I attended a dinner at Linden Hall near Morpeth last week hosted by BT, Northumberland County Council, the North East Chamber of Commerce, and the Countryside Land Association to discuss the roll out of superfast broadband in Northumberland.
The Government’s ambition is that the UK should have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, with 90% of homes and businesses having access to up to 40MBps superfast broadband and the balance should have access to at least 2MBps.
BT and Virgin Media are in the process of building out their optical fibre networks but will only invest in areas where it is economically viable. This means that approximately one-third of the UK will miss out.
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) part of the Department of the Culture, Media and Sport, has been set-up with a fund of £530 million from the TV licence fee to bridge the gap. Local County Councils are to apply for the investment by developing a local broadband plan.
In Northumberland it’s a question of geography. The county has some of the most rurally isolated premises in the UK. 71% cannot be reached by commercial projects according to BDUK which has allocated £7 million as its contribution to bridge the gap.
Meeting the Government’s goal will almost certainly demand three or four times this level of investment requiring Northumberland County Council to seek additional sources of funding.
Rural businesses in Northumberland need superfast broadband services to innovate and compete effectively as commerce moves to the web. It’s key to the growth of the economy to support existing industries such as agriculture and tourism and attract new types of industry creating jobs so that young people stay in the county.
The lesson from other areas of the UK including Cornwall, Cumbria and Northern Ireland that have successfully created local superfast broadband plans is that a strategic vision led centrally is critical for success.
It was hugely encouraging to hear that Northumberland County Council views it as its number one strategic issue. It plans to start community consultations in the next few months with a view to creating a BDUK bid for funding early next year.
It can’t happen soon enough.
Click the link to see a longer version of a blog post published on wadds.co.uk.