Battle for better Norfolk broadband and mobile phone coverage goes to Westminster

George Freeman, Mid Norfolk MP.

George Freeman, Mid Norfolk MP. - Credit: Archant

The fight for better broadband and mobile phone coverage across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire will today be taken to Westminster - with a call to close the digital divide and get the region connected.

Business leaders and community representatives from across East Anglia will call on Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy, to push for the region to be a test bed for a pilot project to offer better broadband.

George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, who is part of the group which will head to Westminster, said Norfolk had been left behind for too long and that better connections could unlock a 'rural renaissance'.

He said: 'Fast broadband is vital to economic prosperity, especially for rural areas like ours that have been left behind for too long.

'We are meeting with the minister to press our case for getting our rural areas fully connected. I believe we have a chance to unlock a 'rural renaissance' of enterprise – putting more jobs and working people back in our rural communities, so we can have heritage and prosperity.'

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The campaign involves a number of partners including agricultural purchasing co-operative Anglia Farmers, the Country Landowners' Association (CLA), the National Farmers Union, the Federation of Small Businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Mobile phone operator Vodafone has come up with a technology called Open Sure Signal which allows people in areas where coverage is otherwise poor to get 3G mobile signals through existing internet connections.

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The scheme has the backing of Mr Vaizey and the group wants to highlight how Norfolk should be considered for future use of the technology.

Nicola Currie, CLA East regional director, said: 'The countryside is suffering from lack of broadband access, which means it is deprived of a tool that will boost economic growth and promote social inclusion ­– while the current mobile phone infrastructure is simply accentuating the rural-urban digital divide.

'It is down to the government to reduce and, ultimately, resolve this disparity. I sincerely hope Mr Vaizey will listen to our concerns and escalate the need for a swift resolution to the connectivity problems currently facing those living in rural areas.'

And Clarke Willis, chief executive of Anglia Farmers, said: 'As a co-operative we manage more than 14,000 mobile phone contracts on behalf of members and we recognise the frustration which poor signal causes for those trying to live and work in rural areas.

'This visit is an excellent opportunity for us to escalate awareness of these issues to the highest level and push for concrete improvements.'

Through a multi-million partnership between Norfolk County Council and BT, new broadband is being installed across the county.

By the end of next year, more than 80pc of the county should be able to access superfast broadband (at least 24 Megabits a second), with all able to get a minimum speed of at least two Megabits per second

The county council says the scheme means more than 50,000 Norfolk homes and businesses now have access to high speed fibre broadband, a little over a year since the first superfast services were made available in the village of Croxton, near Thetford.

But there remain concerns about mobile phone coverage, with a working group at Norfolk County Council recently meeting officials from Vodafone to call for better services in the county. Last year the EDP launched its Let's Get Connected campaign to highlight the poor mobile phone coverage in parts of the region.

• What do you think of broadband and mobile phone coverage in the region? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR1 1RE.

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