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UK Government Ready 3rd Round of Rural Superfast Broadband Funding

Monday, September 22nd, 2014 (1:37 am) - Score 1,160
dcms superfast broadband britain

Credible sources have informed ISPreview.co.uk that the coalition Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme will later this autumn announce a 3rd phase of public funding to help bring high-speed Internet access to the final 5-8% of the United Kingdom’s population.

The Government’s BDUK project was originally kick-started in 2010 with a commitment of £830 million, although initially only £530m of this was allocated to help make fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) services available to 90% of people in each local authority area by 2015. Most recently another £250m was allocated under the Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) to push this out to 95% by 2017 (here).

Since then BDUK has also launched a £10m Innovation Fund, which is piloting 8 projects that aim to “test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas” (i.e. the final and predominantly rural 5%). BDUK’s CEO, Christopher Townsend, told ISPreview.co.uk earlier this month, “The intention is certainly that the pilots will inform options for taking superfast broadband beyond 95%” (here).

Separate funding and support has also been committed to help 22 cities around the United Kingdom to improve their wifi and business connectivity, while the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) is also working to boost mobile connectivity so that 99% should be put within reach of faster connectivity via Mobile Broadband (3G, 4G) and wireless solutions by 2018.

Now a credible source at one of England’s county councils has told ISPreview.co.uk that, following recent discussions with BDUK, the Government intends to announce a third round of primary broadband funding to support the chancellor’s (George Osborne) annual Autumn Statement 2014, which is due to be held on 3rd December 2014. A second council officer in southern England has also indicated a similar expectation.

As previously stated, any new investment would go towards plugging the final 5% hole and our source claimed that one reason for announcing another batch of funding so soon after the last “was to appease many of the rural counties in the country, ‘particularly the home counties’, in the run up to the general election“.

Officially the Government are still consulting on their approach to the Autumn Statement, which will continue until the latter part of October. As a result the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) were not yet willing to go beyond what has already been said.

A DCMS Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

As indicated previously by Ministers, we expect to use the results of the eight pilot projects to inform options for taking superfast broadband coverage beyond 95%. No further decisions have yet been made.”

It will of course come as no surprise that more funding would be allocated to plug the remaining holes in coverage, especially with a General Election set for 7th May 2015. On the other hand we didn’t expect it to happen quite so soon, due largely to the need to first assess the progress of their £10m Innovation Fund pilots (assuming any of those will actually play a significant part, we still have our doubts about that).

However any new allocation is unlikely to involve a significant amount of money, with recent contributions tending to reduce in size as the potential pot of available funds has largely dried up. It’s therefore perhaps more likely, short of extracting “new” money from other areas, that the next round of funding will be significantly smaller than the last allocation of £250m.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. This is not just about funding it is about delivery. Waiting years when funding is in place is the blueprint for delivery from this government. Continually surviving on promises is wearing thin with the prospect for some gaining nothing from access to superfast.

    • Avatar MikeW

      An agreement for funding doesn’t mean that the money can be drawn immediately, or drawn too late for that matter. Once allocated to the councils, there will also be a specification for what amount can be drawn in different financial years.

      In the phase 1 BDUK schemes, it appears that the ERDF funding must be drawn on relatively early – so you’d expect the projects that have a portion funded that way to focus on their business areas earlier (ERDF money is business-focussed, not consumer).

  2. Avatar Matthew Williams

    At least the funding is going to be in place that surely is a good thing, obviously I think the council should try and make sure they get as much FTTP or FTTrN as they can for the money they will have allocated to them. I think pushing this last 5-8 percent is going be extremely important. Maybe it can boost the Scottish broadband even more as well some of the islands still won’t have to high a percentage.

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