Extra £5.3m for Norfolk broadband pot after BT enjoys better-than-expected results
- Credit: PA
Millions of pounds will be ploughed back into Norfolk's flagship broadband roll-out deal with BT after the telecoms giant has seen a higher-than-expected take up of its services.
The Better Broadband for Norfolk campaign has been given a £5.3m slice of the £129m national rebate, which will allow high-speed broadband to reach more rural homes and businesses.
BT signed a 'gain share' clause with Norfolk to make sure that if take-up was better than the 20pc expected in BT's original business case, money would be reinvested into the programme. So far the Better Broadband for Norfolk (BBfN) scheme has seen 160,000 homes able to connect to fibre broadband.
While thousands of homes in Norfolk have been reached, the broadband roll-out has been controversial.
South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said in a Public Accounts Committee report in 2013 that the programme had handed BT a quasi-monopoly which it was 'exploiting to the detriment of consumers and taxpayers', although Norfolk County Council always maintained that it had access to BT's cost data in Norfolk so it could check it was getting good value for the public investment.
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Steve Maine, chief executive of Norfolk-based WiSpire, which uses a combination of exchanges and parish churches to get broadband to hard to reach areas, said the money should go towards a fund which would help to get to the most remote areas.
'We are now reaching the stage where to extend good broadband coverage to the last 15pc of the population, the government needs to look at other technologies and other operators. That means this money needs to go back into the fund, for re-evaluation and not simply recycled back to BT,' he said.
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The Government is expected to announce later this year how it fulfil it manifesto commitment to create a universal broadband service.
Dr Marie Strong is Chair of the Broadband Working Group and member on the Better Broadband for Norfolk Steering Group. She said: 'With public money invested in the Better Broadband for Norfolk programme, it's vital that we get the best value for money from the contract and recouping over £5m that we can reinvest in the project is an excellent result.
'Since Better Broadband for Norfolk got underway two and a half years ago and over this time high-speed broadband has been made available to around 160,000 premises, and more and more homes and businesses are getting access to the new fibre network every month.
'There is still more to do and, while many villages and market towns in Norfolk have already benefited from the Better Broadband for Norfolk programme, bringing high-speed broadband to some of the more remote parts of Norfolk is particularly challenging. So an extra £5.3 million will be a great help and, by the time the project finishes, should mean that broadband inequality in the county is virtually eliminated.'