Through the iNorthumberland programme, Northumberland County Council and BT have agreed a fund of £2.2 million to bring the high-speed technology to some of the most expensive and technically difficult to reach communities in the county. The new iNorthumberland Community Broadband Fund works with a Community Fibre Partnership programme in which communities not currently in any fibre broadband plans can partner with Openreach, the local network business which is part of BT Group, to get superfast broadband in their area. These communities can now apply to use the new iNorthumberland fund, which can be matched by up to 50 per cent of additional private funding, on top of Openreach’s investment. If fully matched, the value of new broadband schemes could be more than £4 million.
The fund will offer up to £2,000 matched funding per premise for a superfast broadband connection or up to £2,500 for ultrafast - with a maximum contribution available to a single community capped at £100,000. Each community will need to have a nominated person or organisation to apply for inclusion in the scheme. They will be responsible for getting a community fibre broadband quote from Openreach and also required to arrange payment of the community’s contribution to the scheme when the contract is agreed.
Cllr Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services at Northumberland County Council, said: “I am really pleased that we have been able to agree the funding for this scheme, and to get the ball rolling for a number of communities who are geared up to sign contracts, and get work underway. We know that there is a high demand amongst households in these more hard to reach areas, and also that a number of businesses are struggling to sustain their current business models due to connectivity issues. Securing schemes through this funding will help to increase access to services and allow greater adoption of digital services for rural residents.It will also help to grow the economy by both supporting existing businesses and encouraging new ones to become established in Northumberland.”
By the end of this year the iNorthumberland programme will have delivered superfast broadband to 93 per cent of homes and business in the county - and it is envisaged that through this new community fund it could reach close to 98 per cent. These final premises are in some of the most rural and dispersed communities in Northumberland and providing connectivity to these areas has been both technologically challenging and costly. The iNorthumberland team has been working with BT, Openreach and local communities and groups across the county with a view to progressing with this scheme, and some communities are already gearing up to sign contracts. Some of the first communities set to benefit include Nunnykirk, Stanton near Netherwitton, Bolam, Pauperhhaugh and Styford.
Steve Haines, Managing Director of next generation access for Openreach, said: “It is great to be able to work with Northumberland County Council and communities from across the County to find a fibre broadband solution. Openreach is committed to making fibre broadband as widely available as possible for households and businesses. The technology really does have the ability to transform the way people interact online.
Simon Roberson, BT’s Regional partnership director for the North East, added: “This additional fund is quite literally going to help superfast broadband go that extra mile, reaching communities that would otherwise be unlikely to benefit from faster broadband speeds. This is fantastic news for Northumberland.”
The iNorthumberland team will liaise with communities who have previously been in touch with the council or BT to support them through the process. Those who are interested will need to register with the iNorthumberland team, who will be able to provide support in completing documentation and starting the process. As well as the 50:50 funding option, there could be further opportunities for areas to become connected. In instances where Openreach cannot provide a quote under the criteria of the fund, there will be secondary funding within the scheme which could be used to seek alternative network solutions, such as fibre via a different network provider, fixed wireless or mobile 4G.
The funding for the iNorthumberland Community Broadband Scheme has been made available due to efficiencies in the first phase of the iNorthumberland programme, which has already made fibre broadband available to more than 55,000 premises across the county. More than 40 per cent of Northumberland households and businesses able to upgrade to the new technology have already chosen to do so - a figure which is among the highest levels of take-up in the UK.
For further information and details of how to contact iNorthumberland visit www.inorthumberland.org.uk