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Norfolk UK Confirm GBP5.3M Clawback Boost for Fibre Broadband Rollout

Monday, August 3rd, 2015 (7:52 am) - Score 532

The Better Broadband for Norfolk project in England has become the first individual Broadband Delivery UK scheme to confirm that the clawback mechanism in its contract with BT will result in an additional £5.3 million being returned to further improve superfast broadband (24Mbps+) coverage.

At present the existing £41m project expects to deploy superfast speeds using BTOpenreach’s FTTC/P technology to 83% of local homes and businesses by the end of 2015. On top of that a new £17.9m Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) contract was signed earlier this year (here), which pledged to push the raw “fibre broadband” network footprint out to 90% by 2017 (i.e. the actual figure for “superfast” speeds is expected to be a few percentage points below 90%).

The situation in Norfolk is epitomised by the rural nature of the county, which features a lot of sparsely populated and spread out communities (a population density of around 400 per square mile). Obviously such smaller populations are more expensive to tackle and take longer to reach.

Never the less there is some good news on the horizon. Last week the Government confirmed that take-up of FTTC/P connections in BDUK project areas has been stronger than expected and they’ve thus activated the clawback mechanism ahead of schedule (here), which will return a total of up to £129m from BT to help boost coverage.

The clawback approach essentially means that take-up beyond 20% will trigger a return of some of the original investment in any given BDUK contract and that can then be used to extend the new network coverage even further.

At the end of March 2015 Norfolk had a take-up of 14.9% (here) in BDUK / BT enabled areas and so by now they’re probably very close to the 20% mark, as such it’s no surprise that they’ve confirmed the return of £5.3 million for further expansion.

Marie Strong, Chair of the Council’s Broadband Group, said (Lynn News):

This extra money means we will be able to bring high-speed broadband to a significantly greater number of rural homes and businesses in Norfolk.

Since Better Broadband for Norfolk got underway two and a half years ago and over this time high-speed broadband has been made available to around 160,000 premises, and more and more homes and businesses are getting access to the new fibre network every month.

There is still more to do and, while many villages and market towns in Norfolk have already benefited from the Better Broadband for Norfolk programme, bringing high-speed broadband to some of the more remote parts of Norfolk is particularly challenging.”

Admittedly £5.3m might sound like a lot, but the second contract (SEP) for pushing superfast broadband connectivity just a few more percentage points beyond the target of 83% by 2015 was worth £17.9m; costs rise once you have to tackle the more difficult areas (those are usually the last to benefit).

As such clawback might just about help to push 24Mbps+ capable connectivity out to around 90% of Norfolk and that will probably happen much later than the Government’s national UK target for 95% superfast coverage by 2017/18.

We expect to see more announcements like this over the coming weeks as local authorities across the UK do the math and attempt to confirm how much the first bucket of clawback is likely to be worth. The Broadband Delivery UK office informs us that a general breakdown of clawback by each local authority is not yet available.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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