The race is on to get Calderdale connected

THE race is on to get Calderdale connected to superfast broadband.

Calderdale Council has been awarded a share of £6.34 million Government funding to improve its internet speed along with West Yorkshire’s other four local authorities.

Now they all have until September to match their share of the cash and tender for internet service providers to match the total public funds.

European funding is also being applied for.

Project leader Barry Collins, the council’s portfolio holder for economy and environment, said: “We have got to make a decision really quite quickly.

“It’s a big financial commitment but there are vast gains to be had.

“We need to be clear that this is an investment that people do support.”

The average line speed in Calderdale is less than 8 megabytes per second (mbps), and superfast broadband of up to 40 mbps is starting to be rolled out by service providers like BT.

But rural areas such as Blackshaw Head have little or no connectivity, and an estimated 5,622 Calderdale children have no access to the internet from home.

It is estimated 33,720 adults here have never accessed the internet - a staggering 20 per cent of Calderdale’s adult population.

Research shows families who have internet access save between £560 and £700 year through activities such as online shopping and being able to access price comparison websites.

Pupils with internet access at home have also been shown to achieve an average of two GCSEs higher than their peers without it.

Mary Farrar, regional strategy and policy officer, said the council plans to focus on ensuring everyone in Calderdale has at least 2 mbps first.

“If we are successful in getting European funding, then that will be used to provide a minimum of 24 mbps for businesses,” she said.

It is hoped faster internet will attract more businesses to the area. The work needed to improve infrastructure would also create construction jobs.

Mrs Farrar said: “We have predominantly small businesses here, around 86 per cent. They are really hamstrung by the lack of speed.

“There’s a risk if we don’t do this that we won’t attract investors.”

The strategy is still being considered and will go before Cabinet in June and if successful, work to deliver the scheme will begin in early 2013.

Coun Collins said: “What we want to do is to try and begin a conversation with the Calderdale community about whether this is an important and worthwhile investment.”