Thousands set for Broadband boost

HOUSEHOLDERS in part of Waveney will be among tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Norfolk and North Suffolk to benefit from new high-speed broadband access by this time next year.

HOUSEHOLDERS in part of Waveney will be among tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Norfolk and North Suffolk to benefit from new high-speed broadband access by this time next year.

New broadband hubs will be built by spring 2011 in Beccles, Mildenhall, Dereham, Gorleston, Costessey, Drayton, giving an extra access to BT's pioneering 21st Century Network.

But while some communities will be celebrating others could be left in the dark, as the spots to benefit mark the final phase in a nationwide pledge to improve internet access.

In total, more than 70,000 homes and businesses across Norfolk and Suffolk are set to gain from connection speeds of up to 24Mb a second - the same vamped-up speed currently only on offer in urban centres like Norwich and Ipswich.

However those towns and villages which are not on the list to the fast lane could be waiting indefinitely, as BT bosses said this is the last round of upgrades that the company has committed to making at this time.

At present Norfolk downloads of this speed are limited to Norwich, King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth, where around 100,000 homes already have access to 24Mb connections.

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But that leaves more than 200,000 Norfolk homes that have not been singled out for development and will be waiting for BT's next round of investments, which is yet to be confirmed.

In Suffolk around 125,000 homes have access to the speed, including a hub in Lowestoft, with 38,000 homes to benefit from the improved speeds.

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.

'But a piece of good news for some is even more galling for the people who don't have the good news.'

John Clemo, chief executive of Norfolk Rural Community Council, added: 'This represents a divide between rural and urban broadband in level and quality of service. This has the potential to have a massive impact on rural communities and businesses.

'Any improvements are good news, however what we need to focus on is making sure all areas get a minimum standard, and that the minimum standard keeps up with the rest of the country.'

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

At present all of Norfolk has 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, chair 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.

Caroline Williams, CEO Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, added: 'This is a great step forward for businesses in Norfolk's market towns and surrounding rural areas. 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.'

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