Rural broadband stalled, says Countryside Alliance

Country lane in Somerset It is proving to be a long road to getting rural broadband

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The Countryside Alliance says plans to bring fast broadband to rural areas have stalled.

The government named four pilot areas last year, but local councils have admitted that they have not yet started work on their broadband projects.

Freedom of information requests were sent to councils in each area.

The responses revealed that none had received any money from the Treasury, chosen a company to build their networks, or started work on them.

In October last year George Osborne named Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and the Highlands and Islands, as pilot areas for rural superfast broadband networks.

The Countryside Alliance says that unless the whole process is simplified, the digital divide will keep growing and the money pledged will be all but worthless.

A government spokesman said all four pilot projects were making good progress, and ministers remained confident that Britain would have Europe's best broadband network by 2015.

"It has been over a year since these pilots were set up and the people who live in areas with no or unreliable broadband coverage haven't seen any improvement," said Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance.

"Unless more is done to simplify the process of acquiring and implementing rural broadband projects, the digital divide will continue to grow and the money pledged by the Coalition will remain all but worthless.

In response a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "The money for these projects has been allocated and will be provided to the local authorities when they begin spending on the projects. This is standard practice in provision of capital grants."

Bids in
A telegraph pole Some of those bidding hope to piggyback on BT's telegraph poles

It is widely acknowledged that fast broadband services are crucial to consumers and businesses to allow them to take full advantage of web content. While rollouts in urban areas develop apace, efforts to get equivalent services in more remote areas have been far more sluggish.

Companies such as BT, Fujitsu and Cable & Wireless have put in bids to build networks in various areas and each council must decide which to choose.

Malcolm Corbett, head of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (Inca) is not sure that councils are up to the task.

"The government has put the job into the hands of councillors who have never done it before," he said.

Many of those bidding to build networks want to use BT's infrastructure rather than build from scratch. BT has agreed to share access to its telegraph poles and underground ducts and recently cut the cost of renting such equipment.

But, according to Mr Corbett, it is has also placed some significant restrictions on how it is used.

In response, a BT spokesman said: "Those communications providers who have taken an active role in the in development of our duct and pole-sharing products are making strong progress and appear to be comfortable with the products."

Fibre optics The government hopes to have best fibre network in Europe by 2015

The process of bidding is proving costly to both councils and firms bidding to build networks.

In its FOI response Hereford revealed that, so far, it has spent £50,000 on the procurement process while Fujitsu said that it had spent many hundreds of thousands of pounds bidding in different areas.

The Japanese electronics giant revealed to the BBC earlier this month that it had withdrawn entirely from the bidding in the Highlands and Islands because "the sums did not stack up".

Cable and Wireless withdrew from bidding in Cumbria, citing concerns with the process.

And Geo UK, one of the smaller firms involved, has now withdrawn completely from bidding.

The government has set a deadline to be the best for broadband in Europe by 2015 but no-one thinks this is achievable," said Mr Corbett.

A spokesman for DCMS said he "remained confident" that the target would be reached.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    In the 30s, Britain focused on building faster steam engines while Europe electrified its railways.

    Today, history is repeating itself, with the digital highway. Is there a more important national investment for the 21st century? But our dreadful politicians don't get it. They are leading Britain to a slow death - little by little - day by day.

    Meanwhile the rest of the world 'steams' ahead...

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Here, Here.
    Spot on.
    A high-tech company run by accountants.
    So goes the nation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Great thing about high speed broadband is the number of news sites we can visit at once - BBC England for instance, where you can comment on the main issues of the day, and BBC Scotland where you are silenced by censorship. See the Danny Alexander attack on our country - about our currency. OK to discuss the Euro on the 'proper' BBC site!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    What is the difference between BT and Jurassic Park?

    One is a high technology adventure playground full of Dinosaurs and the other is a family film !

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I'm in a small village 9 miles from the exchange in a nearby major Town The BT Cables are 40 years old, Our 'Net link is slow and intermittent. Many Web pages are inaccessible and e-mail is a joke. We've seen no effort to improve things in an otherwise easily accessed area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    It's nit jut the rural communities - deepest Bristol was promised fibre optics three years ago. Max we have is 2Gb. Maybe, my luvvers, we are just as backward here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Unfortunately, if you were building a network now you would build one like the Korean's. However if you historically have billions of pounds worth of copper cable in the ground then you develop ways to exploit its full potential.
    I am not convinced about 100m/bits anyway as most of the support products I have seen are not Korean?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Surprise, surprise, BT can’t deliver! Rural broadband can’t happen, BT has a complex level of management with accountants and Human Resources running the show, when what are needed are engineers. They had them, then made all the senior ones with experience redundant (retire)
    ISO 9001 has much to do with the decline of industry in the U.K. it’s a H.R. dream ticket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @18. MikeBeyonDSL

    It's been a while since I worked in telecoms, I'll check out the new rules just to keep my eye in. Ironically, my new job had me maintaining servers for the Planning Portal at one time,... I should have looked it up! :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Our Broadband in the rural part of Oxfordshire where we live and work is awful. My work colleagues say the same. We can't watch the BBC i player at anytime, and the line speed test I did last night at 7pm was 300 Kb/s. Just like the old days of dial up. It's pathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Just another botched job, only the hype works. Higher upload speeds beyond 10K, repeat 10k.? In my rustic dreams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I understand that most residents of South Korea have had 100 Mb/s connections to their homes for several years now (yes, you read that correctly - 100 Mb/s) and take them for granted.

    But of course they aren't saddled with ignorant politicians and the likes of BT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It would be nice if a certain cable company fixed the fibre optics down our street,some of the neighbors have built over it and severed it.Dont get me started on Britains favourite Telecoms company?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This a general rural/urban services question.

    For our very rural area:
    - nearest A&E 40 miles
    - one policeman per 1,000 square miles
    - public transport is 1 bus per day
    - council tax £2,000+
    - Broadband 2Mb/s
    - 3 phase electricity installation £60,000+

    It should either be the same service for the same cost everywhere or all location based (including taxes). Hard to enforce either way though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I used to live in the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides), where several million pounds of taxpayers money was spent on a wifi relay broadband system to the outlying villages and islands (the few towns, such as Stornoway, had the luxury of BT Broadband). It was dire. Expensive, slow, unreliable, and in our case it didn't work at low tide (I am unfortunately not joking)

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    well said WILDASSOFAMAN. Infrasturcture links to the SW are terrible. Motorway ends at Exeter the A38 is awful past Plymouth. It takes 1h to get from Exeter to Plymouth on the train (50 miles) and 2h Plymouth to Penzance (80miles). Really is time some of our SW tax payers money was spent improving things in the SW. But hey we don't matter its only somewhere to go on your hols!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    LISTEN -- there is no need for new networks to be built by BT, etc. Our village is remote and small,, BT refused to enable us on cost. However, a one man band firm called Kijoma beams in a signal and we enjoy faster broadband than any other company can supply at under £20 a month. All these taxpayers grants are a waste of money (nothing new there then). They already suppply large parts of Sussex.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I live in a rural Village, when ADSL was proposed to us we required 250 signatures to stand a chance of getting ADSL, we had over 350 & got ADSL in 2006. To get high-speed BB we require over 2000 sigs and we do not have a 1/3 of that figure living in the village. To be honest, I would be happy with ADSL IF we could get better upload speeds, 1Mbit upload would make a huge difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    High speed broadband is essential for everyone no matter where they live - it is in the national interest. What is not in the national interest is spending £33 billion on a high speed railway which won't even start operating until 2026. If the government truly cares about the economy outside of the City London it would divert those funds from a pointless railway into broadband every where now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    . A German attending stated that in Germany fibre-optics where being laid alongside rural railway lines.

    They are behind the times then, we've been doing it for decades. Why do you think BT exchanges are next to the train tracks? Anyway, we've moved on since then, the new location of choice is through the sewer system.


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