What happens next for Norfolk’s Better Broadband bid?
Having established the overwhelming demand for better broadband in Norfolk, the next stage for the county's project team is to find its private partner.
The Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign, run jointly by the EDP and Norfolk County Council, has brought in more than 13,500 registrations, proving the public demand for a project to install a superfast upgrade across the majority of the county.
Although �30m of public funding has been secured, a similar amount of investment will be needed from a private telecoms company for the scheme to reach its full potential.
The council's project team has worked with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to help create a 'national framework contract' which will speed the eventual procurement process.
Three remaining bidders are being evaluated – BT, Fujitsu and the Final Third consortium – any or all of which could be selected as agreed suppliers when the framework is announced later this month.
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As soon as that happens, Norfolk, along with Devon, Somerset and Wiltshire, will be the first counties to use the completed national framework as the basis for a localised 'call-off contract'.
The agreed suppliers will be asked to bid for Norfolk's contract, which will involve creating a detailed computer-modelled implementation plan, outlining which combination of wireless or fibre-optic technologies will gain maximum coverage.
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From those tenders, Norfolk County Council will choose its partner. The contract is expected to be awarded in summer, which will then prompt a further series of more detailed investigations. It is anticipated that installation work will begin early next year.
Karen O'Kane, programme director for the Better Broadband project, said: 'The winning bidder will spend about three months around Norfolk inspecting to make sure the assumptions they have made are correct. So if they have assumed there are working ducts between place A and place B they will have to physically lift the manhole covers to be sure.'
Miss O'Kane said the project team would not insist on any local priority areas to be connected first.
'We are asking for an optimum design and we are asking our partner to bring their professional knowledge to bear,' she said. 'But they will clearly be considering our registration information and if there are two villages to be done and one has three times more registrations than the other, then clearly they would take that under consideration.'