‘Astronomical’ broadband surge for Norfolk and Suffolk
More than 200,000 internet users in Norfolk and Suffolk could see an 'astronomical' surge in broadband speeds next year as super-fast telecoms investment gathers pace.
BT's local network business Openreach has today announced that nine exchanges in Norfolk and 12 in Suffolk will be upgraded to next-generation fibre technology as part of its �2.5bn nationwide improvement programme.
It will boost connectivity for up to 85,000 homes and businesses in Norfolk and 134,000 in Suffolk – with some expected to achieve download speeds of up to 100Mb/s by the time engineers complete the work next autumn.
In Norfolk, the latest exchanges to be upgraded are at Norwich West, Brundall, Caister-on-Sea, Gorleston, Norwich Thorpe, Thetford, Costessey and King's Lynn.
In Suffolk, they are at Lowestoft, Beccles, Bungay, Mildenhall, Ipswich, Sudbury, Felixstowe, Foxall, Belstead, Hadleigh, Stowmarket, Whitton and Woodbridge.
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The investment has been welcomed by business leaders and politicians, particularly those involved in the new enterprise zone covering Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
And it could also mean that public funding put towards a separate �60m Norfolk County Council broadband project could be stretched further.
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Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development at Norfolk County Council, said: 'This is exciting news for Norfolk and fantastic that our work to raise the profile of our county nationally is paying off.
'It is particularly pleasing that some exchanges in the Great Yarmouth area will be upgraded, coming so soon after the news that the town, together with Lowestoft, is to become an enterprise zone.
'This is exactly the kind of shot in the arm this area needs – and will make the town an even more attractive location for companies.'
The planned upgrade includes three exchanges within the new enterprise zone covering Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, confirmed in August, which aims to create up to 13,500 jobs and attract 200 businesses during the next 25 years.
New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) chairman Andy Wood welcomed improvements to the broadband infrastructure, which are crucial to the project's success.
'We recognise the importance of the private sector working in partnership with the public sector,' he said. 'This investment is another step towards ensuring SMEs [small and medium enterprises] across both rural and urban areas are able to thrive and grow in line with their competitors across the rest of the UK and abroad.'
Openreach aims to supply fibre broadband to the most economically-viable two-thirds of the UK by the end of 2015. The largely remote and rural 'final third' is expected to be reached by local authorities with the help of government funding.
Earlier this year, Norfolk County Council was awarded �15m for its 'Better Broadband for Norfolk' project, which will be matched with �15m of council funds and �30m from a commercial partner.
The decision by the government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) to award Norfolk the �15m grant followed the EDP's Back the Broadband Bid campaign earlier this year.
It brought together the county's business communities and encouraged them to talk about the problems they faced because of Norfolk's poor broadband service.
The aim is to provide a minimum 2Mb/s speed to all Norfolk premises, and superfast 30Mb/s to as many as possible.
Karen O'Kane, the authority's head of ICT, said Openreach's private sector investment was 'great news' for the council's ambitions.
'It not only means that people in these areas will be able to get faster broadband sooner than expected, but also that we will be able to make superfast broadband available to more properties than we had originally planned,' she said.
The new network will comprise a mix of 'fibre to the cabinet' (FTTC) and 'fibre to the premises' (FTTP) technologies. FTTP, where the fibre goes directly to homes and businesses, can offer speeds of up to 100Mb/s.
Six of Norfolk's 142 exchanges had previously been announced on BT's upgrade schedule. When the current round of work is complete, the total number of customers able to access the county's new network is estimated at 131,000.
Dave Hughes, BT's regional director for the East of England, said: 'Our latest investment will propel internet users at home and at work into the 21st-century fast lane, and marks another milestone in the development of Norfolk and Suffolk's next-generation communications.
'As today's investment demonstrates, BT is playing its part in delivering faster broadband across the UK – but there needs to be a collective effort to ensure no part of Norfolk is left behind.'
Access to the completed network will be offered to other service providers to ensure a competitive market.
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