Northumberland UK and BT Launch £2.2m Rural Community Broadband Fund



The Northumberland County Council, which is currently working with Openreach(BT) to expand the coverage of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) connectivity to 95% of local premises by the end of 2017, has launched a new £2.2m community fund that could benefit a further 2,000 premises.

The new fund aims to complement Openreach’s existing deployment contract by inviting communities, specifically those that aren’t currently planned to benefit from the current iNorthumberland roll-out project, to apply for funding under the new scheme via a designated individual (community representative) or organisation.

The scheme itself will offer up to £2,000 of matched funding per premise for a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+ FTTC) connection or up to £2,500 for “ultrafast broadband” (100Mbps+ FTTP) – with a maximum contribution available to a single community being capped at £100,000. The general idea is that private / community investment would cover up to 50% of the cost and Openreach will then fill the gap.

As well as the 50:50 funding option, there could be further opportunities for areas to become connected. For example, in instances where Openreach cannot provide a quote under the criteria of the fund, there will be secondary funding within the scheme which could be used to seek alternative network solutions, such as fibre via a different network provider, fixed wireless or 4G mobile.

Cllr Nick Oliver, Northumberland County Council, said:

“I am really pleased that we have been able to agree the funding for this scheme, and to get the ball rolling for a number of communities who are geared up to sign contracts, and get work underway.

We know that there is a high demand amongst households in these more hard to reach areas, and also that a number of businesses are struggling to sustain their current business models due to connectivity issues.

Securing schemes through this funding will help to increase access to services and allow greater adoption of digital services for rural residents. It will also help to grow the economy by both supporting existing businesses and encouraging new ones to become established in Northumberland.”

Apparently a number of remote communities are already close to signing the first contracts under this scheme, including Nunnykirk, Stanton near Netherwitton, Bolam, Pauperhaugh and Styford. We note that part of Nunnykirk also looks set to benefit via another community effort to deploy a new fixed wireless broadband service.

Steve Haines, Openreach’s MD of NGA Broadband, said:

“It is great to be able to work with Northumberland County Council and communities from across the County to find a fibre broadband solution.

Openreach is committed to making fibre broadband as widely available as possible for households and businesses. The technology really does have the ability to transform the way people interact online.”

A number of local authorities have already launched similar co-funded community schemes alongside Openreach and the funding for this one appears to have been “made available due to efficiencies in the first phase of the iNorthumberland programme” (no details were given). However we did also spot some potentially bad news in the council’s press release.

At present the front page of iNorthumberland’s website states that it aims to “bring superfast broadband to 95% of the county by the end of 2017” and we know that they’re currently hovering around the 92% mark. Sadly today’s press release states that they only expect to hit 93% by the end of 2017, although “it is envisaged that through this new community fund it could [eventually] reach close to 98%” (no firm date is given for this expectation).

In fairness Northumberland has a lot of difficult rural communities to tackle in that final 8% and so we’re not surprised that it might take a little longer than expected to reach the current target of 95%.