Multi-million broadband boost sought

BUSINESS leaders and MPs from Suffolk are hoping for millions of pounds of government cash to develop the rural broadband network in the county.

They had a meeting with technology minister Ed Vaizey at Westminster yesterday in an attempt to persuade him to make the county one of three pilot areas for broadband in England.

That would unlock millions of pounds of funds to try to set up a comprehensive broadband network – although it would be dependent on matched funding from business.

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Daniel Poulter, who set up the meeting with his colleagues Peter Aldous and Therese Coffey, said he was encouraged by the minister’s response.

He said: “We made the case that it is vital to improve broadband coverage in Suffolk. We are quite hopeful that we will be one of the pilot areas for rural broadband provision.

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“That could lead to the government providing up to �12.5 million to develop broadband in the county – providing that business can match that figure and I am quite hopeful that should not be a problem.”

Dr Poulter said improving broadband provision across the county was vital – at the moment the picture is very patchy.

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“There already are proposals to improve coverage along the A14 corridor, but there are still parts of Ipswich and Felixstowe where it is not good enough.”

Broadband was important for business – and was also becoming an important utility for many people.

“It is right that people should be able to access broadband at home wherever they live – not just in large towns,” Dr Poulter said.

He was joined at the meeting by Waveney MP Mr Aldous and representatives from the county’s business community. Dr Coffey is currently on parliamentary business in America.

Mr Vaizey used his Twitter page to describe the session as a “Great meeting,” but an official from his department said he was not able to say anything else about the gathering.

Choose Suffolk chairman Andy Wood said the meeting went much better than he or the rest of the delegation had expected.

He said: “The minister seemed very impressed by our work to get the private and public sector to work together on this and like Dr Poulter I am really encouraged that we can become one of the pilot areas for the whole country.”

Mr Wood said the issue was bringing broadband to the “last third” of Suffolk – mainly rural areas of the county some distance from telephone exchanges.

He said: “The first third can be provided by business and the middle third can be squeezed between the first and third thirds – so hopefully we will be able to complete the picture in the county.”

The meeting came as business leaders from across the region prepare to go to Downing Street tomorrow with a petition calling on the coalition government to work with businesses to boost East Anglia.

More than 100,000 signatures have been collected in support of the “Blueprint for Growth” organised by the East of England “Space for Ideas” group.

Provision of reliable broadband services is a key element of the blueprint.

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