East: Superfast Broadband A Step Closer

People in Suffolk and Norfolk will soon have superfast broadband.

A landmark deal between Norfolk County Council and BT that will see over 80 per cent of Norfolk’s properties able to access superfast fibre broadband is to be made official.

BT’s Managing Director of Next Generation Access Bill Murphy will come to Norfolk on Friday (21 December) to meet with councillors and senior officers at the council and formally launch the project. The multimillion pound deal is the culmination of two years’ work by the council which saw it secure £15 million of Government funding to tackle broadband inequality in the county and intends to eliminate broadband ‘not spots’ by the autumn of 2015.

While the County Council’s Cabinet approved BT as its supplier for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project in September, European Union state aid approval for all the contracts awarded under the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework came through in late November, which allows for the contract to be signed and detailed planning work to get underway.

The deal between BT and the County Council aims to provide over 80 per cent of Norfolk’s homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband services (24 Megabits per second and above) within three years’ time, with the intention of providing all homes and businesses with access to minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps. Without the County Council’s intervention there would have been no timetable for these improvements to be made and it estimated that only 43 per cent of the county’s premises would be able to access fibre broadband in three years’ time.

The Better Broadband for Norfolk project was launched by Norfolk County Council in order to bring better broadband provision to the large swathes of Norfolk that currently suffer from poor or no broadband access. Last year the council pledged £15 million to help bring this about, and this was matched by central Government as it became one of the first local authorities in the UK to be successful in bidding for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funding.

AMBITIOUS plans intended to give every household and business premise in Suffolk access to broadband speeds of at least 2 megabits per second (Mbps) by the end of 2015, and over 80% access to superfast coverage, took a significant step forward today.

Suffolk County Council and BT signed a contract under the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, for the organisations to work together to revolutionise broadband through the provision of a fibre network by BT. The project will use public and private funds to deliver a fibre network to parts of the county not covered by commercial plans. The contract signing happened at the county council’s Endeavour House headquarters in Ipswich and was attended by six of Suffolk’s MPs.

Openreach, BT’s local network division, will now begin the work on the ground surveying locations around the county. Once these surveys are completed, details of the next stage of the project will be revealed.

It means that within just three years, around 9 out of 10 Suffolk properties are expected to be able to connect to fibre-based broadband which should improve the speed they can access. By March 2014, the entire Waveney Local Enterprise Zone area is expected to access to superfast speeds (24Mbps or more).

Homes and businesses that are harder to reach with a fixed fibre line will be connected using alternative broadband technologies.

Councillor Mark Bee, Suffolk County Council’s leader and chair of the Better Broadband for Suffolk programme board, said:

“When we launched the Better Broadband for Suffolk campaign, we wanted to ensure that everyone who lives and works in our county benefits. Today I’m proud to say that, with BT, we aim to deliver exactly that.

“Improving access to broadband is going to help Suffolk’s economy grow by as much as 20% and create up to 5000 new jobs. There’s a digital divide between Suffolk and the rest of the country but an even more acute disparity between urban and rural Suffolk. The Better Broadband programme is going to close those gaps, boost school attainment and help the public sector to deliver services more efficiently

“I’m delighted that we’ve come such a long way in such a short space of time. In the new year, the first properties are going to start benefiting from the programme and within three years, broadband access across Suffolk is going to be unrecognisable from what it is today.”

During supplier negotiations, officials placed emphasis on the importance of extending access to reliable and upgraded broadband connections to all premises in Suffolk, not just faster speeds where it is easiest to deliver. Only 2% of the hardest to reach premises are expected to have speeds less than 5Mbps.

Bill Murphy, Managing Director, NGA, BT Group, said: “This is great news for Suffolk. The county is ambitious for economic growth and higher-speed broadband services are crucial for delivering that by helping to retain and grow small businesses, providing access to a global online market for entertainment and business opportunities and creating jobs.

“Fibre broadband will bring Suffolk’s predominantly rural economy into the digital fast lane – revitalising small towns, villages and hamlets by making it possible to start and run a connected business from these locations and in the long-term, ensuring local people don’t suffer from a digital divide.”

BT’s network is open to all internet service providers on an equal, wholesale basis, ensuring Suffolk’s homes and businesses will benefit from a highly competitive market, in turn bringing greater choice and affordable prices.

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