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Super Fast Broadband Bid

29th March, 2011
Devon County Council and Somerset County Council have joined forces to make a compelling bid to win vital Government funding for super fast broadband for the two counties.

The local authorities have confirmed their intention to bid for funds to the Government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) agency, which will enable a superfast service exceeding 20MB/s to 85% of businesses and homes, with a minimum of 2MB/s to all premises by 2015. 

The ultimate goal is superfast broadband for everyone, as far as possible. This would be a substantial improvement on the situation now ? nearly a quarter of homes and businesses in Somerset and Devon currently have no or very slow broadband.

The Government has given BDUK a ?530 million fund to assist with the rollout of superfast broadband to areas that are not subject to investment by the private sector  - the so-called "final third" of the UK, predominantly rural areas. So far superfast broadband delivery has been limited to densely populated urban areas, which have provided the greatest financial returns to the private sector. 

The bid's backers say that growing the rural economy is crucial to the UK's economic recovery but the problem is that market forces alone will not ensure complete broadband roll out, so securing Government support is crucial for the heart of the South West's economy. 

Nationally it is expected that the telecommunications market will not deliver to the ?final third?, but the scale of poor connectivity in Somerset and Devon means this is actually the ?final half?  - some 300,000 homes and businesses across the two counties. 

Many of these premises are situated in market and coastal towns as well as rural areas, providing scope for significant growth and revenue. It will also assist with small and micro businesses, which are key to the two counties' economies.
Devon and Somerset County Councils undertook detailed surveys into broadband coverage, which mapped out speed of service against population density to help inform their bid, and ensure that the funds will be most appropriately targeted. 

In Devon 22% of businesses said that slow broadband acted as a constraint on growth and productivity, with 75% citing that improved speeds would assist their business. 

In Somerset it showed that poor broadband is a barrier for 22% of rural businesses, compared to 5% of businesses in urban areas.

Somerset and Devon County Councils have just launched a new joint survey to map demand for improved broadband in the county. Residents and businesses are being urged to take a little time to complete the survey. The results will give greater insight into the issues faced by the community.  The survey can be accessed online at www.connectingsomerset.co.uk, where more information on superfast broadband is also available. 

Devon County Councillor Will Mumford, Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration and Strategic Planning said: ? This is a significant milestone that will enable us to build on our economic potential for both counties. It will support business growth, enabling access to new markets, encouraging enterprise and promoting employment opportunities that can boost the local economy and create new prospects for businesses across the region.

?It will also enable rural economies to compete on a level playing field, and by improving the potential for home working, it can reduce commuting for many people. Broadband is now viewed as an essential utility and we need to ensure that our communities and businesses are not excluded. From filing VAT returns to farming records, most of the government departments are shifting to online submission, so it is vital that people can access a reliable and consistent service at an acceptable speed. 

 ?I am delighted that we are working with Somerset on this pioneering bid; this is one of many initiatives we are considering to support business and the roll out of broadband, and we can both profit from our joint approach.?
Somerset County Councillor David Hall, Cabinet Member, Strategic Planning and Economic Development, said: ?Securing improved connectivity for businesses is a key priority for Somerset County Council our prospective Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.

 ?Our plans will deliver connectivity to our many businesses and communities in market and coastal towns and remote rural areas. It will transform the competitiveness of our many small and medium sized rural businesses, attract new businesses and help local businesses to grow - ultimately leading to more and better jobs. It will help our market and coastal towns and villages to flourish ? enabling people to work from home, and access efficient public services in completely different ways.

?The substantial funding that Somerset County Council has committed today demonstrates how important we feel this is to our economy and our communities.

?All parties at Somerset County Council, Somerset MPs, District Councils, and business leaders are fully behind this approach. I believe working with Devon County Council will deliver significant benefits. It is likely to be one of the most significant bids in the country.

BDUK launched its fund of ?530m at the beginning of March, which was part of the TV licence fee settlement with the BBC, from the Department for Culture Media and Sport. The application will be submitted before the deadline of 18 April, and decisions are expected by the end of May.

For Devon enquiries email: economy@devon.gov.uk or tel: 01392 383428
ENDS