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Community Broadband “Springing Up”
By: MarkJ - 02 March, 2005 (8:46 AM)

The Community Broadband Network (CBN) will today issue a report, while attending the DTI Summit, on the explosion of 550 community broadband initiatives across the UK. The report itself is imaginatively title “Springing Up All Over”:

Nearly all are using low cost wireless technology and license exempt spectrum. Forty percent of these initiatives are social enterprises, meeting community needs and building social capital with dogged determination, business acumen, voluntary commitment and a willingness to share and learn.

Around half the projects show a small number of users only (less than 50) with many projects still being in development rather than ‘live’, but 40% have between 50 and 500 users, and 9% have from 500 to over 1000 users. It would seem that around 50,000 households and SMEs are currently using these types of broadband services throughout the country – approx 1% of UK broadband users.

There is a strong ethos of digital inclusion within these projects, and many are developing innovative content and services specifically to meet the needs of their communities, ranging from video on demand, community TV and radio, voice over internet, online IT support, video diaries or blogs, to online shopping, and even maggot racing!

Barriers to development include funding, internet backhaul costs and availability, user support and technical development, but communities are solving these problems with imagination and innovative solutions.

The Community Broadband Network recommends that national and regional government seek to rectify the lack of investment in and support for these projects which are adding tremendous value to the broadband picture in the UK. The development of local strategic partnerships, access to backhaul, and funding could all help to increase the benefits that these initiatives are bringing to the UK.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of CBN said, “We found many more projects than we expected and we know that we haven’t found them all. Our research shows that small businesses and community-led social enterprises can have an impact on broadband development providing services in rural areas, and for sections of the community the big players find hard to reach. It also shows that a lot more communities are developing wireless broadband services than the government and OFCOM realise.

The DTI sponsored conference on 2nd March will feature Nigel Griffiths MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Construction, Small Business and Enterprise, Malcolm Corbett and Lindsey Annison of CBN, Antony Walker, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, Vivien Woodell CEO of the Phone Co-op, Brian Condon, CEO of the Access to Broadband Campaign, Nigel Heriz-Smith, formerly Deputy Director of Broadband Policy at the DTI, plus speakers from community networks around the country.

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