County lagging in broadband race

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NORTHUMBERLAND’S allocation to help roll out super-fast broadband across the county has been met with disappointment.

The Government has launched a programme to provide the whole of the UK with access to reliable, higher speed broadband services by 2015, setting aside £530million through Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) alongside private sector investment.

In England, each county council or local enterprise partnership will lead the project in their area and they have been asked to draw up an effective delivery plan and match the Government’s investment with European, their own or private funds.

These organisations were told on Tuesday what they will receive from Whitehall and Northumberland’s grant is £7million.

But as the county has 71 per cent of premises that will not be reached by commercial projects, its unitary authority believes this amount is not enough.

Deputy Leader Roger Styring said: “Overall we’re disappointed with the announcement.

“BDUK uses a complex formula to determine the amount of investment in each local authority and we will continue to follow their guidance in developing our local broadband plan to deliver our aspirations for Northumberland.

“However, the indicative figures announced for Northumberland currently fall well short of what we think the people of the county deserve and we will be working hard with our partners to argue that case.

“Bringing super-fast broadband to Northumberland is the county council’s number one regeneration priority and we’re already working hard to deliver it. Just two weeks ago we met with BDUK to discuss our business case and the rural factors that have a particular impact on Northumberland.

“This programme has the potential to deliver huge benefits to education, business and the rural economy which is why we are preparing a detailed, carefully considered formal bid.

“There is cross-party support for this and we are working with a range of people to develop a local broadband plan that will consider all options for the best possible solution for Northumberland.”

The Government said that the investment will ensure the UK has the “best super-fast broadband network in Europe by 2015”, with 90 per cent of homes and businesses having access to super-fast broadband and for everyone in the UK to have access to at least 2Mbps.

Neighbouring Cumbria has been allocated £17million, although 96 per cent of its properties will not be reached by commercial projects.

The private sector on its own will take super-fast broadband to around two-thirds of UK households and businesses and this funding will be used to help take broadband to the remaining third by making it viable for business to invest.

A key part of the Northumberland project is to show that the demand to use broadband exists in rural areas.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Country Land and Business Association North region.

Communications Manager Mike Ashton said: “Broadband is a necessity and it is reassuring to hear that the Government is not prepared to let some parts of our country get left behind in the digital age.

“The aim now will be to ensure the money is spent wisely, and making those with no access to fixed line broadband a priority.”

BT’s regional director for the North East, Simon Roberson, said: “Today’s announcement from the Government is a welcome start to extending essential communications infrastructure into the North East’s rural communities.

“There needs to be a collective effort if super-fast broadband is to reach at least 90 per cent of the UK. BT is willing and able to play its part but local government and community groups will also need to get involved if rural areas are to benefit.”