Hopes for faster broadband in rural Norfolk

A faster connection?

A faster connection? - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

People living in rural pockets of Norfolk who have been told they would have to wait three years for improved internet connections are being offered an alternative which could put them in the broadband fast lane within a month.

Norfolk County Council signed a £30m deal with BT in December last year, promising to provide 80pc of the county's businesses and properties with access to superfast fibre broadband.

Council bosses said the county's 'not spots' – where there is little or no internet access – would have a minimum speed of two megabits per second (Mbps) by Autumn 2015.

But Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman has told the EDP he is 'worried' about that wait for rural areas.

Mr Freeman campaigned with the council for the £15m grant from the government's Broadband Delivery UK, which was matched by the council.

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But he said: 'We can't wait three years.

'I continue to support the council and BD UK Rural Broadband Scheme, but feel that we can't just sit on our hands and wait for BT when there is a range of innovative local schemes out there.

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'If you are in a rural part of Norfolk and in a 'not-spot' it's incredibly debilitating.'

This Friday he will hold a public meeting to showcase other internet providers available to the region, many whom can fit a connection within a month.

He described broadband as 'absolutely key', and an essential tool in boosting the economy.

'Rural Norfolk is being seriously held back by poor telecoms and broadband.

'Our area has hundreds of micro businesses and self-employed entrepreneurs working close to home, young people who need remote access to learning and job opportunities, families and pensioners who need access to e-health and public services', he said.

'Rural areas like ours can lead in the rebalancing of the economy, we can lead in a rural renaissance.'

The meeting in Watton will have three local providers, Norwich-based provider ITSwisp, which has installed meshed wireless system covering large rural areas; Rural Broadband, offering satellite broadband with specialist routers, and WISpire, which puts transmitters and receivers on top of churches to give signals across villages. Efforts leading up to the deal between BT and the county council are said to have been ongoing for two years, and included the EDP's Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign.

County Council Conservative group leader, Bill Borrett said Norfolk is the first county in the country to take up the government scheme, and said the work is being done 'as fast as we can'.

He said: 'I am always a believer in choice. It gets people service.'

And a BT spokesman said the company welcomes any initiative which highlights the benefits offered by broadband and explains the technologies available.

'A multi million pound engineering operation of this kind cannot, of course, be completed overnight. But fibre broadband offers great benefits and speeds much faster than alternative technologies.

'And, unlike some network operators, BT is experienced in delivering large-scale fibre networks which are open and on an equal basis to all service providers. This means competition can thrive and people have a choice of suppliers and prices.'

The seminar will be on Friday at Barn Ruche, Thetford Road, Watton, from 6-8pm.

For more information or to confirm your attendance email george.freeman.mp@parliament.uk

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