Victory in battle for better broadband in Norfolk

Norfolk is on the brink of a broadband revolution after council leaders revealed the identity of the bidder they want to construct a desperately needed high-speed network across the county.

Norfolk County Council says the tie-up with BT will mean that more than 80pc of Norfolk's homes and businesses will have access to superfast broadband by June 2015,

The county council has secured �15m of government funding to match its own financial stake in the scheme, and yesterday revealed BT is in pole position to put in the fibre optic cables.

Council leaders say the project will bring much-needed internet connections to parts of the county which are currently suffering from slow speeds or no service at all.

The deal would double the number of properties in the county which have access to superfast broadband speeds, classified as 24 megabits per second and above, and would see every single property in Norfolk able to access a minimum of a basic broadband service (at least 2Mbps) by June 2015.

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Ian Mackie, deputy leader at Norfolk County Council and vice-chairman of the Better Broadband for Norfolk Steering Group, said: 'This represents a staggering acceleration in broadband provision in Norfolk. The significance of this deal and this project for the future success of our county cannot be underestimated.

'This is the beginning of the end of the huge broadband inequality that exists in Norfolk and I am so pleased that we have stood up for the interests of Norfolk and brought this about.'

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Council bosses say, without this project, there would be no timetable for these improvements to be made and it estimated that around 57pc of the county's homes and businesses would not be able to access superfast broadband in three years' time.

The department for culture, media and sport had selected BT Wholesale and Fujitsu for its 'national framework', making them the only two firms authorised to bid for contracts, including Norfolk's.

Norfolk was one of the first authorities to get government Broadband Delivery UK cash and, once the contract with BT is signed, the county will be the first in the country to appoint a contractor through it.

BT was the only company to bid, but council officers are convinced the deal offers value for money, with the company pledging to spend �9.3m on the capital costs of installing the broadband infrastructure.

Karen O'Kane, programme director for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project, said the competitive element of the process was carried out during the national framework negotiations.

She said: 'We have that national cost book so we know what things should cost. We evaluated the bid against pre-set criteria and they would need to explain any variations. In terms of long-term sustainability it is absolutely the best mix and the best value on our investment to ensure that everybody gets 2Mbps.'

The company will also cover the ongoing costs of supporting and maintaining the network, although the council said it could not reveal that bill for reasons of business confidentiality.

And, once the infrastructure is put in place, with work to do that set to start next spring. other internet providers would be able to offer services through those cables and cabinets.

The council said it cannot yet give a precise timetable for where work will be done first or when the first customers will be able to get online.

Cabinet members will be asked to give the go-ahead to award the contract to BT Wholesale at a single issue cabinet meeting on Monday.

More than 15,000 Norfolk homes and businesses who registered for the EDP-backed Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign have played their part in proving the demand for the upgrades and encouraging the telecommunications companies to bid.

Ann Steward, the county council's cabinet member for economic development, said the investment would help businesses, schools and families who have been held back by a lack of access.

She said: 'This has been an important project, not only for the council, but for many of you in Norfolk and we have had great support in getting to this stage.

'Thank you to everyone who has helped us, the Eastern Daily Press in particular have been a great advocate for the project and recognised, as we did, what it could achieve for our county.'

Marie Strong, Liberal Democrat county councillor for Wells, who has campaigned on the issue, said: 'I'm delighted. In my division, and I am sure other rural divisions, the news that we have taken another step forward in getting better broadband will be met with jubilation.'

The county council has also pledged to investigate wider issues over digital communication, with mobile phone coverage still poor in many rural parts of Norfolk at a time when 4G networks are offering faster speeds than ever before.

A working party has been set up to look into the issue and councillors have said, with government funding expected to available to improve coverage in the future, Norfolk will be in the front of the queue seeking that cash.

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