Cambs seeks European funding to bankroll broadband business benefits

CAMBRIDGESHIRE is looking for EU funding to roll out broadband to rural homes and businesses across the county.

Building on an initiative from Huntingdonshire District Council, which saw the regulator Ofcom hold its first public meeting in St Ives in autumn 2008, Cambridgeshire County Council and the five districts last week finalised a bid for �1.2million to the European Regional Development Fund to bankroll grants to small companies.

One of the key outcomes of the Ofcom/HDC exercise was the frustration felt by companies in rural Huntingdonshire that lack of bandwith was holding back commercial development.

Now the Government has thrown its weight behind extending broadband availability to areas that are commercially unattractive to create what Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport called “the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

He set up Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) with a total budget of �530million in the life of the current parliament and with “the goal of delivering a fibre point in every community in the UK by the end of this parliament, bringing superfast broadband within reach of communities urban and rural, and commits to ensuring that homes and businesses right across the UK are able to access a decent level of connectivity, even in the most remote areas.”

Cambridgeshire wants a slice of that cash, too, according to HDC’s senior sustainable economic development officer Sue Bedlow, a will be putting in its bid later this year.

“We shall be making an application towards the end of the summer for infrastructure investment from BDUK, though it’s still hard to estimate the total cost because solutions will vary between locations,” she told The Hunts Post.

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“I would not be surprised to see some public-private partnerships, some use of public sector networks, community broadband solutions and some need for gap funding.”

The ERDF application is to part-fund an initiative across Cambridgeshire for a business support programme to deliver maximum benefit from the broadband rollout, particularly for small companies, many of which do not make best use of the internet in their commercial activities.

The three-pronged programme has three aims: to raise awareness of the potential of improved broadband speeds, to provide one-to-one advice to companies, and to provide grants, probably of up to �4,000 to deliver the improvements identified.