Lancashire County Council has issued a request for between three and five tenders to provide superfast broadband to the county within three years at a cost of £20m to £40m.
The notice in the Official Journal of the EU confirmed Computer Weekly reports that the county did not intend to wait for the results from the government's pilot rural broadband projects run by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).
The county says the Lancashire Superfast Broadband Project is looking for "an innovative partner to develop and deliver a future-proof, fully sustainable, superfast broadband network with access to end-user applications and services to the rural, business communities, public sector organisations and citizens".
It says the partner could be a single organisation or a consortium.
The partner would own and operate the network for at least seven years at it own risk. It would have to ensure open, equitable and transparent wholesale access to the network, the county says.
The partner would also have to develop and pay for a marketing programme to stimulate demand and business support. This would also develop the broadband and ICT skills of the local workforce, address "digital exclusion" and promote the use of broadband and ICT by communities.
"The superfast broadband network must provide the optimum achievable end-to-end service levels that support current and future applications and services, resilience, quality of customer experience and affordability at the end-user level," the county said. It aims for "close to 100% coverage", including rural, remote and sparsely populated areas.
All Lancashire's public sector organisations should be able to have their services delivered over the network, the county says. The council is already in discussions about outsourcing its public sector network to BT's Global Services division, although a deal has yet to be signed - BT says it "hopes to sign a contract soon".
The county would also seek public sector money to fund any shortfall in the partner's investment. The exact amount would be established through a competitive dialogue.
The deadline for expressions of interest is 5 April 2011, and the network build is expected to start on 1 January 2012.