The Government’s Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, will chair another round table event at Parliament on 14th January 2014 to discuss extending faster broadband Internet connectivity into rural areas. A key focus of the meeting is likely to be the new £10 million competitive fund.
At present the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme aims to make fixed line superfast broadband (25Mbps+) download speeds available to 95% of people in the United Kingdom by 2017, which rises to 99% by 2018 if you also include fixed wireless access and mobile broadband solutions.
So far BT has nabbed all of the funding for the initial allocation of £530m, which was intended to help extend related services to 90% of the UK, while the next 5% is being catered for by an additional £250m and, despite promises of a more “commercial focus” for the BDUK project, it still looks increasingly likely that most of this will again go to BT.
As a result the next meeting, which will involve both telecoms operators and major campaign groups like the Countryside Alliance, is expected to focus on the tiny new £10m competitive fund that was announced during early December 2013 (here).
Little is known about this vague new fund except for the fact that it aims to “test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas“, which could include “enhanced mobile services, new fixed technologies and alternative approaches to structuring financial support, working closely with the communications industry“.
The focus is thus less on true fibre optic fixed line solutions and more upon alternative wireless methods, which could be of benefit to operators like Vodafone and EE that have an interest in offering fixed wireless and Mobile Broadband based services (EE’s 4G fixed wireless service was only recently launched).
The new fund sounds like another attempt to do what DEFRA’s £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) has so far struggled to achieve, although it should be said that none of the RCBF money has been recycled into the new scheme and the RCBF itself is still attempting to find solutions to some of its long running problems (example).
Suffice to say that 2014 is already shaping up to be another year like 2013, where the debate over funding and solutions ended up polarising opinions about the best way forward. But the situation could become more interesting late this year when the major political parties move into pre-election mode and start to tout their own proposals.