rural broadband

Rural 10% forced to wait for broadband

Jennifer Scott

The most rural areas of the UK could be forced to wait until BT has completed its state-sponsored broadband roll-out before they get any connectivity, Computer Weekly can reveal.

Yesterday, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) held a consultation with alternative network providers to discuss technologies which could serve the final 10% of the UK not included in the government’s BDUK broadband project.

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But despite making positive noises about embracing different technologies from these smaller operators, there was little progress in saying when such solutions would be deployed, as representatives from the DCMS admitted each area's unreachable locations may not be defined until BT has completed its contract for that council, according to a source that attended the meeting.

The speed of the connections was also significantly lower than the rest of the BDUK targets, with a plan to bring 15Mbps to the 10% of homes and businesses 90% of the time, compared to the goal of up to 24Mbps for the rest of the country – which itself falls short of the European Union’s recommendation of up to 30Mbps.

There was also no further information about the areas in which the final 10% would fall.

“Some local authorities are concerned about managing the news for their local residents, but frankly most of these people are already suffering from bad broadband coverage,” said the source.

“What concerns alternative network providers is that they still don’t want to release the data as it shows where the final 10% is and will allow community projects to fill the gaps. We have to break this deadlock.”

A spokesman from DCMS denied the accusations, although admitted there would be “constraints” to when the locations would be confirmed, affecting when the 10% can be addressed.

“We did explain [at the meeting] that information about the exact location of the final 10% would reveal itself in a phased manner as the implementation actually takes place – the majority of which is in 2015/16 – and that the delivery model we use will have to work within that constraint,” he said.  

The spokesman also claimed 24Mbps was still the goal for as many people as possible throughout the broadband roll-out, but under state aid rules connections had to meet a minimum of 15Mbps 90% of the time, hence this was the technical capability they were asking for. However, this does mean users are set to suffer from the “up to” marketing tool used by many companies where despite the goal being 24Mbps, it could be closer to 15Mbps.  

In a Public Accounts Committee meeting in July, both BT – the sole accredited provider for the BDUK roll-out – and DCMS admitted to holding postcode data revealing which areas would be part of the project and which would be left out. Yet these details remain undisclosed – even though both organisations have said they are happy for them to be published – and it has been left in the hands of local authorities to choose when to release them.  

An investigation by Computer Weekly to encourage local authorities to make the data public has come up against a lot of resistance, however, and 13 councils have refused to share the data on the grounds of protecting BT’s commercial interests.

 


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