25 February 2014

Northamptonshire County Council has been awarded an additional £3.64 million to further extend the provision of superfast broadband infrastructure across the county.

The cash has come from a £250 million pot of money allocated to the government’s Superfast Extension Programme for the UK.

The cash supports the county council’s ambition to roll out superfast broadband to all parts of the county by the end of 2017, an aim that goes further than the government’s target of 95 per cent.

The county council has already partnered with BT to extend roll out to around 90 per cent of the county by 2015, when combined with planned commercial coverage.

This latest announcement along with council funding commitments will be used to extend the roll-out into the final 10 per cent of the county where coverage has yet to be secured.

"Tremendous news for the county"

Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage, county council cabinet member for economic growth, strategic infrastructure and public protection, said: “This is tremendous news for the county. We’ve already taken huge strides in securing the roll-out of superfast broadband infrastructure and this money will go a long way towards our goal that no one misses out.

“A good broadband network is absolutely essential if Northamptonshire is going to be able to compete in the global economy and the county is one of the front runners nationally in its ambitions and progress being made.

“These days the internet is not just a luxury tool but something we all rely on more and more to provide and access services, for on-line shopping and leisure, and critically for businesses and remote working.”

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “This government’s long-term economic plan is accelerating the roll-out of superfast broadband, to help narrow the digital divide and boost local growth. We are offering additional central government funding to councils who want to work with us to help increase internet speeds for their local residents and local firms.”

The money from the Superfast Extension Programme allocation will be matched by a further commitment from the county council and potentially other sources being pursued, with the money then used to help secure further private sector investment via a telecommunications supplier.

This marks the second major wave of the Superfast Northamptonshire project and complements the more innovative solutions being promoted by the county council to maximise commercial investment. Decisions on the route forward will be taken by the county council at its cabinet meeting in March.

Some background

The roll-out of superfast broadband infrastructure in Northamptonshire is being spearheaded by the county council through its Superfast Northamptonshire project.

Telecommunications firms in the private sector already provide superfast broadband infrastructure to areas where it is commercially viable for them to do so. Commercial plans confirmed to the county council in 2012 suggested that almost three quarters of all premises in the county should be served commercially by 2015.

However Superfast Northamptonshire, through its Next Generation Strategy, aims to use public sector money to encourage private sector investment in areas where telecoms firms would not normally invest.

This has the advantages of taking broadband infrastructure to all parts of the county, which has huge social, environmental and economic benefits.

Fibre first approach

The strategy promotes a ‘fibre first’ approach to the roll out of superfast broadband networks which should be capable of supporting access line speeds of at least 30Mbps.

Ultimately, a mix of technology solutions will be considered where fibre does not provide value for money. Alternative solutions will need to support the right quality of broadband services for local people and should enrich broadband connectivity in Northamptonshire.

This latest funding allocation will be focused on those areas for which a superfast broadband solution has yet to be confirmed. This includes parts of the town centres of Northampton, Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough, parts of the Northampton Waterside Enterprise Zone, a number of business parks/industrial estates, and some of the remaining rural and more remote areas in the county. All together, based on current information, this comprises more than 33,000 premises.

The county council will be re-consulting on the extent of commercial coverage plans as part of its procurement preparations for the next stage of the project. The county council last consulted the telecoms market in 2012.

Recent announcements

This allocation is in addition to the £300k recently secured by the county council to support fibre broadband provision in the Northampton Waterside Enterprise Zone.

On 3 February this year the county council’s existing co-investment partnership with BT unveiled the first fibre broadband cabinets to ‘go live’ at an event in Towcester, Northamptonshire. This included 14 fibre cabinets serving 4,175 premises.

During this month since that launch, the coverage being delivered through the project has doubled with 28 cabinets now live and supporting services, enabling around 8,000 premises to have access to fibre-based broadband.

The current partnership with BT will provide access to superfast broadband to over 50,000 premises across the county by 2015 and is enabled through a £4.08m investment by the county council, £4.08m from government and £3.2m capital from BT.