Progress being made on Norfolk’s broadband project
The first homes and businesses set to benefit from a multi-million pound broadband project are just 18 months away from receiving better internet speeds.
Work has begun on the early stages of the scheme which will eventually ensure every household in Norfolk has access to a decent broadband service.
It follows the government's decision earlier this year to award Norfolk County Council �15m to invest in the ambitious scheme, which will cost a total of �60m.
Now officers at the authority have begun laying the groundwork which will, by September next year, lead to a private telecoms company being awarded a contract to carry out the work and create a new broadband infrastructure across the county.
Whichever company is chosen will be expected to make a financial contribution of about �30m to match the public sector investment which includes �15m from the county council.
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In May, the authority was told its bid was one of just three to be approved in the first round of funding from the government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).
Since then, officers have been working hard to finalise a 'broadband plan' for Norfolk which includes a timetable for the scheme.
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Ann Steward, county council cabinet member for economic development, said being awarded the money at the earliest opportunity meant the authority had been able to make good progress already.
'It is a huge undertaking to connect every property in the county to the broadband network and ensure everyone gets a minimum level of service, and just the process to award the contract itself is a fairly lengthy one by law,' she said.
'We are so much closer than we were just a few months ago and it's fantastic to be able to say for certain in just over 18 months' time the first homes and businesses will be receiving better broadband as a result of the project.'
Following the selection of the private sector company charged with delivering the project, work to install the infrastructure should begin in January 2013 with the new broadband service available to some properties not long afterwards.
By March 2015, every single home and business in Norfolk should have access to speeds of at least 2Mbps with many parts of the county able to receive superfast broadband of at least 30Mbps for the first time.
The county council will soon begin identifying how many homes and businesses in the Norfolk would be interested in the new service.
The decision by BDUK to award Norfolk the �15m grant followed the EDP's Back the Broadband Bid campaign earlier this year.
It brought together the county's business communities and encourage them to talk about the problems they faced because of Norfolk's poor broadband service.
In total, more than 200 business leaders and organisations representing around 130,000 employees supported the campaign.
Mrs Steward: 'People in our county, particularly but not exclusively in rural areas, are being disadvantaged by no or slow broadband access and this has ramifications for our economy but also for people's lifestyles, including their educational, social and financial choices and opportunities.'
Research by the county council shows the Better Broadband for Norfolk project could lead to the creation of an extra 1,337 and boost the county's economy by more than �401m over 10 years by removing the barriers to growth, flexibility and efficiency in the county.
There are currently 50,000 private and commercial properties across the county stuck in so-called broadband 'not-spots'.