The UK government has published details of how its rural broadband investment will be allocated
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today released more details of how the government’s £530 million investment in the UK’s broadband network would be distributed.
Counties across England are set to receive £294.8 million, with a further £68.8 million to be invested in Scotland. It is hoped that the money will be used to build the best ‘superfast’ broadband network in Europe by 2015, with 90 percent of homes and businesses having access to at least 24Mbps.
Local authorities in England are being urged to lead broadband roll-out in their area, draw up a delivery plan, and match the government’s investment with European, their own or private funds. In Scotland the Scottish government will need to consider how best to use the funds.
Cambridgeshire County Council, which was allocated £6.75 million from the government pot, has already pledged to invest £20 million of its own money to provide every household in the area with a high-speed broadband connection within four years.
Vital to economic growth
“Fast broadband is absolutely vital to our economic growth, to delivering public services effectively, and to conducting our everyday lives,” said Hunt. “But some areas of the UK are missing out, with many rural and hard-to-reach communities suffering painfully slow internet connections or no coverage at all. We are not prepared to let some parts of our country get left behind in the digital age.
“I urge all those suffering the frustration of slow Internet connections to make it clear to your local elected representatives that you expect them to do what is needed to access this investment and to deliver broadband to your community,” he added.
The largest investment of £31 million is to be made in Devon and Somerset, where broadband coverage is particularly bad. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were not allocated any money on this occasion, as £132 million has already been invested by BT and the EU to roll out super-fast broadband to up to 90 percent of homes in the county.
Other counties to receive investment of more than £15 million were Cumbria, Norfolk and North Yorkshire – all of which suffer from poor Internet coverage.
Full details of allocations for each county can be found here (pdf).
Northern Ireland and Wales
The news follows yesterday’s announcement that Northern Ireland will receive just £4.4 million for broadband roll-out. The Northern Ireland Executive has already run an extensive programme, which has provided 97 percent of homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband. The government funding will help take broadband to the premises not covered by the existing scheme.
Wales, meanwhile, was allocated £56.9 million for broadband roll-out last month, and the Welsh government has pledged to match the investment to improve its broadband infrastructure. A recent survey by the regulator Ofcom found that Wales is one of the worst served areas of the UK for broadband.
Large companies such as BT and Virgin Media will be hoping that councils club together to appoint one main contractor, allowing for economies of scale. However, Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), warns that smaller broadband network providers are at risk of being excluded from the funding programme, except as sub-contractors to the big players.
“[Broadband Delivery UK] is insisting that local authorities adopt a common ‘gap funding’ approach which tends to work against broadband ‘localism’ – i.e. examining the local issues then coming up with funding and technology solutions that can best serve local needs,” said Corbett. “The BDUK framework could end up being a straitjacket that stifles innovation.”