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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

Council to spend £2.5m promoting superfast broadband

Cumbria County Council is to spend £2.5 million promoting the benefits of superfast broadband to the business community.

The money will be spent ensuring that the impending roll-out of superfast broadband by BT will lead to business growth and generate new jobs.

Tender documents describe the contract as being for an “integrated business support programme aimed at stimulating the take up of superfast broadband services and ensuring small and medium sized enterprises take full advantage of its benefits”.

And they also reveal for the first time that the council’s Connecting Cumbria project is aiming to supply speeds of 30 Mbps to 90 per cent of homes and businesses.

BT will begin the roll out early next year with the mammoth project due for completion in 2014. It is being funded by around £40 million of Government and European money plus a further £30 million investment from BT.

The European funding is conditional on Connecting Cumbria delivering real economic benefits with targets set for the number of business who will increase revenue with faster broadband and the number of jobs created.

Alan Cook, programme manager of Connecting Cumbria, said: “The £2.5 million will fund business support and is not so much about stimulating demand. It will make businesses aware of the ways broadband can give them real benefits.”

Small business, for example, could use faster broadband to use electronic invoicing or access HR and pay roll services online, he added.
Mr Cook said successful bidders for the project are likely to be involved in a range of activities such as meeting business groups, one-to-one sessions, local meetings and other events.

It is an approach that has been used elsewhere in the UK where superfast broadband has been rolled out such as Cornwall where considerable sums have been allocated to promoting superfast broadband to businesses. 

However, the move is not without its critics such as Nick Kittoe, of Solway Communications, who described the idea as “demonstrable rubbish”.

The money would effectively be used to pay people to act as salespeople for BT’s services, he said, adding: “To put £2.5 million in context, Solway Communications is willing to go on record that for £2.5 million, it could provide synchronous internet access up to 250 Mbps to at least 90 per cent of the county’s businesses. Why does the County want to spend this vast sum on stimulating demand for a service that the county’s businesses are evidently already clamouring for - just look at the local media over recent years.”

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