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Back our Norfolk broadband bid

PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:16 29 March 2011

Generic image of a person typing on a laptop with a mouse

Generic image of a person typing on a laptop with a mouse

Archant Norfolk Photographic / James Bass © 2011

A rallying call has been issued to the county’s business community to help secure millions of pounds in funding to bring the next generation of broadband to Norfolk.

What would it fund?

Any funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) would go towards ensuring the whole of Norfolk has access to broadband speeds of at least 2mbps.

According to Karen O’Kane, head of ICT at Norfolk County Council, this could be achieved through a mixture of different technologies.

She said: “We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where lots of people end up with really good speeds but a small proportion end up with nothing at all. We are looking for a plan for the whole of the county.”

That plan will need to fulfil two key requirements, according to the county council. Firstly, it must be future-proof – meaning any advancements in technology in the future can be easily incorporated into the existing infrastructure. Secondly, it must be open to as many broadband providers as possible to ensure there is a competitive market and customers are not forced to use one company.

Miss O’Kane said fibre optic cables would be the council’s first choice.

It is thought fibre technology, which maintains speeds along the length of the cable unlike copper wiring, could reach 85pc of the county.

And, although the cable is expensive to lay, the equipment at either end of the cable could be updated as the technology improved, Miss O’Kane said.

For any areas not accessible via fibre cables, the council expects to see a mix of wireless transmitters – which can deliver broadband to properties within a range of between 8km and 15km – satellite, and mobile phone signals used.

As the EDP and Norfolk County Council launched their joint Broadband: Back the Bid campaign today, they called on the area’s employers and entrepreneurs to tell the government how a superfast internet connection could transform their company.

Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, the county council, in conjunction with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and Shaping Norfolk’s Future, needs to gather a mountain of hard-hitting evidence which will show the economic benefits of bringing the latest broadband technology to Norfolk.

On April 15, those testimonials will be hand-delivered to the government as part of a multi-million pound bid to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

Last night Derrick Murphy, county council leader, said: “We want Norfolk to be a place where we encourage new skills, boost the economy and create jobs. Broadband will be essential for that and will enable us to really exploit the economic opportunities for the county.”

BDUK, which was set up to bring superfast broadband within reach of urban and rural communities across the country, has a total of £530m to award during this parliament.

The cost of bringing speeds of at least 2 megabits per second, and up to 40 Mbps, to the whole of Norfolk is expected to be between £70m and £80m. A successful bid to BDUK could fund at least £10m of that.

Last night Peter Waters, EDP editor, urged readers to help secure that money. He said: “For too long Norfolk has been overlooked by broadband companies. Over and over again, our towns and villages have missed out as the latest super-fast technology is rolled out to other parts of the country, leaving our communities languishing behind as they sit waiting for a page to load or an email to send.

“It is time the county took matters into its own hands but this bid will only succeed if Norfolk works together. We want to hear from every business in the county – no matter how big or small – to find out how access to better broadband would help them grow, create jobs and boost the area’s economy.”

BDUK believes that, by 2015, two-thirds of the country will have access to superfast broadband thanks to private sector investment and it aims to bring the “final third” up to speed.

But Karen O’Kane, head of ICT at Norfolk County Council, said in Norfolk private sector investment was likely to provide for less than half of the county, leaving more than 50pc in need of public sector support.

Last night business leaders and rural campaigners backed the EDP campaign.

Caroline Williamson, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said a fit-for-purpose broadband infrastructure was vital to ensure the county’s businesses kept up with the competition. She said: “Norfolk Chamber has been lobbying hard for better broadband speeds so welcomes this new initiative.

“It will be business which drives the Norfolk economy going forward. However businesses need a better communication infrastructure to help them compete effectively. Fast broadband in no longer a ‘nice to have’ but essential for any modern business.”

Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said a better broadband infrastructure had the potential to address some of the major issues facing rural communities.

Better internet access would stop businesses moving out of local communities and allow more people to work from home.

He added: “It’s also important in terms of strengthening communities. If you have got more people living and working in a community, there are more people around in the day which reduces the possibility of communities becoming dormant.”

EDP editor Mr Waters agreed that the funding available from BDUK would not just have a positive impact on the county’s business community.

He said: “This funding will bring superfast broadband to the vast majority of this rural county.

“Children struggling to get their homework done, parents desperate to find a better gas, electricity or insurance deal, and grandparents wanting to keep in touch with their grandchildren, will all benefit.

“So we also want workers to take the form to their bosses and ask them to fill it in.”

Mr Murphy said he also wanted communities to get in touch with the county council to share their stories. He added: “Broadband is so important to everybody. It is vitally important that these people write in and offer their support too. This bid could bring enormous economic benefits, but also social benefits.”

In tomorrow’s EDP, we look at the broadband hot spots and not spots across the county.

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