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Spending Review: Local network operators may pitch for BDUK's £530m broadband pilots

Ian Grant

The winners of the competition to host the three rural next-generation broadband pilot studies are the Highlands & Islands, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Hereford, chancellor George Osborne said during his Spending Review statement to the Commons on Wednesday.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the office charged with delivering universal access to 2mbps broadband by 2015, will now invite suppliers to tender for the work.

The projects will be supported by £530m from BDUK. This is made up of £230m left over from the BBC's Digital Switchover project, and £300m over two years from the BBC's licence fee, in a licence settlement deal finalised on Tuesday with BBC officials.

A BDUK spokesman said the rural broadband procurement process would start early in the new year, with network building starting possibly in mid-2011.

He said the pilot projects would receive £5m to £10m each. Local and community network operators would be able to bid for funds by working through their local councils.

Any money they received from BDUK would be in addition to anything they might get from the European Regional Development Fund or other sources of public money.

He said the government remained keen to use public sector networks to expand the backhaul options available to local communities, but said this was "a matter for another day".

BDUK hopes that lessons learned from rolling out high speed broadband access to rural and "not-spot" communities will be taken up by other counties as they implement their own broadband programmes.

The results should start emerging within weeks of the contracts starting up.

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border in Cumbria, said, "This is a dream come true. Hundreds of Cumbrians have been working alongside my team over the past four months to put us in a position to be selected. I'm so delighted that we have been successful."

Stewart organised a conference last month that attracted communications minister Ed Vaizey as well as the US officials behind President Obama's national broadband plan.

He said Penrith and the Border was selected because it was the most rural and the most sparsely populated constituency in England. It also hosted well-known community broadband projects such as Cybermoor in Alston and Great Asby Broadband in Great Asby.


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