Counties anxious to roll out broadband networks may be able to get matched funding from government via a new process by the end of the year, communications minister Ed Vaizey told parliament on Wednesday.
Speaking in a debate initiated by Penrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart, Vaizey said, "Towards the end of the year, we will begin to see a process whereby counties, when they are ready, can simply come to us with a proposal, and, I hope, some funding of their own, which we will be in a position to match."
Vaizey stressed he was keen to see a "mixed economy" rather than give all the money to BT and Virgin Media, the UK's two largest fibre network operators.
"I am extremely anxious to see community broadband solutions," Vaizey said.
He said it was tempting for a county council to take the easy way out. "But its tender [for broadband networks] need not be a big company or big government solution and can include community broadband solutions," he said.
Vaizey said the key was to ensure that community broadband solutions were "technically joined up" so that the network was available to other users.
"Should, for any reason, a community broadband operator fall away, that network would still be available to be used and integrated into the county-wide network," he said.
Vaizey called on MPs to get county councillors to include community and parish voices in planning their broadband networks.
He also called on the mobile network operators to stop threatening legal action over the proposed auction of so-called 4G radio frequencies.
"We are anxious to get the spectrum out there; it has been a protracted process," he said.
According to market analysts Global mobile Suppliers Association, there are already 17 commercial 4G networks, and firm commitments from 180 operators in 70 countries either to test or to build such networks. The first commercial UK 4G mobile networks are not expected before 2013/14.
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