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 61.

    People tend to forget that BT and ADSL are not the only solution to this problem. 3G connection can be used in Not Spots in some areas and all areas of the UK can now get guaranteed high (not superfast) speeds from Satellite. BT and the other Service Providers will only supply areas where they can make a profit. Other services are automatically available to almost any location in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    56 Shazzad
    As an individual subscriber you're paying the same as an urban customer would for the same "up to..." package, but the collective revenue coming from all the users on your exchange will be less than that in a more densely populated area. That's what infrastructure providers look at. It is, quite literally, nothing personal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    What is rural? I live on the edge of town (medium-sized) and broadband service from BT is appalling. It seems that anywhere more than 2km from an exchange is 'countryside'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Why are new companies doing this? Surely it would make far more sense for BT to upgrade their infrastructure. Anything else is sure wasteful duplication.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    This is the most vital thing for the modern age. Forget silly HS2 serving few rich men only. Get a complete, yes everyone, broadband network in place. Just like the original Post office principle, flat fees anywhere in the land. Cheap profitable town installations covering rural areas costs not cherry picked for corporate profit. Do it now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Living in a rural village we are always the poor mans relative when it comes to digital exchanges & don't make me laugh by talking about fibre optic. We permanently subsidize the the cities by paying the same price for naff connections while they constantly get enhanced & faster 'Hyper' speed bandwidth. Pretty much the same with water rates con

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    What about LTE? Why are we so behind on this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Rural broadband? Rural? I used to live in Milton Keynes - a modern 'city' build looking forward. Broadband was so bad, I moved.

    Now I live in a town with lots of old houses.

    Some lucky ones in MK get 5mbps. The unlucky ones get zip.

    Out here I get over 12mbps...


  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    High speed broadband isn't on my wishlist.
    OK sometimes it takes a while for stuff to download, but I don't sit around watching it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I have Virgin - always been excellent even when it was Blueyonder. I live in a city though. There are many many visions being grown on solutions that will fail simply because the networks are still not there to support them. You have to have the infrastructure and it has to run well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I live up in the hills of East Lancashire -Haslingden- and have Virgin 50MB. I need upload speed and find 50MB does not make a great deal of obvious difference -unless you want to send Ben Hur as an email attachment. I upload to Youtube a lot. The 50MB gives me almost 5 MB upload which is just great. The 100MB (another £10 a month) gave me 10MB upload but Youtube did'nt seem able to handle that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    the Hot Air balloon of govt promises on broadband access/speed has finally popped_ i hope no-one here is expressing surprise or shock!

    in 1989 the hard truth was that UK was already waaaaay behind on web-technology or access with The Guardian reporting survey results more than 70% of households 'would not' bring web into their homes

    You reap what you sew_ and you can't reap what you didn't sew!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I live on the windswept N Devon coast & have both a BT bus. line & one for home. Both were slow & unreliable @

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    "The government hopes to have best fibre network in Europe by 2015."

    Says it all. I'm straight down to Ladbrokes to place a bet against. The stake? My house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    BT has 75 million miles of copper cable running around the company, at SCRAP cost, that's about £50 BILLION, BT claims it would cost £20 billion to switch to fibre optic, a profit of £30 Billion.

    BT is worth more as a copper storage facility then as a telecomms facility.

    If you are to believe Peter Cochrane the former BT CTO, the backbone fibre optic network is already in place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Our exchange is 2 miles from our village, on an uninhabited stretch of main road and connected by copper wire (stolen 3 times in 12 months!).

    There aren't enough households in our village to justify the expense of upgrading to a fibre optic network, but our broadband speed would be hugely improved by moving the exchange back to village (the old exchange is now a house), where it used to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Wouldn't a more accurate title for this article read "Rural Broadband Non-Existent - however councils have spent over 90% of budget on P.R., consultants and management"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "it is difficult to see why councils should be made responsible for providing broadband. This is a highly technical area.. result is a mismash of local solutions (some working, some not) with no countrywide overall plan."

    Just like the early days of the railways. This used to be a geat country 'til career politicians (a.k.a. clerks) got involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Internet access outside large cities in Britain is pathetic. FACT
    Copper wires and the Inernet just does not make sense.
    Also the system gets totally cluttered up we people down loading video signals and streaming films, which slows everything down for everybody else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    32 diamondproject
    Given that 300kbps is adequate for general surfing and e-mail, how much more would you be prepared to pay per month in order to be able to watch iPlayer in real time, and how many of your neighbours would be prepared to pay the same?


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