New high speed Broadband hub in Dereham

Rob GarrattThousands of homes and businesses in Dereham will enjoy a new high-speed broadband connection by this time next year.Speeds of up to 24Mb a second will be available to around 10,000 homes in and around the town, BT has announced.Rob Garratt

Thousands of homes and businesses in Dereham will enjoy a new high-speed broadband connection by this time next year.

Speeds of up to 24Mb a second will be available to around 10,000 homes in and around the town, BT has announced.

But while this is a ticket to the fast lane for some, thousands of people living outside the town risk being left standing, as this upgrade represents the final phase in a nationwide pledge to improve internet access.

Dereham is one of just four places in Norfolk that is being upgraded to BT's pioneering 21st Century Network.

The four exchanges will be installed by spring 2011, BT pledged on Tuesday, and will offer connections speeds currently unavailable outside of Norwich, King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

However, these new hubs are the last phase of BT's pledge to get 75pc of the country's homes online at speeds of up 24Mb.

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And with no further commitment to upgrade connection speeds after this, it is unclear if and when rural communities outside the town will get their hands on the same service.

Phillip Duigan, chair of Norfolk County Council's Broadband Working Group, said: 'This is good news - we've been trying to get BT to listen to us and they are now listening to us.

'This is excellent news for Dereham, we are at last going forward; but it doesn't address the 'not spots'.

'In some ways I feel embarrassed being in Dereham - we're powering along when a lot of people out there can't get a decent speed.

John Clemo chief executive of Norfolk Rural Community Council, based in Dereham, added: 'This represents a divide between rural and urban broadband in level and quality of service. This has the potential to have a massive impact on rural communities and businesses.

'Any improvements are good news, however what we need to focus on is making sure all areas get a minimum standard, and that the minimum standard keeps up with the rest of the country.'

Peter McCarthy-Ward, BT's East of England regional director, said areas were picked for upgrade based on dmand, cost-effectiveness and feedback from the wholesale service providers, which sell on the connection speeds.

Mr McCarthy-Ward said: 'This is significant investment by BT in the region which will enhance competition from retail companies.'

While the exchanges will grant speeds of 'up to' 24Mb, a typical home would see a connection of around 8 or 10Mb.

At present all of Norfolk has access to a connection of 'up to' 8Mb, which translates to around 3 or 4Mb for homes close to the broadband hub.

However rural homes which are a long way from the connection are unlikely to see much improvement with the vamped-up connections, because of a strong decay rate with the connection.

At present Norfolk downloads of this speed are limited to Norwich, King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth, where around 100,000 homes already have access to 24Mb connections.

This week's announcement by BT will see around 30,000 homes and busomesses in Dereham, Gorleston, Costessey and Drayton upgraded.

But that leaves more than 200,000 Norfolk homes - more than half the county - that has not been singled out for development and will be waiting for BT's next round of investments, which is yet to be confirmed.

Caroline Williams, CEO Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, added: 'This is a great step forward for businesses in Norfolk's market towns and surrounding rural areas. Increased Broadband speed is key to enabling businesses to take advantage of opportunities as we move out of recession.

'For too long Norfolk has been disadvantaged and the fact that the business voice has been heard and recognized is very good news. This is only the start of the journey however and we will be pressurizing for increased speed and coverage across Norfolk.'

Mr Duigan added: 'From my committee's point of view we would always want more; we're at base camp now, at least we're going forward.

'But we need to do more. We in Norfolk are going to have to show we can make the best of this - we can then demonstrate that we are serious and that Norfolk is a good investment.'