Public sector backing vital to broadband upgrade

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SUPER-FAST broadband could be rolled out across Northumberland with public sector support, communications company BT has said.

BT North East Regional Director Chris Sayers says the company is willing to consider further major investment in the high speed technology, but the full benefits will only be achieved in a public-private partnership approach.

The comments came following an announcement that 85 per cent of businesses in Northern Ireland now have access to fibre broadband following a £48million investment by Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and BT, which provided £30million of the funds.

Mr Sayers said: “The success of the Northern Ireland project demonstrates what can be achieved when organisations work together, combining their expertise and resources.

“Northumberland has an historic opportunity to develop a scheme which will benefit local businesses and households for decades ahead.

“Like parts of Northumberland, Northern Ireland has rural areas where the engineering challenges and costs are considerable, but we worked together to roll out faster broadband far more quickly and more widely than would have been possible without a partnership approach.

“Similarly, we would very much welcome the opportunity to work with organisations in Northumberland to make this exciting technology more widely available.

“We are very willing to make a further major investment in the county if we can work with the public sector to create the right environment.”

BT has already made super-fast broadband available to more than 104,000 homes and businesses in the region and plans to reach the 350,000 mark by the end of 2012.

The North East Chamber of Commerce has backed its calls for support.

Chief Executive James Ramsbotham said: “It is vital that organisations work together to make faster broadband widely available in the North East as quickly as possible.

“This exciting technology will play an essential role in the future success of our region. Businesses and organisations of all shapes and sizes need first class communications if they are to survive and thrive in a competitive world. We must ensure that the North East doesn’t get left behind.”

l A NORTHUMBERLAND MP has welcomed an Ofcom ruling which should help residents and businesses in rural areas to benefit from cheaper broadband.

Currently in smaller telephone exchanges, where it might be uneconomical for ISPs to provide their own equipment, they rent from BT.

This can add around £10 a month to the broadband bills of rural consumers compared to their urban counterparts.

But Ofcom’s decision will reduce the rental cost BT can charge by around 12 per cent per year until March 2014.

It is expected that this will generate more competition between ISPs and lead to cheaper prices.

The changes have been welcomed by Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

He said: “I have campaigned for many years for fast and reliable broadband because as markets become increasingly internet-based it is absolutely essential for our local businesses and communities.

“Over recent years we have seen gradual improvements to broadband provision although there is still work to be done. Although this decision only affects broadband services of up to 8Mbps, it is certainly another step in the right direction.

“I am also continuing my work with Northumberland County Council on its bid for the next round of UK Government funding which will see rural communities all across the nation gaining access to superfast broadband.”