A contract that will bring about tens of millions of pounds of public and private investment in Norfolk’s superfast broadband fibre network has been made official today (Friday, 21 December).
The historic deal between Norfolk County Council and BT aims to nearly double the number of Norfolk homes and businesses able to access superfast broadband within three years. The multimillion pound deal is the culmination of two years’ work by the council which saw it secure £15 million of Government funding last year to tackle broadband inequality in the county.The project intends to eliminate broadband ‘not spots’ by the autumn of 2015.
BT’s Managing Director of Next Generation Access (NGA) Bill Murphy came to County Hall in Norwich this morning to meet with councillors and senior officers at the council and formally launch the project. Norfolk County Council is the first local authority nationally to sign a contract with a private sector partner through the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contract framework.
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: "Today's announcement is wonderful news for the people of Norfolk who will see the number of properties with access to superfast Broadband doubled over the next three years. We're aiming for the UK to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015, and there are many more projects like Norfolk getting underway around the nation over the next few months."
Ann Steward, Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Norfolk County Council, said: “What a fantastic Christmas present this contract is for Norfolk. It brings the promise of better broadband access and speeds for thousands of properties, with the first services due to be available by this time next year.
“We know how many people and businesses are frustrated by slow or no broadband access in Norfolk, it’s one of the biggest issues facing our county. It has far-reaching implications, on our competitiveness, on our learning opportunities and on Norfolk’s attractiveness as a place to live, work and do business.
“This is why when the opportunity arose to receive Government funding to bring better broadband to Norfolk, we acted swiftly and invested £15 million in the project, and were rewarded with the same figure from BDUK, making us one of the first counties to be successful in getting Government backing.
“With the contract now signed, work on the project will get underway in the new year. Over the next three years Norfolk will be transformed as networks are upgraded and better broadband becomes available in large parts of the county, including in many of our more rural locations. Norfolk stands to benefit from this investment for decades to come, and we're extremely proud to be bringing this about for the county.”
Bill Murphy, Managing Director, NGA, BT Group said: “This project will move Norfolk well and truly into the broadband fast lane with fibre being rolled out to the majority of the
county. With the internet central to virtually every aspect of modern life, Norfolk’s lack of good broadband access has been a key concern to both businesses and residents alike.
“Norfolk needs access to high speed broadband so it can continue to be recognised as a good place to do business and live. The number and quality of services, facilities and applications that businesses and individuals are able to access due to high speed broadband is increasing, and the benefits are rising exponentially. This project should prove to be the much needed catalyst to help regenerate the county’s predominantly rural economy.”
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, said: "Rural Broadband has the potential to unlock a revival of Norfolk's local rural economy, creating vibrant villages and thriving towns by making it possible to start and run a connected business from rural locations.
"But Norfolk's many small businesses, and our economic potential, is being held back by slow, and in many cases, non-existent Broadband.
"Today’s announcement of a major investment by BT alongside Government and Norfolk County Council is great news. Now we must move fast to make sure that fast broadband is rolled out to the most rural areas and 'not spots' as fast as possible, to stop rural areas being left behind."
While the County Council’s Cabinet approved BT as its supplier for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project in September, European Union state aid approval for all the contracts awarded under the BDUK framework came through in late November, allowing for the contract to be signed.
With the deal official, Openreach, BT’s local network division, will now begin the work on the ground surveying locations around the county. This will allow BT to refine its draft designs to roll out its fibre network across the county to help ensure as many properties as possible can receive superfast broadband for the investment available.
Once these surveys are completed, details of the next stage of the project, which will see work to upgrade a number of the major exchanges in Norfolk, will be revealed. The first new services made possible by the upgraded infrastructure are due to be available by the end of 2013, with other exchange areas set to be upgraded in phases over the following two years and the project set for completion by autumn 2015.
The Better Broadband for Norfolk project was launched by Norfolk County Council in order to bring better broadband provision to the large swathes of Norfolk that currently suffer from poor or no broadband access.
Last year the council pledged £15 million to help bring this about, and this was matched by central Government as it became one of the first local authorities in the UK to be successful in bidding for BDUK funding.
In addition to covering the ongoing costs of supporting and maintaining the network, BT will make a £11 million contribution towards the cost of installing the fibre infrastructure, bringing the total investment in the project to £41 million.
The deal between BT and the County Council means that over 80 per cent of Norfolk’s homes and businesses are expected to be able to access superfast broadband services (24 megabits per second and above) within three years time, with the intention of providing all homes and businesses with access to minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps. Without the County Council’s intervention there would have been no timetable for these improvements to be made and it is estimated that only 43 per cent of the county’s premises would be able to access fibre broadband in three years’ time.
The County Council appointed BT as its partner in the Better Broadband for Norfolk project following a competitive bidding process that ran over the summer. BT’s network is open to all internet service providers on an equal, wholesale basis, ensuring Norfolk’s consumers and businesses will benefit from a highly competitive market, in turn bringing greater choice and affordable prices.
Fibre to the cabinet technology, which delivers broadband speeds up to 80Mbps will be the main technology deployed and fibre to the premises technology – delivering speeds of up to 330Mbps 1 – will also be deployed in certain areas and will be available on demand throughout the whole of the fibre footprint should local businesses want the ultra-fast speed it offers 2.
1 80Mbps and 330Mbps are wholesale speeds. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may use different speeds in their advertising. Individual line speeds will depend on network infrastructure and the service chosen by the ISP
2 Openreach intend to levy an installation charge for FTTP on demand when the product is launched. It will be up to service providers to decide whether they pass that onto businesses or consumers wishing to take advantage of the product