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CLA Seeks Legal Assurances to Ensure UK Rural Broadband Roll Out

Monday, September 24th, 2012 (1:37 am) - Score 521

The Country Land and Business Association(CLA), which represents land owners across England and Wales, has today called upon the coalition government to firm up its roll-out plan for faster broadband in rural areas by introducing new legal assurances and performance-related measures to ensure proper delivery.

At present the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office has a budget of around £1bn (state aid), which will be matched by the private sector, local authorities (councils) and is designed to help 90% of people gain access to superfast broadband (25Mbps+) connectivity by March 2015. Meanwhile the last 10% will have to make do with a Universal Service Commitment (USC) that promises download speeds of at least 2Mbps for everybody by the same date.

However the CLA’s new position statement, which sets out its vision for the future of rural broadband, warns that not enough is being done to ensure that the government, BT and any other players are actually able to deliver upon their promises. In particular it wants to see a series of significant changes to improve the process.

Key Report Recommendations (Broadband Fit for Rural Growth)

1. Replace the USC with a Universal Service Obligation (USO) that would impose a legal requirement to deliver 2Mbps to all by 2015.

2. Local broadband contracts awarded to infrastructure providers should include fair compensation provisions for any failure to meet time and coverage requirements. In addition, payments to infrastructure providers must be performance-related to ensure a fast and effective service is rolled out to rural areas.

3. Introduce a new framework to help rural communities to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband infrastructure, thus allowing access to faster speeds and more capacity that could be used to improve coverage in slowspots.

4. Adjust Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to focus less on rolling out superfast broadband solutions and more on the coverage of standard broadband technology, which could potentially reach a larger number of people and businesses; albeit with slower than “super-fast” speeds.

It’s difficult to imagine the government making some of these changes, especially with so many of the related Local Broadband Plan (LBP) contracts now being awarded. In particular the idea of a 2Mbps USO, which is quite attractive, has repeatedly been considered and shunned by both past and present governments. In an ideal world the 2Mbps figure itself would also be raised to something more respectable.

On the other hand many might be surprised that more checks and balances haven’t been put in place to ensure that telecoms operators (primarily BT) don’t fall short on their promises and deliver the service(s) as planned. Likewise any last-minute changes always run the risk of adding further delays into the process and that could easily become counter-productive.

Harry Cotterell, CLA President, said:

Broadband acts as an economic driver for rural businesses as well as helping the social development of rural communities. But between 15 and 20 percent of those who live in rural areas are still unable to receive anywhere near the Government’s benchmark of two Megabits per second (Mbps).

Although there have been some notable successes in the 10 years since the CLA started campaigning, there is still a huge amount to be done to ensure coverage is universal. We have set out our first-ever rural broadband policy because we believe the Government must do more to help the countryside. By seeking to form a strategic alliance with other rural interest groups to agree common objectives, we can help to deliver a comprehensive broadband strategy.

It is unlikely that the Government’s objective for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 will be realised.”

ISPreview.co.uk also asked Cotterell whether he was worried that the CLA’s new recommendations might be coming too late to effect any real change in the current policy. “No, and we will continue to lobby the Government and infrastructure providers until the best possible connectivity is realised,” said Harry Cotterell.

Still, for all its detractors and with just over two years left to run before the deadline, the current process is now slowly rolling forwards. But many will remain understandably sceptical until the services finally become available. In the meantime there’s always room for fresh thinking in the 2015 to 2020 strategy, which has yet to be defined (i.e. beyond the EU’s central 30Mbps+ for all goal).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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7 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Ironic that the CLA is pushing for this wyhen, as far as I know, it has still not finalised its standardised wayleave agreement. Given its proposals would undoubtedly benefit the value of land owned by CLA members (the clue is in its name), I don’t suppose it is suggesting some sort of levy on rural land to fund the additional cost of the USO?

  2. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    Points 3 and 4 could be combined and become what the Lords suggested, digital parish pumps, providing affordable backhaul to altnets who could deliver a much better service to many rural areas. I don’t agree with delivering a patched up solution to rurals of the USC, the whole job will be to do again as it is no longer going to be good enough. Far better to deliver 2 meg through a fibre, and then it can be ramped up when needed. (its actually similar cost to deliver gigs as megs these days) Get the infrastructure in before worrying how fast it goes, and get it to everyone. Do the job once and do it right should be the CLA motto.

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @Chris (without expecting any response)
      At least point 4 shows a degree of pragmatism from the CLA. If there is no difference in cost, figures comparing the cost per home to rural areas for a pure FTTP solution vs a hybrid (say FTTC/P) solution along the lines being deployed in Cornwall would be interesting – assuming both showed the real costs.

      As for the Lords report, best not go there. It suffered hugely from input from academics, dogmatic purists, seemed lacking in any meaningful real world input.

  3. Avatar TheFacts says:

    What would the cost of ‘affordable backhaul be’?

  4. Avatar Michael says:

    I am consistently mystified that the “inconvenient truth” that satellite broadband at 2Mbps covers 99.9% of the UK landmass is totally disregarded in the USO/USC debate.

    The affordability of it is an issue for some householders, but for those running a businesses it should be less of an issue.

    Why not get the 2Mbps question off the table – then have a sensible debate about rural superfast ?

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      Quite so. We’ve recently bought a smart TV and flipping through the YouTube videos a great many are HD only and so not available to those with 2Mbps connections – I think it needs about 5Mbps.

      Our HSPA connection manages it 99% of the time, just a stutter now and again if you try it when the cell is busiest.

      The idea that 2Mbps is much use to anyone is laughable. It is not likely to suddenly open up some new world that was not reachable before, though to be fair we can how stream HD using HSPA and ditching ADSL. 2Meg doesn’t get anywhere near HD. And HD (e.g. YouTube) is hardly stunning, state of the art quality.

      Broadband begins at 6Mbps downstream. Roll forward just a few years and make that 10Mbps. That should always have been the base target for something called “broadband”.

  5. Avatar NilSatisOptimum says:

    New_Londoner alludes to it Michael, The value of satellite is worthless to CLA members.

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