Business loans for broadband access

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Northamptonshire County Council is offering secured loans to businesses which could help provide broadband infrastructure in the county.

The Superfast Northamptonshire Access to Finance initiative would help the council realise its ambition to provide total superfast coverage in the county by 2017.

The initiative was developed in response to feedback from a county council survey, part of which asked industry what barriers to commercial investment they faced.

Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage, county council cabinet member for economic growth and strategic infrastructure, said: “An enormous amount of work is going on to develop superfast broadband infrastructure in the county, which is absolutely essential if we are going to be able to compete in the global digital economy.

“This particular initiative would secure a return on county council investment over a period of time and in doing so make public sector funding work in a smarter way.

“We asked industry what barriers they faced in delivering infrastructure and access to finance was one of the key factors.”

This initiative involves the offer of secured loans on a commercial basis, which means that any loans would be secured and repayable with interest. Firms would go through a two-stage application process.

The initiative would be offered on a competitive basis, with any applications assessed against clear criteria which would ensure quality and reliability of broadband services.

Suppliers would need to demonstrate viable business plans and be financially stable, while the technology would need to be scalable, future-proofed, and provide some choice amongst commercial broadband suppliers from which people could buy broadband services.

A report will be presented to Cabinet in February for a decision on recommendations to progress to full applications.

The county council believes that the Access to Finance initiative would help to reduce the scale of the funding challenge to support deployment in the more difficult, costly or remote areas where solutions rely on some level of public grant, gap funding, subsidy or concession in order to make it a viable proposition for market investors.

The county council has already partnered with BT to extend roll out to around 90 per cent of the county by 2015 (when combined with planned commercial coverage).

The Northamptonshire Next Generation Strategy sets out an approach to secure fibre-based broadband solutions in the remaining parts of the county between now and 2017, working with BT and the wider telecoms market to help achieve this. The Access to Finance initiative is one of the first proposals to come forward and promotes access line speeds of at least 30Mbps.