Brokerage scheme to help close broadband divide

A local Development Agency is trying to drive broadband rollout in its area by alerting service providers to areas keen to get a high-speed connection

A groundbreaking scheme being run by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) is attempting to alert telecoms firms to hot spots of broadband demand in areas where high-speed Internet services are not available.

The EEDA announced on Tuesday that this brokerage service had identified its first two areas of unserved broadband demand. These are Diss -- the Norfolk market town -- and Ipswich business start-up centre Felaw Maltings, which houses over 60 firms within one building.

Broadband service providers are now being invited to bid for the right to offer broadband to these two communities.

The brokerage scheme is a key part of the EEDA's Demand Broadband campaign, which was set up to address the fact that broadband isn't available across large swathes of eastern England.

Its Web site, demandbroadband.com, allows businesses and residents from six counties -- Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk -- to register their interest in getting a high-speed Internet connection. So far, over 8,000 registrations have been received.

This information is then shared with broadband service providers, helping them to see where it is commercially viable to build high-speed Internet networks.

"The information provided via the competition and the broadband brokerage is essential in judging the viability of supplying a service in a particular area," said Stuart Cowie of Mason Communications, which runs the brokerage service, in a statement.

"We will not favour any particular supplier. We make available information by regular communication to all broadband solutions providers, large or small, who will then have the chance to bid to provide a service to a demand hot spot," Cowie explained.

The EEDA is also planning to give businesses and local communities the chance to bid for a share of a £3m fund to subsidise broadband connections.

The Demand Broadband project is partly funded from the £30m that the government has made available to promote broadband in rural areas.

In a statement released on Tuesday, e-commerce minister Stephen Timms said that the EEDA was helping to boost broadband competition by letting telcos bid for these two "ready-made markets".

"Thanks to EEDA's Demand Broadband campaign, two new areas in Norfolk and Ipswich have been identified as new markets for broadband. The number of registrations on the demand broadband site shows the level of enthusiasm for these technologies among both businesses and consumers. The more this demand is demonstrated, the further broadband will spread, opening up access to everyone in every part of the UK," Timms said.


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