Government eyes 'big society' rural broadband option

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Government eyes 'big society' rural broadband option

Rebecca Thomson

The government could rely on its "big society" idea to get broadband into rural communities.

The idea that communities club together and set up their own schools or libraries was a key idea in the Conservative election campaign, and was named Big Society by prime minister David Cameron.

Secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs Caroline Spelman said in the House of Commons last week, "This is a community opportunity.

"There are some excellent examples of the big society at work in Northumberland and Rutland, where communities have come together to ensure that good broadband access is available to all."

Residents in Rutland raised £37,000 to launch their own broadband network for 200 homes after BT and other telecoms firms said it wasn't economical to invest there.

The coalition government has announced three pilot schemes in rural areas will be carried to assess how much government support will be necessary to ensure all UK homes have access to broadband. Caroline Spelman said the locations of the pilots yet to be decided.

In last week's budget the government said funding could come from what was left of the BBC's digital switchover fund.

But the government hasn't yet made it clear how it plans to fund rural broadband. There are no targets set for rollout.

Rural communities have fought for years for access to broadband. Telecoms companies say the economic incentive to invest in the infrastructure isn't there because there would be too few customers to justify the capital investment.

The Labour government planned to pay for it using a 50p tax on every landline, but chancellor George Osborne scrapped that in last week's budget.

Spelman was responding to a Parliamentary question from Conservative MP Matthew Hancock.


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