Campaigners in Northumberland (North England) will today call on the government’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, to find an additional £10m from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office to help expand the reach of superfast broadband services into more of the county’s rural towns and villages.
Northumberland has a total population of 312,000, with no single community larger than 35,000 residents, and 96% of the county is officially said to be classified as rural. Indeed it’s said to have the lowest number of people per square kilometre (61) in England. The council estimates that some 101,000 residential and 8,000 business addresses are in need of state aid to improve their broadband access.
So far BDUK has committed £7,030,000, which is supported by a further £7m from the Northumberland County Council and another £14m or so from the private sector (e.g. BT), to help ensure that 90% of “all target premises” will have access to a superfast broadband service of at least 25Mbps by 2015, then 95% by 2018 and finally 100% by 2020.
On top of that, extra funding has already been secured for five local projects in Hexhamshire, Felton, North Tyne and Redesdale, Riding Mill, Rothbury and Coquetdale. Total funding is expected to reach around £28m to £35m, though campaigners claim that an extra +£10m will be needed to do the job properly.
Louise Kirkwood, Local Resident, said (The Journal):
“If Rothbury gets good news today that would be a good start. We know one of the big issues for say, BT, is the manpower costs, so we, tenants and landowners and families, have offered to help where we can. We have no shortage of people here who know how to use tractors, that’s for sure.
We need to be connected because I’m not sure there’s much of a future for Northumberland without this. It is vital in so many ways. If you look at the generation that will soon retire, they have come to expect good internet connections, they will live elsewhere without that.”
Indeed campaigners are expected to propose a Build and Benefit Scheme to Mr Alexander, which would see locals help to dig their own cable trenches in order to lower BT’s costs (BT has not yet been selected for the contract but as usual it appears to be the only viable bidder); although that would be highly reliant on volunteers.
The news comes shortly after the local council unveiled a new £1.3 million loan scheme that’s designed to encourage small satellite, wireless or other alternative ISPs to come into the area and offer their broadband services to the most remote rural communities.
UPDATE 11th January 2013
Both a new wayleave deal and related £450k rural broadband project have been announced in the county (here).