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Government Appoints UK’s First Rural Connectivity Champion

Wednesday, Jun 7th, 2023 (7:54 am) - Score 1,824

The Government (DEFRA & DSIT) has followed this week’s publication of its new Unleashing Rural Opportunity paper (here) by announcing that it has appointed the MP for Barrow and Furness in Cumbria, Simon Fell, to be the UK’s first “Rural Connectivity Champion” to support rural areas in accessing faster broadband etc.

The brief suggests that Fell, who is said to have a background in telecoms and cybersecurity, will primarily work to help rural communities and businesses in removing local barriers for the deployment of 5G, gigabit-capable broadband and more, while driving local leadership and coordination between local authorities and the telecoms industry. Fell will report to both DSIT and DEFRA.

The new Champion will also work to encourage adoption of digital connectivity in sectors such as agriculture and develop, in partnership with rural businesses, a clear understanding of what connectivity is needed to drive innovation and growth across the UK.

However, it remains unclear what kind of impact such a position will have that hasn’t already been catered for by other roles, such as the government’s various past and present digital infrastructure ministers – not to mention all those working in their Building Digital UK agency. We have certainly seen many calls for the appointment of digital champions, albeit usually only at local authority level.

Simon Fell MP, Rural Connectivity Champion, said:

“I am honoured to have been asked to take up the role of Rural Connectivity Champion. Poor connectivity is holding back too many rural communities and businesses, as my own farmers and businesses in Barrow and Furness will attest.

If we hope to unlock growth, and to ensure that our rural communities are sustainable, then the government has got to work hand in glove with local government and the private sector to deliver better connectivity. I look forward to leading that work across government and the country.”

The Government currently plan to launch a consultation on improving broadband for “Very Hard to Reach Premises” during the summer (yes.. another one). This will include proposals on service requirements, how to address barriers to industry delivery and how to continue supporting related areas, such as by encouraging the provision of fixed wireless access and satellite services. The wheels of progress on this do turn oh so very slowly.

You’d think that by now, after dealing with rural broadband and mobile issues for well over a decade, they’d already have enough understanding of the topic and not need any more consultations. But politicians change more often than grains of sand in the wind, so perhaps they just need a refresher course.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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22 Responses
  1. Avatar photo A S says:

    Champion…the rural broadband connectivity wonder horse

  2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    Another useless money wasting exercise by the government, money wasting as it will do nothing. Maybe the bloke needed more money than he and they thought, I know, we can make up another useless position and give it to you.

    1. Avatar photo Jimbo says:

      True, another waste of tax payers money,give it time he will be shuffled and get promoted and change role within weeks

    2. Avatar photo Me says:

      To you and me it’s a complete waste and a pointless position, but to the Government they believe it looks good to the voting public and will get more votes. Government wasting tax payers money for votes at its finest.

  3. Avatar photo Derek Chartwell says:

    There needs to be an independent national infrastruction group set up with long term vision and planning who will ensure infrastructure is developed and maintained regardless of who is in power.

    1. Avatar photo Sam says:

      “Independent” good luck with that. The authoritarians in power will always have the last say. Labour in Wales just cancelled multiple road projects and didn’t even get any push back

    2. Avatar photo TomD says:

      You’re right – long-term vision and planning. This project was likened to electrification of rural areas once.
      Give people a firm date “you will be connected to super/ultra fast broadband and 4G/5G mobile by 202X” and work to improve the forecast from there.

    3. Avatar photo Me says:

      Those things are not in the dictionaries of politicians. So no chance of it happening. But they’ll spend plenty of tax payers millions on it all.
      Look at the ridiculous mess they made getting fibre installed as it is, if it wasn’t for altnets I don’t think the majority even in cities would have fibre BB let alone outside them. Career politicians at their best whilst only thinking of the short term.

    4. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      We already have a National Infrastructure Commission, a National Infrastructure Strategy, and a National Infrastructure Delivery Plan. In some fields we’ve even got single national planners and operators for infrastructure (eg National Highways, Network Rail).

      But none of that’s worked, and the reason it’s not worked is largely because politicians can’t get their grubby little fingers out of decision making (put simply, politicians are power graspers and are incapable of delegation), yet won’t put in the hard work to themselves make sensible yet often unpopular or controversial decisions. As Sam said, there’s no independence.

      That problem of third rate politicians is compounded by the oxymoron that is wanting to have grand national plans be they for transport, telecoms, energy or anything else, yet insisting that it is all delivered through markets. Markets do what people are willing to pay for and might create a profit. That means that where its not profitable it doesn’t get done. Somebody then identifies this “doesn’t get done” as a problem, and tries to invent some quasi-market solution to get it done (eg Project Gigabit, broadband vouchers, business rates fudges, social tariffs) but those don’t work effectively because there’s those aren’t real free markets driven by buyer choice, just artificial arrangements intended to make things happen that a free market would never deliver.

      And that’s why the total UK spend on FTTP/gigabit is going to easily be enough for 100% coverage before 2030, but it won’t provide anything like that because so much has spent on two, three or four levels of overbuild in higher density areas, many of which will never be profitable. The real answer was a French affermage model for Openreach, where you privatise the operation of the assets (not ownership) as a monopoly and regulate the operator, but all decisions about expansion, technology would be taken by the regulator in the national interest. But that boat sailed a long time ago, and we now have a Cat in the Hat mess of multiple overlapping and competing telecoms infrastructure that no amount of tinkering will sort out. It will get sorted out, when eventually as OR have to replace the oldest copper with fibre simply because copper technology is no longer manufactured and because the copper lines themselves need replacing because they’re end of life. But that’s not a plan, it’s not efficient, and its decades away.

  4. Avatar photo John Nolan says:

    Chris Conder should have been given this position ten years ago. I concur re waste of money.

    1. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      I doubt broadband for wayleaves would’ve been a persuasive thing if the government were doing it.

      Wholesale wayleave reform might’ve been good instead.

  5. Avatar photo Charles Smith says:

    Rural 5G has to overcome the laws of physics in stone cottages.

    1. Avatar photo GaryH says:

      Rural 5G, LOL Thats one of my favorites when people post about rural solutions. Never mind the stone cottages just look at the range.

  6. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

    Depressing as it is government need to make changes to how permissions for wireless masts of all kinds are given.

    Many urban areas have a chronic lack of masts for 5G.

    Rural areas simply don’t have them due to much of the land being private property where wayleaves are required, availability of electricity and other factors.

    5G backhauled initially by microwave links with a plan to get fibre to them and, in turn, nearby communities, would be a good start.

    In the case of urban areas modifying planning regulations so that councils cannot refuse masts due to them being ‘out of character’ for the area would be good. More substantive, legitimate reasons such as how they’d impact the quality of life for residents being reasonable, not because they don’t look very nice.

    Of course they’re out of character for the area: the houses, roads, street lights, etc were also out of character for the area before they were built, they probably went on green fields, but that was still done.

    Local authorities should be approving these applications by default. Many refuse by default with the same reasons given each time and end up getting overturned on appeal wasting everyone’s time and money, including taxpayers.

    1. Avatar photo Mark says:

      I can get EE 5G in a wide area where I live in North Dorset actually. But I cannot get it with anyone else. So one provider has managed to get it working at least in my rural area.
      Be nice if we have some competition though.

    2. Avatar photo HR2Res says:

      We have a largely overground electricity distribution system in both rural and peri-urban areas that could be repurposed to add 4G and 5G radio masts where technically feasible, and I don’t think this would need extra planning permission or even possibly extra wayleaves. I think they are going to do this in Germany. Why not in the UK?

    3. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Costs of attaching masts to high voltage pylons is relatively easy, and has already been going on for years. I say relatively, because there’s the obvious issues of working close to 400kV power lines, but the key thing is there’s lots of spare space on National Grid’s traditional pylons.

      On the low voltage poles (still usually 11kV) that are vastly more common in rural areas then the potential varies considerably, and is often low to negligible because the poles don’t have that much spare space – the design is simple, utilitarian and intended only for three phase power lines. At push you can make it work, but re-stringing a fibre optic line adjacent to the 11kV lines won’t be easy, and you need a new transformer at teach mast site, because the masts won’t run off 11kV.

      In a few places it can work, and will be adopted. But overall, as a wide scale solution it’s like the ideas to run fibre optics through water mains or sewers, or over the backs of sheep put in a straight line, all of which are embarrassing attempts to try and piggy back on other people’s infrastructure to save a few shekels with a badly compromised solution, rather than biting the bullet and doing the job properly with dedicated infrastructure.

      Industry needs to consider that in almost all cases there’s existing copper pairs to remote properties, and ask themselves by what magic did that get installed?

    4. Avatar photo GaryH says:

      @Andrew G

      Quote Industry needs to consider that in almost all cases there’s existing copper pairs to remote properties, and ask themselves by what magic did that get installed?

      Bottom line is it got installed with no requirement to recoup the cost an make a profit wasn’t it ?

      Additionally, you only have to look at Openreach pricing to see how they come to ‘uneconomic’ installation costs, their pricing is so out of synch with the actual costs it’s beyond a joke, Odd isnt it that alts can install cheaper.

  7. Avatar photo Gavrillo Princip says:

    I want to be the secretary for broadband. I’d be a hell of a lot better at it than most of them.

    1. Avatar photo Fastman says:


      so whats your credentials in the too hard to do space and what industry recognition do you have for it

    2. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      I’d do it but it’d drive me bonkers and I’d probably leave in a matter of weeks having realised how many ridiculous obstacles there are.

    3. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Gavrillo Princip: “I want to be the secretary for broadband. I’d be a hell of a lot better at it than most of them.”

      Well done, Gavrillo, you want to be the Secretary of State for broadband? Excellent. I now proclaim you the SoS for digital, culture, media, and sport.

      So in addition to overseeing whatever form of broadband you want, you’re managing national policy on the BBC, all broadcaster, all aspects of telecoms, broadcast content, postal communications, regulator Ofcom, the horror that is the sporting industry, arts & culture including ballet and theatre, museums & galleries, tourism, gambling, and national heritage, not to mention the poison chalice of appointments and honours. And as SoS, you’ll need to be an elected politician who devotes at least 20% of your time to constituency and parliamentary business, and your department itself is an organisation with about 2,000 direct staff and operating expenditure of nine billion quid a year.

      I only have 24 house in my day, and a third of them are spent asleep. How many hours do you have?

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