Rural areas look set to benefit

Northumberland’s quest for superfast broadband has a new weapon – a £1.3million loan scheme that is the first of its kind in the country.

The county’s iNorthumberland project has long been concerned about the final 10 per cent of the population, covering 60 per cent of the county’s area, for which there may not be funding for the fibre-optic roll-out.

Now, a loan scheme has been set up to encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) offering wireless satellite broadband or other alternative technologies to come into the county.

Stephen Gray, iNorthumberland programme director, described it as a ‘win-win situation all round’.

“The SMEs win because they can get into difficult-to-reach areas,” he said.

“It’s a win for the consumer and business that can immediately get better broadband and, of course, it’s a win for us on two counts.

“One is we encourage new companies to come in and in some cases new jobs will come in. The second big win is that we get out there to the last 10 per cent and ironically, we do that first not last.”

Mr Gray explained that one of the biggest issues for the companies is cashflow, which often means they have to charge between £200 to £400 for installation, something a lot of consumers are reluctant to do.

The loan, which will be based on the number of customers connected and repayable over three years, will allow this to be swallowed up as part of the monthly subscription cost.

And it also brings investment into the county alongside the possibility of jobs.

Around eight companies have already expressed an interest in the scheme, with four or so likely to be chosen and access a slice of the £1.3million, which could be extended if the scheme is a success.

Mr Gray said: “We think it’s a big plus. There isn’t anything quite like this in the country.

“It basically targets the 60 per cent of land area in north Northumberland and west Northumberland.

“This is our way of working with the last 10 per cent and doing something almost immediately. The real attraction of this scheme is it can be rolled out from February.”