By Simon Galton
Expanding the use of the internet requires improvements to the capacity and speed of the internet system. Government policy is to roll out 'super-fast' broadband to 90% of the population by 2015. This roll out is principally focused on urban areas and centres of high economic activity and population, with investment from government (£530m up to 2015 and possibly £300m more up to 2017).
Broadband infrastructure improvements are expected to be mainly market driven and around 190,000 Leicestershire residents living in mainly rural areas will not benefit if the required investment is left to the market. In addition there are areas with 'slow-spots' where the internet speed is below 2Mbits/s. Taken together it is estimated that around £20m is needed in Leicestershire to do a really good job and ensure the benefits reach a wider proportion of the County's population. The County Council has therefore begun developing a broadband funding strategy to target resources at those areas that will not directly benefit from the market led infrastructure improvements.
Leicestershire County Council has received £3.1m from Broadband Delivery UK towards the estimated cost of improving the network in County (this funding is for the areas not covered by Market based improvements). It is anticipated that the funding will be matched by similar funding from both Local Authorities (the rest of the public sector) and private business. However, at present it may only be possible to raise £10m which will is half the total amount needed to cover the whole County.
If the Council and its partners are unable to raise the full amount it may be necessary to develop a criteria for distributing funds to local areas. There is clearly an important role here for local councillors to play making the case for particular communities to receive funding by explaining the benefits that will arise. The Council is expected to invite service providers to submit bids to provide the necessary technical solutions next spring and the roll out should start in 2012 and continue until available resources are fully committed.
Local area maps showing the current coverage are available at www.leics.gov.uk/broadband We understand that a website is being set up shortly to enable the public to show their support for high speed broadband projects. We will circulate the address as soon as it is known.