Fresh hope over broadband
Adam Lazzari A campaign to improve broadband in rural Norfolk has been boosted by a government minister's promise, �500,000 and the announcement that a major public meeting on the issue will be held this month.
A campaign to improve broadband in rural Norfolk has been boosted by a government minister's promise, �500,000 and the announcement that a major public meeting on the issue will be held this month.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles promised this week to highlight concerns over poor broadband and mobile phone coverage.
Mr Pickles made the promise to Norfolk County Councillor for Wells, Dr Marie Strong, at a breakfast meeting at the Local Government Association conference in Bournemouth and said he would raise the issue with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
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The news will be particularly welcome after the announcement that a Norfolk pilot to tackle service “not spots” had failed to get a single customer.
Campaigners are concerned about rural areas being left further behind when the next generation broadband is introduced and about the detrimental effect this could have on rural businesses and economies.
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Councillor Strong, a member of Norfolk County Council's Broadband and Mobile Phone Working Group, said: “It was very fortunate that I was able to join secretary of state Eric Pickles for a breakfast meeting along with some dozen other councillors from various parts of the country.
“My aim was to gain support for our campaign to improve broadband and to ensure that when the second generation broadband becomes operational our rural areas are not left further behind.
“Whilst I stressed to Mr Pickles that I was speaking for the whole of Norfolk it was good to hear that, as an ardent bird watcher, he finds Wells-next-the-sea a delightful place to visit.
“But of more importance was Mr Pickle's support for our project and his promise to contact Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.”
Members of the public, senior county councillors and business stakeholders will be able to discuss their experiences with broadband and mobile phone coverage at the public meeting at County Hall, Norwich, on July 29 from 1-5pm.
Cllr Strong said she would be urging those who attend to visit the website, www.erebusonline.org.uk which is run by the East of England Development Agency.
The website asks people enter their postcode and register their need for faster broadband.
EEDA announced yesterday that �500,000 has been secured through the Regional Development Programme for England to help plug gaps in rural broadband availability.
Local authorities, businesses, social enterprises and charities can all bid for a share of the funding for community broadband projects.
Deborah Cadman, chief executive of EEDA, said: “This will help to bring some of our rural areas out of broadband 'not spots', giving them access to internet speeds they will never have experienced before.”
A pilot scheme of Broadband Enabling Technology in Wymondham, that
would use technology on existing phone exchanges to broaden coverage from 7km to 12km as a solution to one of the county's infrastructure missing links, failed to get a single customer.
If it had been successful the technology could have been rolled out across Norfolk and it is now feared this will dissuade BT from investing in faster broadband in Norfolk.
Anyone interested in attending the July 29 meeting in Norwich should contact Laura Childs on 01603 224295, e mail email@example.com or write to her at Room B18, Cultural Services, County Hall, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR21 2UA.
To find out more about grants available from the EEDA visit www.eeda.org.uk/broadbandgrants