Joy as government backs bid to bring better broadband to Norfolk

Norfolk's dream of providing broadband access for all is set to become a reality after the government backed a �15m bid to lead the county into the information and economic fast lane.

Business and council leaders are celebrating the success of the combined 'Back the Bid' campaign spearheaded by Norfolk County Council for a share of a �530m national fund to improve broadband availability.

The government will today confirm that it is supporting the council's own �15m investment pound for pound, and with the private sector also expected to bring in �30m, that means there will be a combined �60m investment to help deliver superfast broadband to large swathes of Norfolk by March 2015.

Norfolk was one of three bids to share in a slice of a �50m pot, with the government also supporting proposals from Wiltshire, and a combined bid from Devon and Somerset.

The investment will see every single property in Norfolk able to access 2Mbs minimum broadband speeds in the next four years, with superfast broadband available for most of the county.

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said the news was one of the most significant announcements made in Norfolk in recent years alongside news that the A11 will also be dualled.

'I am absolutely delighted that our ambition for Norfolk not to get left behind in the internet slow lane has been positively recognised today,' Mr Murphy said. 'With the internet central to virtually every aspect of modern life, our lack of broadband access has become a key concern for us. We simply could not afford to accept this, which is why we seized the opportunity for funding so firmly and backed our bid with hard cash.'

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More than 200 businesses came forward to identify how slow broadband was limiting their growth and Norfolk's bid was endorsed by Norfolk's MPs and business organisations.

But the bid also outlined the other social advantages of better broadband including helping to improve educational opportunities and attainment, reduce social exclusion, lower carbon dioxide emissions and traffic congestion by enabling more home working and provide online alternatives to travelling to meetings, the bank and the supermarket.

County Hall, which submitted a strong bid to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) in April, now hopes to award a contract with a supplier by September 2012 with work on the ground starting soon afterwards.

Mark Hodges, chairman of Shaping Norfolk's Future and chief executive of Aviva UK, said: 'This is tremendous news. Bringing superfast broadband to Norfolk is one of Shaping Norfolk's Future's top priorities and this funding will enable that to happen. The project will create jobs and be a huge boost for business. It will make Norfolk a much more attractive place for businesses to operate in.'

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: 'Broadband is becoming just as essential to homes and businesses as electricity and telephone lines and it is now only a matter for time before people in these three new rural areas have access to the connection speeds more commonly associated with towns and cities.'

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