Plea to move East Anglia into the Broadband fast lane

Sarah HallEast Anglia cannot afford to be left in the slow lane when it comes to broadband - that was the message when more than 25 local authorities joined forces at a 'landmark' summit to discuss poor internet access in the region.Sarah Hall

East Anglia cannot afford to be left in the slow lane when it comes to broadband - that was the message when more than 25 local authorities joined forces at a 'landmark' summit to discuss poor internet access in the region.

Councils from across the region came together at a special summit yesterday aimed at unifying local authorities in the battle for better broadband.

The East of England Next Generation Broadband Summit took place at Newmarket Racecourse and was organised by the East of England Development Agency (Eeda) because of fears the current provision of broadband in Norfolk and surrounding counties is not good enough to allow cities, towns and communities to fulfil their potential.

Bosses of the development agency are hoping to follow the example of what has happened in Yorkshire, where two projects have been launched to improve broadband speeds.

In South Yorkshire, Eeda's equivalent Yorkshire Forward worked with local councils and unlocked European, regional, local and private investment of more than �90m, including �30m from the European Regional Development Fund.

And in North Yorkshire, NYnet, a public and private sector partnership, founded in 2006, has provided a faster and cheaper broadband infrastructure.

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It was established through a collaboration between Yorkshire Forward and North Yorkshire County Council with funding from the European Union and is now used by 70pc of public-sector services in North Yorkshire, with public sector broadband contracts worth more than �45m signed.

Speakers from Yorkshire were at yesterday's summit and Eeda bosses said having all councils making the case for better broadband in East Anglia would send a strong message to the government.

Jan Pinkerton, head of business, ICT & intelligence at Eeda, said: 'Eeda recognises the vital importance of 'next generation' broadband - it opens up new opportunities for businesses to compete globally and allows people to access the services they need on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately high-quality broadband boosts the economy.

'And if the East of England is to remain as one of only three regions to make a positive contribution to the Exchequer year-on year, we can't afford to be left in slow lane when it comes to broadband.

'We know that commercial suppliers are unlikely to deliver next generation services across the region. In some parts as many as 44pc of premises will not get access to fast broadband.

'We can't just accept this situation - the region needs to coordinate its response. There is no quick fix, but the broadband summit brought together representatives from over 25 local authorities to explore opportunities for working collaboratively across administrative boundaries, looking at alternative methods of securing the digital infrastructure that we need to move forward.

'Capturing demand and presenting a strong, united voice to commercial suppliers is key to this process. Local people and businesses can join the campaign for better broadband at'

Last November it emerged Norwich had one of the worst average broadband speeds in UK, with an average of just 3.6 megabits per second (Mbps), embarrassingly slow in comparison to places such as Bournemouth (8Mbps) and Portsmouth (7.8Mbps).

Of 56 towns and cities listed in order of speed, Norwich sat in 51st spot, one place below Ipswich.

The same month Peter McCarthy-Ward, East of England director for BT, told an audience in Norwich that it could take five years for broadband connections in some parts of Norfolk to reach a speed of 2Mbps and even that would be dependent on funding from the government and other sources.

And when the latest list of exchanges to be upgraded by BT to superfast broadband was announced in January, the nearest to Norfolk was in Braintree, Essex - the third wave of superfast broadband expansion to miss the county.