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Superfast broadband: More rural funds detailed

Devon and Somerset, Norfolk and Wiltshire to get a share of £530m...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Devon and Somerset, Norfolk and Wiltshire to get a share of £530m...

Somerset superfast broadband: Funding for more rural regions detailed

The Somerset hills: Devon and Somerset are set to share £30m to help fund superfast broadband rolloutsPhoto: Marilyn Peddle

The government has named three more rural regions that will get a slice of the £530m next-generation broadband pot: Devon and Somerset, Norfolk and Wiltshire are set to get varying shares.

The £530m funding has been created by government to help finance the rollout of 25Mbps-plus broadband to areas - typically rural - where the market won't go of its own accord. The aim is for 90 per cent of the UK to have access to such speeds by 2015.

The exact amount of funding each of the three regions will be allocated has yet to be finalised but the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) said allocations are about £30m for Devon and Somerset, £15m for Norfolk and £4m for Wiltshire. These figures are "in the region" of the bids made by each county, according to a DCMS spokesman.

Each local authority now has to tender for contractors to upgrade their broadband infrastructure - with the hope that suppliers will be rolling out broadband upgrades in the three regions "within a year", according to the DCMS.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement that it is now "only a matter of time before people in these three rural areas have access to the connection speeds more commonly associated with towns and cities".

He added that other councils will soon have the chance to bid for a nationwide funding programme. "This is part of our plan for virtually every community in the UK to have access to superfast broadband," Hunt said.

The government expects a mixture of technologies will be used in the rural rollouts - including mobile, satellite and fixed-line fibre broadband connections, to hook up community hubs with superfast speeds.

The DCMS said it has received a total of 18 bids from local authorities for a slice of the next-gen broadband funding. However, the government intends to provide some funding for all rural local authorities with requirements for next-generation broadband help.

The DCMS spokesman said there are about 150 such rural local authorities in the UK, although he noted that some might be grouped together when it comes to funding allocations, as Devon and Somerset are.

The department expects all 150 local authorities to receive funding during the current parliament "as their proposals evolve". Devon and Somerset, Norfolk and Wiltshire are being named now as their proposals were deemed ready to be funded, according to the DCMS spokesman.

The government has previously named North Yorkshire, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Cumbria and the Herefordshire borders as regions where superfast broadband pilots will be used to test the market for rural rollouts. None of these market-testing pilots are yet up and running - but two of the regions have published initial tenders, the spokesman said.

Rural parts of England might also be able to tap into a new Rural Community Broadband Fund - expected to be worth up to £20m - which is being created by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and jointly funded by Broadband Delivery UK, the government agency overseeing the next-gen broadband funding rollout, and Defra using Rural Development Programme for England European funds.

The fund will be used to ensure the success of the government's rural broadband pilots and to "apply the lessons learned" to roll out in other areas, according to Defra.

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