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Rural Shops Alliance in Urban Broadband Funding Moan to UK Government

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 (12:54 pm) - Score 562
cityscape uk

The Rural Shops Alliance (RSA), a trade association that claims to represent over 8,000 rural retailers across the United Kingdom, has described the Government’s city-focused Connection Voucher scheme as “bizarre” for “subsidising businesses which already have the potential to access superfast broadband“.

The Connection Vouchers scheme offers grants worth between £200 and £3,000 to help SME businesses install a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service, although it’s only available for use in 22 cities across the United Kingdom and has so far seen fairly limited uptake (here and here).

But in a new statement the RSA said that hundreds of thousands of rural businesses could only “raise a wry smile” about the scheme because many of them still exist in areas with poor broadband connectivity and have “no idea if and when they are going to be upgraded to a decent speed“.

RSA Statement

Much of rural Britain still depends for its Internet connection on a copper wire, insulated from its neighbour by thin paper and surrounded by a lead sheath to keep water out – 1950s technology. There are millions of small businesses based in rural Britain, including thousands of rural shops, many without access to decent broadband speeds and reliability.

It seems totally unfair that the government is giving their urban counterparts an even greater head start when it comes to electronic communications than they currently enjoy. If money is available, then it should be spent on accelerating the provision of a decent broadband speed to the entire country, rather than subsidising urban businesses to do something that is in their best financial interests to carry out anyway without the grant.”

The criticism is easy to understand and even Europe drew concern with the issue of using state aid funding to help urban areas, where the private sector is generally expected to cope. Indeed the original plan was for around £100m of the related Urban Broadband Funding (“Super-Connected Cities“) to be used on general rather than business-specific infrastructure upgrades, although this later morphed into the current voucher scheme after the EU warned of a lengthy competition review to help overcome their concerns (here).

On the other hand it’s also true to say that such market failure is not isolated to rural areas and there are in fact vast swathes of some cities that continue to suffer from poor broadband speeds due to similar infrastructure problems and costly upgrade requirements, which in a fair few cases can easily rival the worst rural performance gripes. For example, when several millionaire residents of the One Hyde Park development in bustling Knightsbridge (London) moved in earlier this year they found only slow ADSL access due to the prevalence of Exchange Only Lines (here).

At the same time we hope that many of these issues will be resolved in time for the end of 2017, when the Government expects to have made speeds of at least 24Mbps available to 95% of the United Kingdom. Never the less many of the leftovers in that final 5% are likely to be in rural rather than urban areas.

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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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12 Responses
  1. Trade association in demanding taxpayers’ money for its members shock.

    They’re doing what they should be. It’s why their members are members.

  2. Avatar gerarda

    There is likely to be a majority of the £100m still left, as it is very difficult or expensive for a small company to access the voucher scheme. It would be good if this was given as a specific fund to upgrade access for rural businesses as these have by and large been ignored in the BDUK rollouts.

    • Evidence that BDUK has been by and large ignoring rural businesses please.

    • Avatar gerarda

      see above – businesses only get covered if by coincidence they are near enough to a cab or in an enterprise zone

    • Not sure what I’m looking for. A statement from the Rural Shops Alliance referencing millions of companies, thousands of them rural shops doesn’t really constitute evidence.

      If this is so obvious there must be reams of proof that the majority of rural businesses will fail to see >30Mb via BDUK.

      This’d be a huge story BDUK failing so badly to deliver to precisely its target market so I’m surprised ISPReview and other mainstream media have missed. it.

    • Avatar gerarda

      BDUK’s target is 95% of premises in total. There is no requirement that this is divided evenly between private and business, let alone that it targets businesses.

  3. Avatar Raindrops

    The real problem i see with this scheme is the amount. Between £200-£3000 for some simply will not be enough to get a 30+Mb connection. I think this is likely more what gerarda is trying to say. Sure if you have a business up a mountain in Wales you can apply for your voucher, the way i understand it any rural business can apply, nothing to do with if a cabinet is close (thats the bit gerarda has wrong), you may even get the full £3000, is that enough to now suddenly get 30+Mb broadband to you though? Not a chance.

    • Rural businesses can’t apply, not in the SCC area.

    • Avatar gerarda

      If the cabinet is close you will get covered by the BDUK scheme. If it is not you won’t. As I have found first hand even in the cities the voucher scheme has very limited application unless you are prepared to spend a significant monthly sum therafter

    • Avatar GNewton

      Business from city areas where this voucher scheme is available can club together and then get an alternative (non-BT) network provider to implement an appropriate network to keep down the the monthly costs thereafter.

    • Avatar gerarda

      They can but in how many situations will that apply? The stats/my experience suggest not many

    • Avatar Raindrops

      I wonder if because the funding has a considerable gap of £200-£3000 if they actually ask you what connection you are after getting first (obviously varying services will cost varying amounts). I can imagine if you turn round and say oh im chipping my £3000 in with others to go for a full non BT FTTP solution that may affect the decision as to whether you get your cash.

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