Norfolk – a county full of broadband not spots

As the EDP and county council urge businesses to get behind a campaign to bring better broadband to the whole of Norfolk, Victoria Leggett looks at the county's internet hot spots and not spots.

Talk to anyone in Norfolk and they will all have their own story to tell of broadband nightmares.

From their favourite television programme crashing ten minutes before the end as they watch it on the iPlayer, to managing to bring their entire office to a standstill by sending one too many photographs in an email, we have all been there.

But this map created by the county council shows just how big the issue of broadband 'not spots' and slow spots is across the whole of Norfolk.

Each spot on the map represents an exchange from where broadband is sent out to homes and businesses in the surrounding area.

But despite those dozens of exchanges, only the coloured areas, representing a radius of 2.5km, are likely to benefit from speeds of at least 2Mbps.

That means the great swathes of white on the county council's map – including areas like Marham in the west and Sea Palling on the north Norfolk coast – are likely to get only very slow speeds, or even nothing at all.

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Karen O'Kane, head of ICT at Norfolk County Council, said: 'The government says 2Mbps is the minimum speed people should be getting by 2015. If you've got less than that, you can still do simple things like view simple websites and send basic emails but the problem, of course, is that in the last five years or so the things people want to do online have got much more demanding.

'Online gaming or downloading and watching television programmes all need at the very least 2Mbps.'

When it comes to businesses, the needs are even greater and many rural companies can find it a struggle just to send out an email with a few attachments.

Mark Hodges, chairman of Shaping Norfolk's Future and chief executive of Aviva UK, said the many not spots and slow spots across the county were holding businesses back.

He said: 'Broadband is essential for many businesses looking to trade nationally and globally. Businesses which use broadband effectively are able to reach new markets, become more competitive and efficient.

'Norfolk's economic and entrepreneurial potential is currently being held back by the lack of fast and reliable broadband, most notably in the rural areas.'

The problem is caused by the fact that the majority of Norfolk's exchanges – shown by the green areas – are still reliant on first generation broadband technology.

Miss O'Kane said that meant broadband was sent down the existing network of copper telephone lines which are capable of producing speeds of up to 8Mbps.

But she added: 'The signal gets slower the further away from the exchange it gets. By the time it gets 2.5km away - about the circumference of those coloured blobs - it means the signal is likely to be less than 2Mbps.'

In areas where the wires have to travel to a very large number of premises, that speed could drop even more quickly.

Miss O'Kane said the Reepham exchange was particularly poor. 'That whole area is terrible,' she said. 'Lyng, just a few villages away, is another community we have been talking to a lot about what can be done to help them.'

For those businesses and communities covered by a purple spot, the situation is slightly better. These exchanges now have LLU technology – or local loop unbundled – meaning they can provide speeds of up to 20Mbps.

But with the equipment still reliant on the old copper wires to transport the signal to computers, the speed still drops off very quickly.

Only people working and living in areas covered by a blue spot can afford to feel really confident about their connection - or at least will be able to by the end of 2012.

These are the exchanges BT has pledged to upgrade to fibre optic cables over the next 18 months.

It all means, even by the end of 2012, 62pc of the Norfolk population will still be without access to at least 2Mbps.

Miss O'Kane said that was only expected to drop to 58pc by 2015. She said: 'That shows how little progress will be made – unless, of course, we can do something about it.'