Rural broadband commitment “very unlikely” to succeed

The government’s commitment to a minimum broadband speed of 2Mbits/sec across the UK’s rural areas is “very unlikely” to succeed, according to the Country Land and Business Association.

Rural broadband commitment

Following its report released today titled “Broadband fit for rural growth”, CLA President Harry Cotterell said there is still a “huge amount” left to do to ensure universal, high-speed coverage across the UK.

The British government has committed to creating “the best superfast broadband network in Europe” by 2015, earmarking £530 million of public money to invest in infrastructure upgrades and installations, and plans to provide a universal minimum 2Mbits/sec download speed.

However, the CLA claims the government’s use of the word “commitment” is misleading. “We are calling on the Government to step up and agree to a Universal Service Obligation rather than just a Commitment,” says Cotterell. “There is no legal sanction behind a Universal Service Commitment – it provides the Government with a get-out clause if the benchmark is not achieved.”

A Universal Service Commitment provides the Government with a get-out clause if the benchmark is not achieved

The report itself points out perceived flaws in the government’s current plans, including the fact that the number of bidders for state money to install new broadband infrastructure has dropped from nine to just two – BT and Fujitsu. Of those two, reports are circulating that Fujitsu has been blacklisted from receiving government IT contracts, leaving BT with a potentially uncontested route to the government’s half-billion pound commitment. “We do not believe Broadband Delivery UK’s bidding process is working,” says Cotterell, calling the bidding process “too bureaucratic”.

The CLA points out that the deadline for the tendering process has dropped back to March 2013 “at the earliest”. It also cites over-strict planning permission laws as a roadblock, preventing infrastructure such as green broadband cabinets from being built on private land.

“Broadband acts as an economic driver for rural businesses,” according to Cotterell, and the report calls for “reliable, adequate and cost effective broadband connection[s]” across the UK. “Although there have been some notable successes in the ten years since the CLA started campaigning, there is still a huge amount to be done to ensure coverage is universal. We have set out our first-ever rural broadband policy because we believe the Government must do more to help the countryside.”

You can read the full PDF report here.

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