Ensuring last 10 per cent gets connected

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The push continues to ensure that the ‘last 10 per cent’ of properties, which tend to be in rural areas, don’t miss out on superfast broadband.

Last week, the Gazette revealed that three wireless and satellite broadband firms had been signed up to the iNorthumberland project’s pioneering £1.3million loans scheme.

Now Northumberland County Council is tendering for a partner to deliver high-speed broadband for the last 10 per cent of the county.

As reported last week, a contract has been signed with BT to deliver superfast broadband for 91 per cent of the county and the ‘last 10 per cent’ scheme is designed to address those who would miss out otherwise – an estimated 13,000 premises.

The iNorthumberland programme has provisionally gained £1.6million of funding from Defra’s RCBF (Rural Community Broadband Fund) to connect more than 5,000 premises to superfast broadband.

iNorthumberland is advertising this opportunity with the intention of finding the best possible deal for the county.

This funding will need to be spent by September next year, so many of those who were originally set to miss out on superfast broadband will have the chance within 18 months.

The areas identified for funding have demonstrated high levels of demand for superfast broadband thanks to the work of local digital champions.

iNorthumberland intends to find additional funding, including the next round of RCBF, to address the remaining areas.

These projects will complement the loan scheme to ensure that all communities within Northumberland are able to access fast internet connections.

In September last year, we reported that four bids by the county council’s broadband team to Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund had all been give the green light to go to the full application stage.

The four areas are Felton, Coquetdale, North Tyne and Redesdale, which includes Kielder and Otterburn, and Hexhamshire.

The Coquetdale bid, which is ahead of the game in many respects, has recently signed a contract with BT for delivery of its project, which makes use of £460,000 from the RCBF.

l Defra recently published the results of its Farm Practices Survey 2012, which reported that 86 per cent of farms had access to a computer in 2012 and 98 per cent of those were connected to the internet.

But the speed of the broadband connections remains a key issue.

The majority – 60 per cent – of farms were connected to broadband speeds of less than 2Mbps, with only 32 per cent able to get speeds of above 2Mbps. A further six per cent were still stuck on out-dated dial-up technology, while two per cent had no internet connection at all.

But half of farmers still said that faster broadband/better internet connectivity would encourage increased computer use.