Government Extends Rural Broadband Scheme

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

The government has freed up nearly £50m to help push superfast broadband into three rural counties

At a time when some companies are questioning whether the government is over-investing in fibre comes the news that Ministers have freed up an extra £49 million from the £530 million pot set aside last year to help push superfast broadband into economically unattractive rural areas.

Last October the Coalition government pledged to invest the £530 million as part of its “Broadband Delivery UK” initiative, to enable the roll out of superfast broadband into those areas that the private sector would not otherwise reach.

And the government has already used some of this funding to invest in fibre projects in North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Herefordshire and the Scottish Highlands late last year.

Rural Investments

But now the government has revealed that it is freeing up a further £49 million to help ensure that homes and businesses across Wiltshire, Norfolk and Devon and Somerset will have access to superfast broadband connections.

These areas were chosen from 18 bids looking to get a slice of the £530 million ear-marked for new projects.

“Broadband is becoming just as essential to homes and businesses as electricity and telephone lines and it is now only a matter for time before people in these three rural areas have access to the connection speeds more commonly associated with towns and cities,” said Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

“This is great news for people in Wiltshire, Norfolk and Devon and Somerset, and other councils will soon have the chance to bid for a nationwide funding programme,” he added. “This is part of our plan for virtually every community in the UK to have access to superfast broadband.”

Local Authority Funds

The individual funding allocations for each region is as follows: Devon and Somerset is to get the lion’s share (£30 million), Norfolk will get £15 million, and Wiltshire will get £4 million.

Apparently the next steps are for each local authority to tender for contractors to carry out the work.

“Work will begin on upgrading the broadband infrastructure in the three areas following this procurement process and it is hoped that suppliers will start rolling out upgraded infrastructure within a year. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will then use these networks to offer affordable services to homes and businesses,” the government said.

The funding will be used to invest in a number of technologies, including mobile, satellite and fibre connections.

Ducting Disagreement

The freeing up of additional fibre investment funds comes amid an argument between BT and some ISPs over the prices BT is charging for access to its ducting. Last month a number of BT’s competitors wrote to communications minister Ed Vaizey, warning of a possible boycott of the government’s £530 million investment in rural broadband pilots.

Their complaints centre around the prices that BT charges in order to allow them to access its telegraph poles and ducting.

With no signs of compromise between the two sides, Ofcom has warned that it may have to step in and regulate the prices BT charges. BT for its part has just warned that it is experiencing more ducting problems (i.e. blockages etc) than first invisaged, which in turn has impacted its fibre rollout.

Meanwhile back in April, network giant Fujitsu announced its own plans to build a £2 billion superfast fibre network, which would bypass BT’s street cabinets and offer high speed connections to five million homes in rural Britain that currently have poor broadband coverage.