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UK Labour Party Pledge £75m to Boost Rural Superfast Broadband

Monday, May 13th, 2013 (1:46 pm) - Score 773

The British Labour Party appears to have begun its early campaigning for the next general election in 2015 by proposing that £75 million from the floundering £150 million “super-connected cities” (Urban Broadband Fund) programme be diverted to help connect those in most need (i.e. the last 10% of neglected rural areas).

At present the current coalition government, which is made up of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, has committed around £1bn to help 90% of people in each local authority area of the United Kingdom to access a superfast broadband (25Mbps+) connection by the end of 2015. This does not include the extra £300m that has already been set aside from the BBC TV Licence fee to help improve broadband in the last 10% of rural areas between 2015 and 2017 (strategy not yet defined).

Part of that initial commitment involves the allocation of £150 million to expand the coverage of “ultra-fast” broadband (80-100Mbps+) and “high speed” public wifi services into the most neglected urban areas (UBF) of 22 or more cities across the country (here and here).

But critics have questioned the need to spend money on urban areas where the case for private sector investment should be stronger. Meanwhile BT and Virgin Media have been involved in a legal challenge due to concerns over the possibility of overlapping commercial networks with state aid supported infrastructure (here).

Most recently the government itself has even cast significant doubt on the future of the UBF after competition concerns from the EU forced it to “remove [the] state-aid dependent infrastructure build from the scope” of its super-connected cities strategy (here). Now Labour thinks it has the answer to all this.

Helen Goodman, Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister (DCMS), said:

There are about 10 million people in the UK who don’t know how to send an email and around 16 million who don’t have other basic digital skills. A Labour government would invest £75 million to ensure that people in Britain are able to get online and are able to perform basic tasks like sending an email…

The previous Labour government had a target of ensuring that everybody had two megabits per second by 2012. The government abandoned that target and probably will not achieve it until 2016. At the moment, 2.6m households, mainly in rural areas, have no possibility of accessing broadband.

A Labour government would switch half the money – £75m – from the super-connected cities programme to a digital inclusion programme. That could help some two million people get online.”

The move is part of a wider strategy that is accompanied by the tagline of Building One Digital Nation. As ever there be gold politics in them thar hills, which usually means the same no matter which party is spouting it – a lot of talk and very little substance. Expect a lot more of the same going forward.

For example, Goodman is quick to tout Labour’s original 2012 target but less swift to admit that, short of using Satellite technology as a quick-fix, it never really stood much chance of achieving that (the policy hadn’t been fleshed out and that was a little over one year before the 2010 election – not enough time). Speaking of which Satellite has improved so, in fairness, close to 100% can now have a basic broadband connection, even though it might not be as functional or flexible as a good fixed line.

Similarly Goodman offers no real detail of how that £75m would be spent and our requests for more information have, as per usual when attempting to communicate with any of the major political parties, gone unnoticed or perhaps we’ve just been ignored.

In any case £75m isn’t a lot of money when you’re talking about hooking up the last 10%, which is significantly more expensive because it takes much longer for operators to recoup their investment versus areas of greater population density. Not that it wouldn’t do any good though and we’re sure that the right policy could deliver real improvements. We’d just like some detail, is that too much to ask a politician? [insert obvious response here].

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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