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North East Councils Dismiss Need For Broadband Funding

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

North and South Tyneside Councils have missed the BDUK broadband funding deadline, but said they do not need it

The government has confirmed that two councils in England have missed the deadline to apply for BDUK funding designed to help in the rollout of superfast broadband in their regions.

But the two councils involved have told TechWeekEurope that they do not require the funding.

Funding Requests

The government on Thursday confirmed that all local authorities except two, had submitted initial broadband plans on time.

This came after Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned three English councils that they could lose access to fibre broadband funding in late January. The government said that North Tyneside, South Tyneside, and Bath and North East Somerset would not meet the deadline.

This came after the government had rather suddenly told English councils in December that they had until the end of February to apply for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funding and now it has confirmed that North Tyneside and South Tyneside were the only local authorities that had failed to produce plans for taking superfast broadband to homes and businesses in their area.

Not Needed?

Both North Tyneside and South Tyneside Councils have told TechWeekEurope that they did not need the funding and therefore did not apply for it. The councils said they had already worked with BT to ensure that superfast broadband coverage is delivered to 90 percent of their areas.

“North Tyneside Council absolutely recognises the importance of superfast broadband and the economic benefits that achieving the government targets for its delivery can bring, alongside other options for high speed data transfer,” said a council spokesperson. “We already have a strong record in supporting businesses to create new jobs, even during the recent economic downturn.”

“We can therefore give a firm assurance to our residents and business that we are committed to delivering superfast broadband where it is needed most, and we will be writing to the Minister to update him on our position and progress,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile South Tyneside Council also explained its position over BDUK funding.

“We submitted an expression of interest and remain committed to improving the broadband infrastructure for South Tyneside,” said a council spokesman. “There has been a need to work with various partners on the broadband plan, which we are continuing to develop. We are contacting BDUK to discuss this further.”

South Tyneside Council said that this did not affect BT’s plans to provide 31,400 homes and businesses in South Tyneside with access to superfast broadband by the end of this year.

Complacent Attitude?

But this attitude seems to have not gone down well with Jeremy Hunt: “North and South Tyneside seem blithely confident they will deliver world class digital infrastructure – I just hope they are not being complacent.”

“No one in the UK can afford to slack on making sure we have the best broadband network in Europe upon which so many of the jobs of the future depend,” Hunt added.

Some people might find the government’s attitude here a little strong considering that local councils must find their own funding to supplement the BDUK funding from central government, at a time when many frontline services are being cut and budgets are under increasing pressure.

Currently, all the regions across the UK have already been allocated their broadband funding share from the BDUK pot, but it has been repeated by many industry watchers, including TechWeekEurope, that the government is simply not committing sufficient public funds for the fibre rollout.

This is despite the government previously stating that its goal is to ensure that the majority of UK homes get 25 megabits per second by 2015, because it believes that superfast broadband is vital for “economic growth”.

The government has in reality opted to invest a tiny amount of money (roughly £750 million when additional funding via other schemes is included) for such a vital piece of infrastructure. Indeed, its funding is paltry when compared to the £2.5 billion that BT (a privatised entity with shareholders) has committed to rolling out fibre to two-thirds of the UK.

Despite this, the government is prepared to invest significantly in other infrastructure projects, after it opted to spend up to £33 billion on the HS2 railway line, for example.

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