Time to make a difference for Norfolk’s broadband

Today's the day the people of Norfolk can help bring an end to the county's broadband frustrations. Rural affairs correspondent CHRIS HILL reports.

This morning a special website will be launched giving everyone in Norfolk the chance to register their support for a superfast internet upgrade.

It will allow domestic broadband users and businesses the chance to show their interest in being offered download speeds in excess of 30Mbps (megabits per second).

This 'demand stimulation' exercise is a central part of the joint EDP and Norfolk County Council campaign which is urging as many people as possible to Say Yes to Better Broadband. And it is a vital stage of the project to future-proof the county's communications networks by providing superfast connections as widely as possible.

People power will be crucial in attracting the best possible commercial partner to match the �30m of public investment already secured from the government and the county council.

As each registration makes the county more attractive to telecoms industry bidders, the hope is that tens of thousands will sign up before the end of March, when the formal procurement process will begin.

The formal launch will begin at 11am with an event for invited guests at The Forum, followed by a sign-up event from 11.30am until 5pm, where the public will be able to register their interest and show their support for the project.

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Details can also be entered via telephone, or by filling in printed forms distributed through libraries or council customer service centres.

Ann Steward, the council's cabinet member for economic development, and deputy leader Ian Mackie will be among the first to enter their details and appear as numbers on the big-screen counter which will keep track of the first day's registrations.

'Today is an important day,' said Mrs Steward. 'It means we are taking a significant step closer to the delivery of broadband across the whole of Norfolk. People can come and talk to us, and there are lots of ways they can sign up.

'By signing up, it shows we need the market to go ahead and do it. It was clear from the campaign that we ran to secure the funding that Norfolk's need was greater than other counties'. This is a vital step in getting broadband of at least 2Mbps for everyone, and superfast wherever we can. We need as many people as possible to sign up.'

Without the intervention of the project, it is estimated that about 60pc of Norfolk's population would still not be able to access superfast broadband by 2015.

Currently more than 50,000 private and commercial properties across the county are in broadband 'not spots', either having no broadband access at all, or suffering very slow internet speeds of less than 2Mbps.

Karen O'Kane, programme director for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project, said the registration process would not oblige anybody to take up any future services, and that the data would be securely protected.

'The first thing is we are gathering information and we will use that statistically so no-one will be able to identify you,' she said. 'You will have a chance to opt-out at the end of the registration to say that you don't want anyone to contact you individually.

'The information will be securely held in a professional manner. And, we are not gathering financial information or anything like that. It is mainly names, addresses, whether you want superfast broadband and what you would be prepared to pay for it. It is less information than a supermarket would hold about your loyalty card.'

The Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign aims to bring superfast broadband (at least 30Mbps) to as many people as possible, and a minimum of 2Mbps for everyone in Norfolk.

To encourage the most competitive bids from prospective partners in the telecoms industry, we need as many people as possible to register their interest in the scheme.

You can register online from 11am today at www.norfolk.gov.uk/sayyesnorfolk or by calling 0344 800 8023.

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