Rural Broadband: Slow To Improve

According to The Countryside Alliance, plans that were made by the government to bring superfast broadband to rural areas have made little progress. In October 2010, George Osborn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, revealed that Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and the Highlands and Islands would be the four areas that would be used to trial the scheme.

The Countryside Alliance revealed its findings after sending freedom of information requests to the councils that are involved. The information that was received from the councils confirmed that none of the councils have received any money from the Treasury, and that none of them have even selected a broadband company to setup the networks.

This has raised concerns amongst members of The Countryside Alliance as they feel that the amount of time to even implement a pilot scheme has taken far too long, and that the divide between the urban and rural areas will only increase. They are fearful that if the process isn’t sped up, the money that is to be invested will not be enough to close the gap significantly.

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance argued “It has been over a year since these pilots were set up and the people who live in areas with no or unreliable broadband coverage haven’t seen any improvement. Unless more is done to simplify the process of acquiring and implementing rural broadband projects, the digital divide will continue to grow and the money pledged by the Coalition will remain all but worthless.”

The government who are aiming to make the UK number one in Europe at having the best broadband network in place by 2015 are in a much more positive mind frame. A spokesman claimed that the councils are making good progress with the projects, and that the nation is on course to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sports also argued that “The money for these projects has been allocated and will be provided to the local authorities when they begin spending on the projects. This is standard practice in provision of capital grants.”

As people have become more reliant on the internet for business and general use, the importance of having faster broadband speeds has become more prominent. Whilst the need for faster broadband speeds has been recognised, it is mainly those living in urban areas that have been able to take advantage of them. Supplying those who live in the more rural and remote areas within the nation with faster broadband speeds has become very intermittent and as a result, many people are still having to cope with slow broadband speeds.

One reason why it has taken so long to get things moving is because the government has passed the responsibility of choosing which company will be employed to set up the broadband networks to the councils. As a result of this, councillors have the added pressure of determining which company will be employed. This is not an easy, straight forward task when competing companies such as BT and Fujitsu are bidding against each other.

Malcolm Corbett, head of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association believes that this is the main reason why so little progress has been made. He argued “The government has put the job into the hands of councillors who have never done it before.”

The bidding process has so far cost the councils and competing companies thousands of pounds which have resulted in a number of companies withdrawing their offers.  Herefordshire County Council has revealed that the bidding process has cost them around £50,000 so far, whilst Fujitsu have claimed that they have had to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to bid for the different regions. The money involved in the bidding process has been too much for some of the smaller competing companies such as Geo UK who are one of a few companies to completely withdraw.

Many people believe that due to such procedures and delays, that the government is disillusioned if it genuinely believes that the UK will have Europe’s best broadband network by 2015. Malcolm Corbett sums it up by claiming “The government has set a deadline to be the best for broadband in Europe by 2015 but no-one thinks this is achievable.”

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