The local authority in Norfolk is currently in the process of deciding how best to finance the upcoming stage of their Better Broadband for Norfolk scheme (BBfN).
In order to complete the project, Norfolk council may have to borrow £11m to expand their current superfast coverage to 100% of premises in the area.
Currently the project has helped to connect around 90% of Norfolk residents to 24 Mbps + broadband with plans to extend that to 95% by the end of Q1 2020. Norfolk council is currently trying to work out how best to reach the last 5% of residents who are generally the most difficult and most expensive to connect due to living in more remote areas. To achieve this, a new contract has been suggested which would be partly financed by the DEFRA Rural Broadband Grant for around £2m with £11.1m being derived from existing funds.
A spokesperson for the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme has commented, saying that that the £11.1m required won’t be able to be accessed until 2023. In turn Norfolk has suggested that the cost of the last leg of the BBfN project could be funded via a loan to get things moving. The local authority is keen to hurry up the process partially because if the bid from DEFRA is accepted then one of the conditions is that the money must be spent by end of Q1 2020.
Time is of the essence in this situation because any applications for grants from DEFRA need to be completed by the end of May this year. This short window of opportunity doesn’t afford a huge amount of wiggle room for Norfolk Council, who said that the final stage of their BBfN programme will aim to give the contract to one ISP to “provide a solution for as many properties as possible.”
There is already strong interest in the contract as apparently three out of four ISPs who have been contacted are considering bidding. If all goes well, then Norfolk Council aims to begin acquisition by the end of April with everything ready to go ahead by the end of October this year.