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Countryside Alliance Claims UK Superfast Broadband Pilots Have Stalled

Posted: 09th Dec, 2011 By: MarkJ
ukuk Countryside broadbandThe Countryside Alliance (CA), which describes itself as a major British campaigning organisation for rural issues, has accused the UK governments initial superfast broadband pilot schemes of having stalled.

The first handful of four Next Generation Access (NGA) pilots were announced in October 2011 (here) for the Highlands and Islands (Scotland), Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Herefordshire [Golden Valley] (England). Each of which was said to be worth between £5-10m.

However a recent Freedom of Information (FoI) request, which was sent to all of the related councils, revealed that not one of the projects had received any money, chosen a network operator or started building the new services. Such criticisms are nothing new (February 2011 news).

Alice Barnard, CEO of the Countryside Alliance, warned ( BBC ):

"It has been over a year since these pilots were set up and the people who live in areas with no or unreliable broadband coverage haven't seen any improvement. Unless more is done to simplify the process of acquiring and implementing rural broadband projects, the digital divide will continue to grow and the money pledged by the Coalition will remain all but worthless."

In fairness many of the related projects have been saying, often for almost a year, that their tender processes would not complete until either late-2011 or 2012. This means that no practical building work could even start until 2012.

Meanwhile the government will not allocate any money until that process has completed. So it's not that the projects have stalled but they are undoubtedly proceeding at a glacial pace. A second batch of superfast broadband pilots was revealed in May 2011 (here) and since then BDUK has announced funding allocations for the whole country (here).

On top of that the process of development and tender has been held up by the slow pace of regulation, with access to BT's cable ducts and telegraph poles (Physical Infrastructure Access) being one of the biggest stumbling blocks. The good news is that BT's PIA product was launched last month (here), although a number of access and price related disputes still need to be resolved.

The government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, which has a budget of £530m (rising to £830m by 2017), aims to help 90% of "people in each local authority area" gain access to a superfast broadband (25Mbps+) service by 2015 (the last 10% will get a minimum speed of at least 2Mbps).
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