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UK Government Quietly Removes the “Rural” from its Broadband Scheme

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 (8:39 am) - Score 2,365

A small but interesting change has recently happened to some of the Government’s official Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) documentation, which until recently was frequently and perhaps somewhat misleadingly still being described as the “Rural Broadband Programme“. The same piece of text has since been amended to read “Superfast Broadband Programme“, but we wouldn’t worry.

Anybody who has followed the BDUK scheme from its inception, when the word “rural” was frequently being employed to deliver maximum impact, knows that the projects actual approach has in fact been rather less focused on those lush green rolling hills, existing as they do outside of the urban sphere, than the political rhetoric might suggest.

superfast bduk rural broadband changes

According to the Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), which drew our attention to this small but interesting change, the adjustment in wording has “resulted in misleading and overstating actual coverage in rural areas“. We’re not so sure about that, but it does highlight an interesting area of discussion that often gets overlooked.

The ACRE added, “There are examples where it is stated that 90 – 95 % coverage of Superfast Broadband is for ‘rural areas’ but actually it is for complete county or partnership wide areas.” The reality, which the ACRE has just discovered, won’t be anything new to most observers that have long seen the target as a national one as opposed to being rural specific.

Admittedly the BDUK scheme will help many rural areas to gain access to a faster connection, but its original aim was to make fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to “90% of people in each local authority area” by the end of 2015 (note: the completion date for this has tended to vary between March 2015 and the end of 2015) and this was last year pushed to 95% by 2017 or 99% by 2018 when you include mobile/wireless solutions.

But most of what people would actually consider to be truly rural (countryside) exists in that final 5-10%. In other words, the 10-20% coverage gap that BDUK was designed to fill, which exists between how far the commercial sector can push fibre optic based broadband (i.e. around 70%-80% coverage between BT, KC and Virgin Media etc. – depending upon whose statistics you believe) and the extra bit to reach 90% through BDUK, mostly appears to consist of sub-urban areas, larger towns and big villages. It’s only when we get beyond 2015 that the work to go from 90% to 95% or more will really need to focus much more strictly on rural areas.

On top of that there’s also a very persuasive argument that the first coverage figure of 90% could have been reached without any recourse to public funding, although consumers would probably have had to wait considerably longer for that to happen through commercial investment; as has often been the case in the past (e.g. just look at how long it took BT to finally push ADSL2+ services out to over 90% of the UK).

Separately the official BDUK page has also now been changed to highlights the projects various goals, which is frankly a long overdue adjustment. But there are also a few interesting word choices to highlight here too; the relevant bits have been pasted below.

BDUK’s New Programme Summary (Nov 2014)

The Government is investing over £1 billion in improving broadband and mobile infrastructure to:

• Provide superfast broadband coverage to 90% of the UK by 2016
• Provide basic broadband (2Mbps) for all by 2016
• Provide superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017
• Explore options to get near universal superfast broadband coverage across the UK by 2018
• Create 22 ‘SuperConnected Cities’ across the UK by 2015
• Improve mobile coverage in remote areas by 2016

BDUK has three programmes to achieve this:

Superfast Broadband Programme

The ambition is to provide superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbps or more) for at least 95% of UK premises and universal access to basic broadband (speeds of at least 2Mbps).

A couple of things to note about the new text, firstly the 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment (USC) now has a centralised completion goal of “by 2016”, which as expected puts it broadly in line with the original “superfast” coverage target of 90% that is anticipated to be achieved by early 2016 (although they’ve also played it safe again above by describing the “superfast” target as “by 2016”). Over the years it’s not always been clear when the USC would be met or even if it was being taken seriously (we’re still not confident of that last part).

Secondly, the superfast coverage goal is now expressed as an “ambition“, which in fairness is probably the correct terminology to be using as opposed to expressing concrete targets for something as complex as telecoms and Internet delivery. Make of all this what you will.

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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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