English councils have until February to submit proposals to receive rural broadband funding
The government has announced that English councils have until February to apply for funding to assist with the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas.
The government has pledged to provide £530m to help councils provide such services where it might not be economically viable for telecom companies to do so.
English councils can apply for funding on the condition that they can provide matching funds from their own budgets, European programmes or other sources. Local authorities have until February to submit a draft plan and the end of April to negotiate the full details with government officials.
Ofcom defines “superfast broadband” as faster than 24mbps and the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has claimed that it is “fundamental to our future economic success.”
“Businesses need it to grow, the public will need it to access new services. Some local authorities will find these to be challenging targets. But I will not allow the UK to fall behind in rolling-out superfast broadband,” added Hunt.
Campaign group the Countryside Alliance welcomed the news, calling it a “very welcome development that should inject some much needed momentum into the roll-out of rural broadband.”
Last week, the Countryside Alliance criticised the lack of progress in rolling out superfast broadband in rural areas after making a freedom of information request to the areas named by the government as launching pilot areas for superfast services.
“As we saw last week, councils have been struggling to get their broadband projects moving,” said Alice Barnard, chief executive of Countryside Alliance. “It is now up to the Government to make sure that any further barriers to progress on implementing these schemes are removed, so that rural communities can finally get fast and reliable internet connections and start to bridge Britain’s digital divide.”
The government first pledged the funding in October 2010, claiming that two million households would benefit from it. More than half of the money is coming from the TV license fee, which has also been used to assist local authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
However Hunt has warned that the implementation of fibre-optic and mobile broadband networks is taking too long, leaving the UK far behind other European countries and critics have argued that the government funding is not sufficient, as it is dwarfed by BT’s £2.5 billion commitment.