Rural broadband getting nowhere, says Countryside Alliance

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Rural broadband getting nowhere, says Countryside Alliance

Warwick Ashford

Plans to connect rural areas to crucial fast broadband services have stalled without government support on how to move forward, according to the Countryside Alliance, which has been a leading voice on the campaign for pushing out rural broadband nationwide. 

It is vital that rural communities and businesses have access to effective and affordable broadband if rural economies are to grow and prosper, according to the rural issues campaign group.

In October 2010, government named Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and the Highlands & Islands as pilot areas for rural superfast broadband networks.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesman has told the BBC all four pilot projects were making good progress, but freedom of information requests have revealed none of the councils involved has received any money from the Treasury, chosen a company to build the network or started work on the project.

"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," the government spokesman said.

The Countryside Alliance says that unless the whole process of implementing rural broadband projects is simplified, the digital divide will keep growing.

When government announced the four pilot schemes, they were billed as models for how the public and private sectors should collaborate to build high-speed broadband networks in rural areas, says Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance.

“Sadly a year on, local authorities are struggling to turn Whitehall’s promises into reality. While Government is talking a great game it is not delivering; the first four areas, which are supposed to be the pioneers, are still getting nowhere,” Barnard said.

While the government deserves praise for allocating the money and making clear their commitment to rural broadband, Barnard says the councils have been given no support in getting the projects moving.

“For rural people still struggling with no or an unreliable internet connection, this is simply not good enough. 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 government will remain all but worthless,” Barnard said.


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