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Funding Woes as Middlesbrough Expands BT Fibre Broadband Rollout

Monday, September 15th, 2014 (2:27 pm) - Score 602

The Middlesbrough Council in North East England has this week approved additional funding of £493k, which will be used to help make BT’s superfast broadband (FTTC/P) services available to 95% of people by 2017 (including an additional 500 local businesses). But the funding represents less than half what was actually made available.

The £493,000 includes some £197k from the council itself, which is to be matched by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, and finally a further £99k will also be contributed by BT. Interestingly the authority had reportedly been granted £590k (worth nearly £1.2m if matched by the council), but they refused to take the full allocation due to concerns over its ‘value for money’ and a lack of investment control.

Apparently BT has already been asked to submit proposals for what it would do if the full allocation were made available.

Cllr John Polson said:

It is suggested that one third of the available grant is used and matched by the council, with a requirement that at least 500 business premises gain access to superfast broadband and that the council is able to prioritise the areas that benefit from the investment. This would increase the proportion of business property with access to superfast broadband to around 75%.”

It’s important to note that the project in Middlesbrough forms part of the wider Digital Durham (inc. Gateshead, Sunderland and Tees Valley) programme, which was recently extended (here and here) and now aims to make BT’s “fibre broadband” network available to 98% of local premises by September 2016 (note: 96% will get “superfast” speeds of 25Mbps+).

Local authorities across the country are currently busy taking similar decisions and we can probably expect a third round of primary funding from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office in the very near future, which will focus on closing the final 5%.

But it’s also known that some councils have been struggling to find the necessary match-funding, which is a situation that probably won’t get any easier if yet more funding from the central Government is offered to bridge the gap post-2017.

Meanwhile Phase One of the roll-out in Middlesbrough will start at the end of this year and should initially help 93% of local premises to get the faster connectivity, with Phase Two currently being developed to cover the period up to 2017 as per the above funding.

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