The Northumberland County Council (NCC) in North East England has announced the launch of a new £1.3 million loan scheme that has been designed to encourage small satellite, wireless or other alternative technology ISPs to come into the county and offer their broadband services to the most remote rural areas.
The county’s iNorthumberland project explains that it “has long been concerned about the final 10% of the population“, which covers 60% of the county’s area (i.e. rural communities where public funding for a fixed line superfast broadband solution may not materialise).
But covering the last 10% isn’t an easy task and one of the biggest issues for ISPs is making the economics work. iNorthumberland states that this “often means [ISPs] have to charge between £200 to £400 for installation“, which is higher than a lot of consumers would apparently be willing or able to pay.
As a result the new loan scheme, which will be based on the number of customers connected and repayable over three years, should allow some or all of this cost to be swallowed up as part of the monthly subscription.
Stephen Gray, iNorthumberland Director, said:
“The SMEs win because they can get into difficult-to-reach areas. It’s a win for the consumer and business that can immediately get better broadband and, of course, it’s a win for us on two counts. One is we encourage new companies to come in and in some cases new jobs will come in. The second big win is that we get out there to the last 10 per cent and ironically, we do that first not last.”
Mr Gray claims that their scheme is the first of its kind in the country (England), although Wales has done something similar with their Broadband Support Scheme (BSS) that offers grants of up to £1,000 to help cover the cost of a new broadband service (e.g. a satellite service or wifi connection).
Companies interested in finding out more about the loan scheme can access information at the North East Procurement Organisation(NEPO) site. The closing date for applications is 25th January 2013 and 19 companies have so far expressed an interest, although only four or so are likely to be chosen for a slice of the £1.3million (this could be extended if the scheme proves to be successful).
The scheme itself is expected to be rolled out from February 2013.