The first contract for the provision of high speed broadband for Suffolk is coming to an end, ahead of schedule and on budget. This was the message that we heard at our meeting for members with 'remote communities' that took place this afternoon.
This was cheering for us as County Councillors, but less cheering in that many of the communities that we represent did not participate in the first round, and there is still a measure of uncertainty with regard to when the magic fibre will arrive.
All should become much clearer in around November this year when BT will be able to communicate the results of its scoping exercise for the second contract which will reach around 50,000 further premises across the county. These are in general more remote than the c. 100,000 homes that fell under the first contract, and it will cost roughly twice per house to connect them.
Once the second contract is complete in 2017 around 95% of the county will be covered, with only 15.000 particularly hard to reach homes still needing a high speed/fibre solution. To some extent we are now waiting on the Government to state how this last 5% will be accommodated. It is likely that no one solution will be appropriate for all, and indeed much of the second contract will be delivered on a case by case 'bespoke' basis. Additionally when the second contract is scoped later this year however it is likely that the solution for the last 5% will become clearer.
Some people in remote areas may be in despair, believing that improved broadband will never reach them. They may be tempted to take the situation into their own hands and sign up with an expensive satellite provider. I would suggest that, if they can bear to, they wait to see what further information about future coverage they receive later this year.
The commitment to provide a solution to anyone in Suffolk unable to receive a signal of 2 mbps or more at the end of this year still stands, and the mechanism for arranging this will also be made public in the autumn/early winter.