Saturday, March 22, 2014
Plans to drag East Anglia out of a broadband and mobile black hole were on the agenda at a summit meeting organised by a Norfolk MP.
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, called together more than 70 representatives of small business, councils and unions to Newmarket to discuss how to ensure that superfast broadband and mobile telephone signal can stretch to every corner of the region.
BT is charged with rolling out internet speeds of 24mbps (megabits per second) by 2015 to 90pc of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Mr Freeman told the meeting last night he wanted to make sure the 10pc of residents and businesses who would not be served would not be left out.
“This is not just a matter of broadband being a utility, or important for businesses, there’s actually a human rights element and it’s about rural justice for the young and elderly.
“Having said that, we are not some windy outreach in the middle of nowhere; it’s a phenomenal area of small business growth and every pound invested here gets 20 back,” he said.
Mr Freeman laid out three aims for the campaign: making a case that providing East Anglia with faster connectivity could unlock an economic and rural renaissance; launching a special voucher scheme to help rural locations get connected with alternative providers; and accessing £150m of government funding for mobile telephone “notspots”.
Five alternative internet providers who specialise in providing connectivity in rural locations also presented to the summit.
Mr Freeman said the providers would be key in helping remote locations overcome the “last mile” which BT could not cover.
A pledge was also made to approach the “big four” mobile phone providers in order to show the demand for mobile service.
Mr Freeman said proposals to bring tens of thousands of houses to Norfolk in the future were an example of a bargaining chip to tempt the mobile firms to back more telephone masts installed in the area.
A steering group will be set up to execute the summit’s aims, with county and district councils also to be approached.
Annette Thorpe, BT’s regional manager for the East of England, told the meeting it was doing all it could to reach as many communities as it could with superfast broadband.
“We’re on course to cover 89pc of the area, and 83pc of those will be getting at least 24 mbps,” she said.
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