, other businesses, village halls and sports clubs. Well-known customers include Farmer Palmer’s Family Farm, Lulworth Heritage Centre and Bovington Tank Museum. The company won a three-year contract to bring full-fibre broadband to some of the most rural areas in South Somerset following a successful bid to the government-subsidised Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme.

Wessex Internet’s network consists of more than 150 wireless masts and more than 2,000km (1,243 miles) of fibre. It was one of the first providers to use funding from Dorset Council’s Rural Gigabit scheme to extend its network.

Mr Gibson Fleming said: “The whole nation is currently undergoing a revolutionary change in approach to its working patterns, education, healthcare, home life and leisure activity. People and businesses in rural areas have the same rights to world class connectivity to support this as those in towns and cities.”