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Councils Face ‘Big Ask’ For Broadband Not-Spot Funds

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Socitm report says local councils will find it difficult to match BDUK funding required to roll out fibre into broadband not-spots,

The Government’s hopes of getting local councils to raise their own funding to finance the rollout of superfast broadband in so called broadband not-spots, is a ‘big ask’, a professional body has warned.

The warning comes from Socitm, the association for ICT professionals in local public services. It is urging local CIOs and Heads of ICT to take a leading role in council initiatives to bring broadband to the UK’s ‘not-spots.’ It reached this conclusion in its report, ‘Rural broadband: superfast or superslow?’

Impossible Demands

Earlier this week, the government reportedly threatened that councils may lose their share of the £530m investment in superfast broadband funding if they fail to sign broadband contracts by the end of 2012.

The problem for local councils is that they must find their own funding to supplement the £530m BDUK funding from central government in order to push fibre into rural areas.

Regions across the UK have already been allocated their broadband funding from central government, but just before Christmas, English councils were warned they have until the end of February to submit their proposals.

But asking local councils to find this funding at a time when frontline services are being cut is a ‘big ask’ according to Socitm. It is urging public sector agencies to work together, to make the most of existing assets by overcoming legal and commercial barriers.

Get Involved

“Re-use of existing infrastructure, including ducts and public service networks will be essential to drive down costs and to make the limited investment go further,” said the report. “Exploitation of new technology, reuse of analogue signal, 4G, higher take up, and satellite, can all be deployed as part of the local mix.”

It said that IT leaders working in local authorities have the technical knowledge to ensure the fibre deployment. It warned that the main problem will be getting disparate groups to work together, assembling funds and labour from a variety of sources, and working through the bureaucracy.

“Internet access in rural areas is especially important for jobs, education and business, particularly where transport infrastructure is not always good,” said Socitm Past-President and Local CIO Council Chair, Jos Creese.

“Local politicians are waking up to the opportunities that broadband offers, and recognise the downsides of being left behind,” added Chris Head, author of the briefing. “Now is the time for Socitm members to add their skills to help accelerate progress.”

Not Enough Money

The Socitm report is a timely reminder of the problems facing fibre deployment into rural areas, especially given the paltry amount of money from central government for the project. Indeed many industry commentators, including TechWeekEurope, have long said that the government’s £530 BDUK funding is simply not enough money to rollout fibre into many of the UK’s superfast broadband not spots.

The government’s funding is significantly less than BT, which has already committed £2.5 billion to fibre rollout in parts of the UK. In comparison, the government pledged to spend up to £33 billion on the HS2 railway line, yet has also public stated that fibre-based broadband is vital for the British economy. Socitm also warned of a two tier internet, something again TechweekEurope has warned about, with rural areas left in the broadband slow lane.