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Ntl to spread broadband across Cambridgeshire

Public-private sector partnership approach to community broadband networking could be copied in other parts of the UK
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Cable firm ntl announced on Tuesday that it has won a contract to build a community broadband network that will bring high-speed Internet access to government buildings, shops and local facilities across Cambridgeshire.

The deal, worth up to £29m over eight years, means that 300 council buildings -- including offices, schools and libraries -- will be broadband-enabled by April 2004. Other "community access points" -- such as post offices and pubs -- will also be included in the rollout.

Should further funding -- either from government or commercial organisations -- become available, then another 400 sites across the whole of Cambridgeshire could be connected

This is the first time that a community broadband network has been financed under the government's Private Finance Initiative. The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions announced in December 2000 that it planned to contribute money towards the creation of a community IT network in Cambridge, since when Cambridge County Council has been conducting the process of choosing a suitable supplier.

"Ntl business has a proven track record of delivering 'on time, on budget' for customers," says Keith Walters, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, in a statement. "With this pedigree, ntl business was the natural choice to build our broadband community network in Cambridgeshire."

The broadband network will link together four council sites, in Cambridge, Ely, Huntingdon and March. Once built, Cambridge County Council plan to use it to support "smart card" systems, which local residents would use to access transport and leisure services.

The council also plans to run a community portal at www.cambridgeshire.net that will include links to local and central government information, electronic reference and learning resources, charitable and voluntary sector information and live video links to specialist services, as well as electronic forms for transactions and communication with government departments.

The Cambridge project has also been awarded "Pathfinder" status by the government, which means it could be used as a blueprint and copied by other councils across Britain.

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