‘Community advocates’ can multiply Norfolk’s broadband message

A community call to arms has been issued to help spread the message that public registration is needed to attract private investors to the Better Broadband for Norfolk project.

The lack of an adequate internet infrastructure causes fundamental problems across every section of society.

So the team behind the Better Broadband for Norfolk project wants to reach the widest possible audience by using an army of 'community advocates' to champion its Say Yes campaign.

It is hoped that anyone with access to a wider group of people will volunteer to use their meetings, noticeboards or contact books to spread the word, including parish councils, social clubs, pub landlords, sports clubs and large employers.

And their message to all those battling the daily frustration of snail's-pace connectivity is a simple one: The solution is within your grasp, but it needs mass public support to make it happen.

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Government and council funds totalling �30m have already been secured for the project to bring superfast speeds of at least 30Mbps to large areas of Norfolk, which will 'future-proof' the county's communications networks.

But an equal level of private investment is also required, which is why the Say Yes campaign – jointly backed by the EDP and Norfolk County Council – is aiming to prove the level of consumer demand which will attract the right bidder.

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A registration website will be launched tomorrow, along with postal and telephone options, for individual internet users and businesses to show their interest.

And campaigners said it was crucial for community advocates to inspire their friends, neighbours and families to sign up – and magnify the effectiveness of the campaign.

Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said: 'If you talk to people about things that motivate them or influence their behaviour, then a good friend or neighbour rates very highly. By engaging community leaders and advocates, it is a very important way of reaching people who may not pick up on the mainstream messages, but it is also a far more effective call to action than just a poster or something like that.

'When it comes to private sector match funding, every single number counts. It absolutely needs people to vote with their feet. It is not enough for people to just say they need these services. They need to sign up.'

Ann Steward, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development, said: 'We have proved with the success of other campaigns the importance of working with district councils, MPs, businesses and schools.

'Now we are running this huge campaign, asking people to Say Yes to Better Broadband. We are looking for everyone to help, particularly for the youngsters who are very good with social media.

'I have had a lot of emails from parish councils and it is their time to help get as many people involved as possible. We also have a lot of businesses with a large number of employees who share the same issues with their broadband at home so they can say to them: 'Please help'.

'If people want to campaign in their village shops or halls, then please come forward. We will be delighted to help you.'

Tony Nash, a Cromer town councillor and chairman of the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, said the group's membership of more than 4,000 local representatives could become influential advocates of the campaign.

'We will be backing this wholeheartedly,' he said. 'As far as our association is concerned, we are actively promoting that all our councils and councillors should be online, and a good number of them are doing that.

'The message is that because broadband is particularly slow – and non-existent in some areas of rural Norfolk – it has been an uphill struggle. So we will be highly supportive of this campaign and will encourage all our individual councils and councillors to spread the message.

'We have got roughly 4,000 councillors in Norfolk, so if you are aiming this at a lot of people, that is a good start. There is no reason not to think that a good majority of them will be on board.'

Karen O'Kane, programme director for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project, said: 'This campaign is about proving the sheer mass of people who will use the service. The businesses will be important for driving the economic benefit of broadband, but it is the residential customers who will create the critical mass in getting the ISPs (internet service providers) interested in providing the service.

'We would love big companies and schools to get their employees and students involved.

'We could do with the parents all registering when their kids get home because for home-working it is one of the major benefits of transforming the economic side. There are so many other benefits.'

For full details on the registration options for faster broadband, see tomorrow's EDP.

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