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Households and businesses across rural Wiltshire, Norfolk, Devon and Somerset are set to benefit from high-speed broadband services after public funding was granted.

The counties have been announced as the winning bidders for the first £50 million of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funding, and will receive a share to support their respective network infrastructure projects.

In total, 18 applications for the first round of funding were received by BDUK, which has been set up to distribute the government's £530 million broadband fund.

Norfolk has been granted £15 million, Wiltshire will receive £4 million and the joint Devon/Somerset bid has been awarded a £30 million investment.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that broadband is becoming "just as essential to homes and businesses as electricity and telephone lines".

"It is now only a matter of time before people in these rural areas have access to the connection speeds more commonly associated with towns and cities," he stated.

Mr Hunt said the funding announcements were "great news" for the people of Wiltshire, Norfolk, Devon and Somerset, and other councils will soon have the chance to bid for a nationwide funding programme.

"This is part of our plan for virtually every community in the UK to have access to super-fast broadband," he stated.

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, said the government is "determined" to ensure that all the benefits of fast and reliable access are available to people across the countryside.

"Our new £20 million Rural Community Broadband Fund will also help to end the rural digital divide allowing farmers to file vital paperwork online, schoolchildren to do their homework online and for people in the countryside to enjoy the social networking and online shopping that the rest of us take for granted," she stated.

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