Cambridgeshire Council extends broadband network to isolated places


Cambridgeshire Council extends broadband network to isolated places

Rebecca Thomson

Cambridgeshire County Council is one of the first local authorities to roll out a high-speed broadband network to more isolated and rural locations.

The project demonstrates how much of the bill for the Digital Britain policies may end up being paid by local authorities as the need for better infrastructure across much of the UK continues to grow.

The high-speed network will be extended to foster carers, children's homes, care homes and outlying libraries.

The work is an extension of a pre-existing contract the council had with Virgin Media Business.

Paul Rouse, procurement manager for major IT projects at Cambridgeshire County Council, said extending connectivity to rural parts of the county has been costly.

"Connectivity is still, particularly in the north of the county, subject to the scarcity of supply, and in providing traditional services we have had to pay extremely high costs to connect or upgrade some secondary schools.

"That has hurt us financially, and we do have some issues with broadband speeds. But one of our objectives as an organisation is based around equality of provision."

Cambridgeshire is likely to look at a range of options when it comes to renewing its contract in 2012. Rouse said one possibility is looking for a service provider that will be willing to help invest in the network, because of the potential commercial benefits providers get from extending it.

"We want to know, what does the market foresee will be the fallout benefit, and where will they take some risk? If we have a rural school and they have to upgrade the fibre link, the money is being spent to meet our requirements. Does the company then make money by providing services to local residents?"

Some of the problems surrounding broadband coverage stem from the lack of a business model for telecoms companies, and partnerships between companies and local authorities which have an obligation to provide coverage may provide a way forward.

Rouse advised others working on similar projects to speak to as many other councils as possible. Cambridgeshire is working with Kent, Hampshire and Dorset which are all tackling the same problems. "Exploit the network that exists," he said. "There are a lot of people with a lot of experience in doing these things."

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