SUFFOLK’S bid for better broadband has received more than £11 million from the Government.
The £11,680,000 investment pledged by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Tuesday means Suffolk can move forward with its ambitious £41.7 million programme to create ‘a broadband network fit for the twenty first century’. The rest of the budget will come from district councils and, mostly, the private sector.
Suffolk County Council says it hopes to have finished the procurement phase, deciding who will do the work, by September 2012 so work will start by the end of that year and take two-and-a-half years.
Suffolk’s target is that by 2015, 85 per cent of premises will be on fibre optic superfast broadband of at least 20Mbps (megabits per second) with the rest on fixed wireless broadband.
The bid success follows disappointment in the June round of grants when Suffolk failed to get backing while the Norfolk received £15.4 million.
But under new political and executive leadership Suffolk County Council decided to invest £10m in the project — a move which it says was crucial in securing the backing.
Suffolk County Council’s leader, Cllr Mark Bee, said: “I’m ecstatic. From the day I was elected leader, I’ve wanted this and have worked hard with all our partners to make it happen.
“Today is an important milestone in our ambition to create for Suffolk a broadband network fit for the 21st century. We can now crack on with the project and turn our ambition into a reality.”
While welcoming the money and praising Cllr Bee for his leadership in moving the bid forward, Bury MP David Ruffley warned: “The hard work comes next: that is, will high speed broadband be rolled out across Suffolk at the same time or will some rural areas be tail end Charlies?
“Is it that the fixed wireless broadband will be done at the same time as the 85 per cent? I realise they can’t do the whole of Suffolk at the same time, but phases should be a mix of rural and town, not doing all the towns first then have rural areas bringing up the rear.”
He feared that if that happened the areas that need the biggest improvements might miss out if cash ran low or deadlines were missed.
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock said: “It is fantastic news. I have campaigned for more local funding along with all Suffolk MPs, and I am delighted by this news.
“It has been difficult for rural businesses to thrive and stand up to urban competitors when they have internet connections that are so much worse. This funding will help to ensure that Suffolk businesses can reach their potential and keep up with the rest of the UK.”
The Government wants the UK to have Europe’s best broadband network by 2015, but the Countryside Alliance still wonders if Whitehall is doing enough. Its head of policy Sarah Lee said: “The Countryside Alliance welcomes this investment in superfast broadband, which should provide a massive boost to the rural economy. However, today’s announcement will only ensure 90 per cent of our homes and businesses [in the UK] will have access to superfast broadband by 2015.
“In other European countries, such as Denmark, they only have one per cent of homes outside the reach of broadband coverage.
“If rural areas are to compete economically and socially then it is vital that rural communities and businesses have access to effective and affordable broadband. Without this, there is a danger that the digital divide will grow even wider and rural economies will be unable to grow and prosper.”
Nationwide, the Government has released £362 million in broadband backing with grants ranging from £630,000 in the West Midlands to £31,320,000 in Devon and Somerset.