North Yorkshire County Council will today formally announce a public-private deal with a major telecoms firm which will use UK government, EU and private funding to install a huge broadband network stretching across the county.
It is understood the deal – first revealed in the Yorkshire Post earlier this month – will see every single property in North Yorkshire guaranteed an internet connection of at least 2Mbs before 2015, with nine out of 10 homes and businesses gaining access to next-generation “superfast” speeds.
In a county where people travel huge distances to access services, visit friends or undertake their everyday business, the prospect of universal high-speed broadband coverage is being heralded as akin to the arrival of the canals or the railways.
“This is a massive event for North Yorkshire,” said North Yorkshire County Council’s deputy leader, Coun Carl Les, who is also the chairman of the Connecting North Yorkshire project.
“It is going to make a huge difference to so many people’s lives.
“It’s not an exaggeration to compare this sweeping technological revolution to the creation of the railways in the 19th century, or the development of air travel in the 20th.”
The Government has set aside some £850m to roll out high-speed and superfast broadband to areas which private firms such as BT and Virgin are unlikely to reach with their own networks.
North Yorkshire was chosen as one of five pilot areas to roll out the rural broadband scheme, and has been locked in a procurement process for the past 12 months as councillors strive to get the best possible deal for their money.
The final tendering process has come down to a straight fight between BT and Fujitsu, with the winner to be announced later today.
The council received £17m from the Government and won a further £8m in EU funding. It is understood the winning bidder has contributed around £25m of its own investment.
With previous spending included, the council put the total investment at about £70m.
“It will boost the economy of North Yorkshire in so many ways,” Coun Les said. “By giving existing small businesses the opportunity to expand their markets and work more efficiently, and by attracting start-up firms to a part of the world where they would not previously have been viable.”
North Yorkshire will be the first of the Government’s pilot areas to sign off its contract, largely because it already had considerable internet expertise in-house due to the success of its public sector internet service NYNet, set up a decade ago to help drive forward the first wave of broadband across the county.
While other pilot areas have become bogged down in the process of winning EU approval for their schemes, North Yorkshire’s past experience has allowed the county to steal a march.
“It’s fantastic news for North Yorkshire, and it’s important to understand the crucial role that having NYNet has played,” said Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, who has campaigned to improve internet connections across the county.