Norfolk website users urged to sign up to campaign for faster broadband providers
The crucial task of proving the widespread demand which will tempt private investment in the Better Broadband for Norfolk project has begun. Rural affairs correspondent CHRIS HILL reports.
Norfolk took its first hopeful steps towards a new technological era as the mission to prove the undeniable demand for better broadband began in earnest.
A registration website was launched at The Forum, in Norwich, yesterday, aimed at gathering data from tens of thousands of internet users in a bid to entice private investment in a scheme to upgrade the county's networks. The site collected more than 1,200 entries on the first day.
The Better Broadband for Norfolk project has set the target of equipping the majority of the county's neglected 'not-spots' with superfast speeds of at least 30 Mbps (megabits per second) by 2015.
It has already secured �30m in public funding, but needs a similar amount from the telecoms industry in order to obtain the best value solution for Norfolk.
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And to convince potential bidders of the overwhelming consumer demand for the improvements, the Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign, run jointly by the EDP and Norfolk County Council, needs as many people as possible to sign up.
Among the councillors, community leaders and business people who lined up to become the first to register were Ann Steward, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development.
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'The importance of painting an accurate picture of the demand that exists in Norfolk cannot be understated,' she said.
'We know that many individuals, families, businesses and communities are held back and frustrated by poor broadband access.
'Now we need a sheer volume of people to show they want a better broadband service so we can ultimately get a deal that means the Better Broadband for Norfolk project can get superfast broadband out to as many properties as possible.
'We really need everyone's support on this.'
Mrs Steward told invited guests that the website launch was an 'exciting new phase' in the project, which won �15m in government funding last May to match the council's own financial commitment.
'I strongly believe the news that our Back the Bid campaign had been deemed worthy of a pound-for-pound investment by the government was one of the best things that has happened to Norfolk for many a year – and possibly ever,' she said. 'The dream of covering as much of Norfolk as possible in superfast broadband from March 2015 onwards can become a reality in just a couple of years' time to the benefit of us all.'
EDP editor Peter Waters said: 'It is impossible to over-state how important it is that this project succeeds in achieving better broadband speeds for everyone whose lives and businesses are suffering from the lack of a decent connection.
'But it is equally important that people take this opportunity which has been given to them to genuinely influence a positive change for themselves and for future generations.
'We really need as many people as possible to get involved – not just by saying they back our campaign, but by making that small effort to register their details and prove to the private sector that it is worth their while investing in Norfolk.'
Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, also signed up at the event.
'This is an excellent kick-start for the campaign to get Norfolk people to sign up,' he said.
'It is the most important indicator to the private sector that there is a strong consumer demand for better broadband in Norfolk.
'That is the main driver and trigger for that private sector investment to make sure the broadband campaign reaches the maximum number of people in Norfolk, and particularly in rural Norfolk.'
Following the launch, Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy, said: 'My hope now is that people will see that the county council has done their bit.
'Now it is up to the people of Norfolk to back us up and register so we can get faster broadband. The ball is in their court.'
To register, visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/sayyesnorfolk or call 0344 800 8023. A direct link to the website is available in the links section to the top right of this page.