Norfolk and Suffolk broadband contract process clears ‘huge hurdle’

The procurement drive for urgently-needed broadband upgrades in the region can finally begin in earnest after the two telecoms companies who can compete for county contracts were revealed last night.

After lengthy negotiations, the Department for Culture Media and Sport has selected BT Wholesale and Fujitsu for its 'national framework', making them the only two firms authorised to bid for the government-funded broadband schemes across the county.

That includes those planned in Norfolk and Suffolk, which are among the first five projects now able to invite tenders from the two communications giants.

This is the point where the 15,000 Norfolk homes and businesses who registered for the EDP-backed Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign will play their part in proving the demand which could tempt either, or both, bidders.

Invitations to tender have already been sent to both companies in the hope they could compete against each other for the right to become the council's private partner and build the county's new superfast infrastructure.

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Karen O'Kane, programme director for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project, has been a central figure in the creation of the national framework, and said she was thrilled to be able to turn her attention to her home county's procurement process.

'I feel elated,' she said. 'This was a huge hurdle for us to get across and it has a big implication for all the counties preparing these projects.

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'For both of the remaining companies to have signed the national contract is great news. At a national level it just provides an added level of competition, and we certainly hope both of them will submit a tender – although it cannot be guaranteed.

'The aggregated information from those 15,000 registrations is now available to bidders, and it will give them a good picture of what demand there is across Norfolk.'

Ian Mackie, Norfolk County Council's deputy leader, said: 'This is excellent news which I very much welcome as it means that we in Norfolk can begin our procurement process in earnest.

'With the registered support of 15,000 people and strong support in terms of financial investment from the county council, I am confident that we have made Norfolk an attractive proposition as possible to the private sector.

'Norfolk people have demonstrated how desperate they are for better broadband in their thousands and our team can't wait to push on with discussions with private sector partners and come up with a proposal which will make real improvements to the lives of those living and working in rural Norfolk, large swathes of which currently suffer from inadequate broadband access.'

The scheme being led by Norfolk County Council aims to upgrade the majority of homes and businesses to internet speeds of 30Mbps (megabits per second). The tenders must be submitted by the end of August and a contract is due to be awarded in the autumn.

Other county schemes in the procurement process include Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and a joint bid by Devon and Somerset.

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