Improving Norfolk’s broadband: It’s up to you

After �30m of public funding was secured to improve the county's broadband, it is now up to the people of Norfolk to prove the demand which will attract private investment.

The overwhelming argument for upgrading Norfolk's stuttering internet links may have been won by business leaders and politicians – but the crucial next step will depend on the public.

Though �30m in public funding has been secured to bring superfast broadband to thousands more people, a similar amount of private investment is still needed if the project is to reach its full potential.

And the right bidder will only come forward if Norfolk can convince them there is enough demand to make the scheme viable – which is where your help is vitally needed.

The EDP has teamed up with Norfolk County Council to launch the Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign aiming to generate a 'critical mass' of interest from every section of society.

While last year's joint Back the Bid campaign succeeded in proving the economic case for the superfast upgrade, it will be the potential size of the market that will lure one of the major telecoms companies to join the project.

That's why as many people as possible are needed to register their interest to prove the county's urgent need for better broadband and attract competitive bids for the eventual contract.

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On Wednesday, the council will launch a demand registration website to collect details from tens of thousands of individual users before the procurement process begins in April. In the meantime, you can complete and return the printed form in today's EDP.

Campaigners are urging the whole of Norfolk's population to help the project team's ambitions to unlock broadband speeds of 30Mbps (megabits per second) for as many people as possible – and provide a minimum standard of 2Mbps for all.

That will instantly make it possible for families to speed up basic tasks like shopping, banking, entertainment and conversation – as well as providing a network capable of dealing with the technological advances of the future.

Ann Steward, the council's cabinet member for economic development, said: 'Norfolk has missed out for far too long. This is a basic infrastructure need.

'If you look at businesses, their methods are changing and more people are considering home working. Even youngsters can't do their homework if they have no broadband at home and that won't help them build their skills or their future.

'The more people we can get to sign up gets us that step closer to unlocking Norfolk for the future.'

Deputy council leader Ian Mackie said even those with adequate broadband speeds at the moment should still register.

'This is future-proofing for the entire county,' he said.

'Whether you need it now or whether you need an upgrade in the future, as a county it benefits everybody to have the best technology. It means we won't be behind the curve.

'We are building capacity for long-term capability. Everybody has an important role to play so we're saying: 'Come on, Norfolk people, support this campaign and get the best deal for your county and your future'.

'This is about driving the best possible deal for Norfolk as a whole and encouraging the right supplier. The bigger the response, the better the bidder.'

Slow internet speed is repeatedly highlighted as one of the most debilitating barriers to business and social interaction in Norfolk.

But without the intervention of the Better Broadband for Norfolk project only 40pc of this sparsely populated county is expected to benefit from the next phase of commercial upgrades.

The successful Back the Bid campaign helped bring the award of �15m in government funding for the project last May, to match the county council's commitment of �15m.

EDP editor Peter Waters said: 'We were all thrilled when the government agreed to match-fund the county council's proposed investment in better broadband after our joint Back the Bid campaign – but that was only laying the foundation.

'Now the real building works begins, and the success of that will depend on the people of Norfolk.

'If we're to have future-proof, superfast internet access then the demand must be evident to any potential private sector investor, and that's why we are asking everyone to complete the form and send it in.

'The more people take part, the more chance we have of achieving something that will have a lasting impact on the county, both for the public and business.'

You can register your interest in superfast broadband through the county council's new website from Wednesday, or by completing and returning the form printed in today's EDP. There will be no obligation to subscribe to services when they are launched, but by registering your interest you can play your part in helping Norfolk get better broadband.

For more on the Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign, see tomorrow's EDP.

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