Broadband ‘not-spot’ frustrations mount
Simmering frustration at north Norfolk's poor or non-existent broadband service boiled over again this week with another set-back for customers.
Anyone entering a new national BT competition offering fast-speed internet connection as a prize will have been turned away if they live in a small community.
That blow follows the recent publication of a county map showing large parts of north Norfolk are either without broadband coverage, or rely on a standard-speed connection.
Leading business representatives and councillors say the problem is a major concern as north Norfolk struggles to keep its head above the troubled economic waters, and they are regularly lobbying providers and MPs.
And one business chief has called for more local co-operation to tackle problems.
BT is rolling out 'superfast fibre-optic broadband' across the UK and is offering users the chance to vote online for their area to be included.
But votes only count from communities with a minimum of 1,000 premises.
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And the map, produced by business pressure group Shaping Norfolk's Future and Norfolk County Council, revealed that higher broadband speeds of up to 20mbps are only currently available in north Norfolk in the North Walsham, Aylsham and Fakenham areas.
Towns such as Cromer, Sheringham, Holt and Stalham are likely to have access to speeds of only two to eight mbps.
'If you live in places like Bodham, East Beckham, Ingworth and Felmingham, you get nothing,' said Chris Starkie, chief executive of Shaping Norfolk's Future.
'We know that businesses that make use of broadband are more efficient. Contacting suppliers, running a website, trading with and contacting other businesses, or sending pictures and documents - it's much easier.'
Mr Starkie hoped that a �50,000 county council pilot scheme to install a wi-fi wireless system on a west Norfolk primary school, which any household within a 450m radius could access, could be available in north Norfolk in a second phase, at an 'affordable' cost to subscribers.
Ian Doughty, chairman of the North Norfolk Business Forum, said such schemes should be encouraged.
His own companies had invested in high-speed fibre optic technology and were quite close to the Melton Constable exchange.
But Mr Doughty added: 'We do deal with a number of small businesses in rural north Norfolk who are relying on the local public exchange and their own resources, and in many instances we experience problems, because they are exposed to the limitations of the service within their village, and the limits of the equipment they can afford to invest in.
'I do believe there is real potential in many of these villages to pool resources on a community basis by using the very powerful systems in schools, libraries or local businesses to establish local area networks that private individuals and small businesses could tap into.
North Norfolk district councillor Clive Stockton, whose portfolio includes economic development said: 'You could argue that this issue is more important than road widening and highway improvements because all modern communication is done virtually.'
* The BT competition website address is www.racetoinfinity.bt.com