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Major investment in broadband on the cards

Herefordshire Council’s cabinet has backed a proposal to include £6 million in its 2012/13 budget for a major project to improve broadband in the county.

The funds will be matched against government money already allocated to the county, with a major contribution expected from the selected company which will be contracted to design, build and maintain the broadband network.

The project is being delivered through Borders Broadband as a partnership between Herefordshire and Gloucestershire to improve the broadband network in the counties to create opportunities for businesses, households and communities.

The Borders Broadband project is one of four UK pilots to meet the challenge of delivering broadband in rural areas.  The Government’s minimum level of acceptable broadband service of 2 Mbps (megabits per second) is not available to 23.8 per cent of the households in Herefordshire and 17 per cent of the households in Gloucestershire; and currently there is no Next Generation Access Broadband available in Herefordshire, whilst there is only 35 per cent coverage in Gloucestershire.  This limited amount of coverage is having an impact on businesses being able to compete while rural households are missing out on the advantages of access to broadband.

More than 10,000 businesses and households in the two counties have completed a questionnaire on broadband use and demand.  Early results show that there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the current services with a strong desire to use the internet much more than currently possible; along with high recognition that broadband is essential for modern living with 86 per cent of businesses seeing faster broadband as very important to them and key in creating business advantage.

Cllr Graham Powell, Broadband Champion for Herefordshire, said: “The Council’s investment in broadband is an investment in the long term future of Herefordshire.  Broadband is the 21st century utility that has the ability to improve many facets of our everyday life and businesses need fast

Broadband to access global markets and global suppliers - it is not acceptable for those who live in our rural communities to be left behind”.

Herefordshire Council’s cabinet approved the recommendation to include £6 million in its budget for the project when it met on Thursday, January 19. The report will be considered by a full meeting of council when it meets in early February.

The council is on track to award the contract to the network supplier in spring this year, and there is still opportunity to contribute to the Broadband questionnaire (available at www.fastbroadband4herefordshire.org.uk).