Published: Wednesday, 15th February 2017
An extension to Norfolk County Council and BT’s Better Broadband for Norfolk (BBfN) programme means even more homes and businesses in Norfolk will be able to access a high-speed broadband connection.
More than £11 million of new funding is being invested in the latest tranche of BBfN’s rollout of superfast broadband in the county, and as a result the availability of high-speed broadband is set to be extended to more than 95 per cent of Norfolk’s premises by spring 2020.
Five of Norfolk’s district councils – Breckland, Broadland, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk and South Norfolk – have committed over £3m which has been match funded by central government, and this money will be spent to improve broadband coverage and speeds specifically in these five districts. The rest of the funding is made up of the gainshare ‘success dividend’ from BT from the first contract which has been made available following a higher than expected take-up of broadband services in some areas. In addition, around £10m of underspend from the first contract will be re-invested into this phase of the broadband roll-out.
This will bring the total investment in the BBfN programme to £68m since it launched at the end of 2012. Since then, hundreds of roadside broadband cabinets and thousands of miles of fibre-optic cables have been installed in the county. This means that 87 per cent of households and businesses in Norfolk can get a superfast broadband service (24 Megabits per second and above), more than double the number who could get these speeds four years ago before the BBfN programme got underway (42%).
The BBfN programme is part of Norfolk County Council’s drive to make Norfolk an even more attractive place to live, work and do business. Widespread availability of high-speed broadband is vital in helping the county’s rural businesses to thrive and attracting employers to the area, as well as increasing children’s and adults’ learning opportunities, reducing social isolation and enabling people to work from home and shop and bank online.
Cliff Jordan, Leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “In just a few years we’ve made a huge difference to tens of thousands of people living and working in the county. Bringing high-speed broadband to 95 per cent of homes and businesses will be a great achievement but we won’t be satisfied until everyone in Norfolk can access a good broadband service. So we will continue to push for more investment and make the money we already have go as far as possible.”
Tim Whitley, BT’s regional director for the East of England, said: “The new funding from the district councils, when added to the gainshare success dividend of £5.2m based on good take-up of the service already deployed, will enable the Better Broadband for Norfolk programme to reach even more homes and businesses with high-speed broadband. BT’s network now reaches more than 370,000 homes and businesses across the county when you combine it with our commercial rollout. We’re aware there’s more to do, and the roll-out continues into 2020.”
Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: "In just four years, our rollout of superfast broadband has doubled the number of premises in Norfolk who can get superfast speeds. But we know that more needs to be done. This is why the Government together with five of Norfolk's district councils and BT are now investing another £11 million in taking superfast broadband to thousands more local homes and businesses."
To coincide with the programme extension, the BBfN website, www.betterbroadbandnorfolk.co.uk, has been improved to make it easier for people to find out if an address in Norfolk is likely to be able to access high-speed broadband if it can’t already. Using a new mapping tool, people can now check by postcode area where better broadband is already available and, if it isn’t, whether there are plans to provide it under the BBfN programme.
The original BBfN contract was signed in December 2012 after Norfolk County Council pledged a total of £15 million to the scheme. This was matched by the Government, and BT made an £11 million contribution in Norfolk towards the cost of installing the fibre infrastructure in addition to covering the ongoing costs of supporting and maintaining the network. A £15.8 million deal to extend the original BBfN programme was then signed by Norfolk County Council and BT earlier this year, funded by the Government, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Norfolk County Council and BT.
Four years since the programme got underway, BBfN is now reaching more remote parts of Norfolk, which pose more challenges to engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, and where there are fewer premises in the radius of the new cabinets. So with each announcement of new services becoming available, the number of premises which can access high-speed broadband is smaller than during the first contract.
The high-speed network installed by Openreach is available on an open, wholesale basis to all communication providers, meaning Norfolk households and businesses can shop around for the best deal from lots of broadband providers. To get a faster service, people need to contact an internet service provider (ISP) to see what broadband packages they can receive. People can check which ISPs provide broadband services to a home or business via the BBfN website.
Alternative and subsidised broadband solutions may be available to those Norfolk premises that are unable to receive broadband speeds in excess of 2Mbps and who will not be benefitting from the BBfN programme. Details about the subsidy scheme are available on the BBfN website’s FAQs section. In addition, the government intends to introduce a broadband universal service obligation that would give everyone a right to a decent broadband connection on reasonable request. An announcement on this is due later in the year.
Phil Cowen, Executive Member for Growth and Commercialisation at Breckland Council, said: “Superfast broadband is key to unlocking the potential of Breckland as a place where people and businesses can thrive, and thanks to this ongoing programme to improve connectivity around 80 per cent of homes and businesses in our district can now access broadband which is at least 24mb per second – a vast increase from just 30% in 2013.
“This is a fantastic achievement, but we are not complacent: to build on this success, we’ve committed £950k to rolling out superfast internet access to even more areas of Breckland, as part of the Better Broadband for Norfolk project.”
Broadland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Economic Success, Cllr Stuart Clancy, said: “The second stage of the project is currently being rolled out and that will bring faster broadband to 93% of the Broadland district. We’re delighted that our own investment, along with careful management of the first stage of the project has meant sufficient funds to support even higher coverage to eventually reach 97%. The programme won’t be an instant fix. Fibre optic technology will be installed to cabinets across Broadland over the next three years and it will then be up to broadband providers to make faster speeds available to customers. We will be working hard to encourage them to do so however.”
Cllr Nick Daubney, Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Cabinet Member for Systems and Economic Development, said: “This is excellent news for the borough and for Norfolk as a whole. Better Broadband for Norfolk is a project this council has been very keen to support. Having access to high speed broadband is essential for local businesses who are trying to compete in national and international markets. Not only that but it also makes west Norfolk a more attractive place for people and businesses to relocate to as the communications infrastructure will be on a par with other parts of the country.
Cllr Tom FitzPatrick, Leader of North Norfolk District Council said: “We recognise the absolute necessity of good broadband coverage across every part of our district to ensure it benefits the maximum possible number of our residents and that’s why we are investing a further £1 million to further improve coverage wherever we can.
“Good broadband is absolutely vital for businesses, visitors and residents and we are putting the million in to improve access to faster broadband for all our communities.
“Fast broadband is essential to our economy and that’s why we are investing heavily in this project. It’s an issue which is causing a lot of concern to residents and businesses and access to fast online services is a necessity – not an add-on.”
South Norfolk Council Leader John Fuller said: “We have backed BBfN's work with BT with hard cash but also recognise that about 5000 of the most isolated properties in South Norfolk will need more creative approaches and are working up bespoke opportunities for these most rural settlements.”