Inclusive broadband strategy essential for Suffolk

Waveney MP Peter Aldous today urged local interested parties to work with him and fellow Suffolk MPs to help achieve an inclusive broadband strategy for Suffolk.

Aldous is promoting a campaign to ensure that any strategy submitted to Broadband UK – the body in charge of distributing pots of Government funding to local projects – does not simply maintain the ‘not spot’ status quo. ‘Not spots’ are those areas where there is very slow or no functional broadband connectivity.

Waveney has some of the lowest levels of overall broadband connectivity in England, with Point Topic data estimating that only 38.6% of households in the area have a useable broadband connection.

In March 2010 the Department for Communities and Local Government released a study on the risks of different areas in the UK receiving Next Generation Access (unlimited broadband services). The model was specifically devised to predict where NGA broadband would develop naturally – with green areas being those where investment would happen naturally, red where there was likely to be a need for intervention and amber where intervention was likely to be needed. The map below overlays the data to show how the Waveney Constituency is likely to fare and clearly indicates that in order for the majority of the Constituency to receive NGA some form of financial intervention is likely to be necessary.

Suffolk has a strong case for inclusion in the Government’s next round of pilot projects for connecting some of the most geographically challenging areas. Details of this project are to be announced shortly, with the deadline for bids likely to be June 2011 and the announcement of successful bids in September 2011.However if an inclusive strategy is not agreed, there is a significant risk in Suffolk of the creation of a two dimensional ‘Digital Divide’ (geographic, demographic) between those that have access to high‐speed broadband and those who do not.

The Government’s Broadband Strategy published in December 2010 provided details of £530m that is being made available up to 2015 to support broadband roll out with £150m per year in 2016 and 2017. The money will be allocated by Broadband UK whose first round of pilot projects were announced in 2010. Other potential funding sources include £5m to 2015 from the European Regional Development Fund Competitiveness Development Programme and £1.4bn allocated to the Regional Growth Fund.

Current estimates suggest that a Suffolk partnership will need to raise around £15-£20 m of public money to help support around a third of the premises that are unlikely to be viable.

In many areas of Suffolk the large distances between houses and the nearest telecommunications exchange/cabinet mean that fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) solutions are unlikely to be a solution and BT are unlikely to consider all of the ‘final third’ of customers in rural and hard to reach areas commercially viable.

Smaller providers are the likely key to reaching hard to reach areas because they provide fibre beyond the cabinet to homes. Alternative infrastructure options in Suffolk include public sector networks which run throughout Suffolk including schools and hospitals, where even many hard-to-reach areas have high standards of connectivity. Other infrastructure with spare capacity is owned by utility companies, Railtrack and the Highways Agency for example where agreements already exist for use of so-called ‘dark fibre’.

Contact Peter Aldous MP

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