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Suffolk: Technology giants set to battle over bid to bring broadband to county

PUBLISHED: 08:44 11 May 2012 | UPDATED: 12:27 11 May 2012

Better Broadband

Better Broadband

Archant

TWO of the world’s leading technology giants are expected to do battle in an attempt to bring high-speed broadband to Suffolk.

However Fujitsu and BT are thought to have very different ideas about how to bring the technology to communities across the county.

BT wants to build on its existing network. However it would look at different solutions for different parts of the county.

Annette Thorpe from BT said the company was not able to go into any great detail because of commercial considerations – but the key element was that the rules would be set by the commissioners, Suffolk County Council and the Broadband for Suffolk programme.

She said: “We will be looking at a mix of solutions in different parts of the county, but in this programme it will be the commissioners who set down what is needed.”

And she emphasised that whatever the result of the bidding process, BT was committed to increasing to 80,000 the number of homes in the county that it could provide with broadband speeds of up to 80 Mbps.

It is understood that Fujitsu would work closely with Virgin Media to allow its fibre-optic links to bring telephone and cable television to more people in the county.

A spokesman for Fujitsu said the company was currently working on proposals to introduce broadband to rural parts of Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

He could not comment on whether Fujitsu would bid for the Suffolk contract – however where it was looking to install broadband it aimed to bring fibre-optic cables straight to properties in most cases.

In more rural areas it used wireless technology to bring broadband to individual customers.

Virgin Media already has tens of thousands of customers in Ipswich and the Felixstowe area – it inherited them when it was formed through the merger between Virgin and NTL five years ago.

It does not plan to extend its network to any great extent although it could complete cabling up the Felixstowe area – that was abandoned when NTL faced financial problems a decade ago.

A Virgin Media spokesman said: “We would love to provide our services to everyone but, having already invested £13 billion of private money to build our network across half the country, we have to carefully consider where we can expand further within our own means.

“We would urge residents to e-mail cablemystreet@virginmedia.co.uk so we can see if there is enough demand to make this possible.”

Invitations to tender for the contract to provide broadband throughout Suffolk are due to be sent out at the end of this month.

They are formally going to be sent out by the county council, but when returned they will be scored and assessed by the Broadband for Suffolk Programme group – which includes business leaders and community representatives as well as the county council.

The hope is that a provider will be appointed by the end of September, and the first new communities and properties will be linked into fast or superfast broadband by the end of the year.

County council leader Mark Bee said: “We’re very conscious of the digital divide that exists between urban and rural areas in Suffolk.

“The reality is that there are parts of Ipswich where people can benefit from up to 100mbps while as much as 20% of Suffolk, mostly in rural areas, barely scrapes 2mbps.

“That’s precisely why the Better Broadband for Suffolk campaign is working to make sure every household and every business has access to 21st century broadband speeds if they want them.

“Superfast broadband means more opportunities to do business, great access to learning and the transformation and improvement of key public services. Anything that improves access to broadband in Suffolk should be welcomed.”

Digital Divide:

THE digital divide is starkly illustrated in Suffolk by the difference in speeds on offer in the areas with a Virgin Media connection and the rural parts of the county.

In Ipswich and parts of Felixstowe, many homes currently have broadband speeds of 30 megabips per second(Mbs).

Virgin Media is currently increasing this speed to 60 or 100Mbps. The fastest speeds offered by the company through its fibre optic cables is 120Mbps.

Meanwhile in rural parts of Suffolk, including many villages, many households currently only have broadband speeds of about 1Mbps.

The broadband programme should see all properties in Suffolk get a minimum of 5Mbps and for properties in towns to get a minimum of 15-20Mbps, rising to much higher figures as technology allows.

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