Broadband boost for Norwich

Rob GarrattThousands of homes and businesses on the edge of Norwich are to gain high-speed broadband access within the next 12 months, BT has revealed.Rob Garratt

Thousands of homes and businesses on the edge of Norwich are to gain high-speed broadband access within the next 12 months, BT has revealed.

Speeds of up to 24Mb a second will be enjoyed by individuals and families in Costessey and Drayton after BT issued its list of communities in the region to benefit from its last confirmed roll-out of broadband upgrades.

More than 7,000 homes and businesses in Costessey and 6,500 in Drayton will benefit from the same vamped-up speeds currently enjoyed in Norwich.

The communities will both get one of just four new digital exchanges to be built in the county, with more than 12,000 customers also to benefit in Gorleston and around an extra 10,000 to benefit in Dereham.

The new broadband hubs will be built by spring 2011 and give customers access to BT's pioneering 21st century network, currently unavailable outside of Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

But while some communities will be celebrating others could be left in the dark, as the spots to benefit named yesterday mark the last phase in a nationwide pledge to give 75pc of homes access to a 24Mb connection by 2011.

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Peter McCarthy-Ward, BT's East of England regional director, said areas were picked for upgrade based on demand, cost-effectiveness and feedback from the wholesale service providers which sell on the connection speeds.

'This is a significant investment by BT in the region which will enhance competition from retail companies,' he said.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'Increased broadband speed is key to enabling businesses to take advantage of opportunities as we move out of recession.

'For too long Norfolk has been disadvantaged and the fact that the business voice has been heard and recognized is very good news. This is only the start of the journey however and we will be pressurizing for increased speed and coverage across Norfolk.'

While the exchanges will grant speeds of 'up to' 24Mb, a typical home would see a connection of around 8 or 10Mb.

At present, homes outside Norwich and Yarmouth all have access to a connection of 'up to' 8Mb, which translates to around 3 or 4Mb for homes close to the broadband hub, but less than 1Mb for homes further away.

However those rural homes miles from a broadband exchange are unlikely to see much improvement with the vamped-up connections because of the strong 'decay rate' of broadband signal.

Phillip Duigan, chairman of Norfolk County Council's Broadband Working Group, said: 'This is good news - we've been trying to get BT to listen to us and they are now listening to us.

'From my committee's point of view we would always want more; we're at base camp now, at least we're going forward.

'But we need to do more. We in Norfolk are going to have to show we can make the best of this - we can then demonstrate that we are serious and that Norfolk is a good investment.'

The new broadband hubs were announced yesterday by BT in an overhaul that will see 37 new exchanges built in the East of England, benefitting 250,000 homes and businesses. Around half of the East of England already benefits from the faster speeds.