Call to arms over broadband
Paul Hill, business editorThere were fresh calls last night for an improved broadband service to finally be delivered to the region, as a stark picture of a twin-speed East Anglia was laid bare.Paul Hill, business editor
There were fresh calls last night for an improved broadband service to be delivered to the region, as a stark picture of a twin-speed East Anglia was laid bare.
There are currently thousands of homes and businesses in the country-side left in the internet slow lane, struggling to cope with a snail-like and unreliable service.
Meanwhile, urban areas, such as cities and major towns speed ahead, able to make the most of the many economic opportunities the internet presents.
The challenge facing the rural community to persuade ministers and the telecoms industry to invest in super-fast broadband in the country-side will be laid bare at a major conference in Norfolk this week.
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Senior BT executive Peter McCarthy Ward will tell the annual Shaping Norfolk's Future conference in Norwich on Friday that superfast broadband - connection speeds of up to 24 megabits per second (Mbps) - will be delivered first where demand is greatest; inevitably cities and larger towns.
Mr McCarthy Ward will challenge businesses and local authorities to lobby for government cash to bring faster broadband to the countryside and areas where the telecoms industry sees too little demand to justify investment.
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Norfolk's civic leaders last night hit back at these calls, claiming the region has already shown a strong need for better broadband and urging BT to do more to make it happen.
They fear slow broadband will hold back East Anglia's future economic growth - leaving rural businesses struggling to compete and under-mining efforts to attract new companies and jobs to the region.
There are concerns, too, that consumers in the countryside will struggle to access the full range of online services enjoyed by their urban counterparts.
Mr McCarthy Ward will reveal that BT is carrying out a trial of new technology in Wymondham that could deliver up to 2Mbps broadband to homes and businesses that are furthest from telephone exchanges and where connection speeds to the internet are slowest.
"Investments are being made in bringing out faster speeds by improving the technology in the exchanges and using more fibre in the BT network," he said.
"BT is rolling out that capacity, not across the whole country, because funds are limited, but where we build it is where the people who buy our wholesale product [broadband suppliers] tell us that they face demand.
Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development at Norfolk County Council, said the limitations of Norfolk's broadband infra-structure was "one of the key constraints our economy faces".
"I also believe that business needs are just as significant in remote rural areas as they are in any town or city," she said. "I'm looking forward to hearing what Peter McCarthy Ward has to say, but would wish to seek assurances from BT that if we devoted resources to investigating demand, our findings would be responded to."
Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said access to broadband and mobile networks across Norfolk and Norwich was "patchy" and download speeds were "slow and totally unacceptable for commercial activity".
To register for the conference at the Open venue in Norwich on Friday, visit www. shapingnorfolksfuture.org.uk
For an in-depth look at why improved broadband is so important to the region buy tomorrow's EDP.
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