The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) isn’t optimistic about the UK Government’s target to get superfast broadband to 90 per cent of the country by 2015.
The lobby group, representing landowners in rural England and Wales, announced ahead of today’s BDUK select committee that it was concerned about the slow funding process and current fibre rollouts exacerbating the UK’s digital divide.
CLA President Harry Cotterell said: "An over-reliance on fibre optic is also a factor in the Government's poor chance of meeting these deadlines. The CLA advocates a patchwork quilt model that uses the most appropriate technologies for a certain area, rather than using a single technology, so everyone can benefit from broadband."
Aside from fibre rollout we’ve seen satellite broadband providers Tooway Direct and Bentley Walker supply broadband to rural communities cut off from the big fibre footprint. Wireless providers like ExWavia and FibreWiFi are achieving similar results. A recent 4G trial by Everything Everywhere has breathed new life into broadband not spots, though public launch of this is all tied up in the ongoing 4G spectrum debate with Ofcom.
Cotterell also criticised the BDUK funding process for being "too bureaucratic and the allocation of the £530million funding too slow.”
“It would be much simpler if the funding was allocated centrally rather than giving it directly to local authorities because they do not have the resource to plan for a superfast broadband network," he added.
Recently we’ve seen negotiations between BT, Fujitsu and Cumbria County Council return to square one, potentially delaying the rollout of superfast broadband in this area to beyond the 2015 deadline.
That said we’re not entirely sure how the situation would change if the cash was doled out from London. Local councils would arguably know better the unique geographic characteristics of their constituencies and how better to rollout super-fast broadband - look at the recent injection of cash provided to the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland for example.
Mr Cotterell said the CLA and NFU were engaged in discussions to produce a national broadband wayleave agreement to foster a more stable platform for rural broadband deployment.
Update (1): B4RN co-founder Chris Conder responded to the CLA’s statement, telling Recombu Digital that:
“The patchwork solution is a stop-gap and OK for the short term. But if you are thinking medium or long term, then fibre is the only fit for purpose way. Otherwise the whole job will be to do again. Build it once and build it right.”
B4RN - Broadband For the Rural North - is an almost entirely self-funded venture that’s already completed deployment of its core network, consisting of 75 kilometers of cable over 12 routes between five parish hubs. The eventual aim is to get eight parishes in the Forest of Bowland and the Lune Valley connected.
Update (2): Head of Wispa Limited Richard Brown also got in touch with thoughts on the CLA’s statement and BDUK:
“Harry Cotterell is right, but for all the wrong reasons. The funding process of BDUK is way too slow (only around a dozen members of staff though), and the progress that has been made toward achieving the level of ubiquitous service that the UK (or any other country for that matter) requires is risible.
The reason Harry has the wrong reasons, is because he believes the Government is too fibre focussed. They are too BT focussed. Fibre is not the answer, albeit may be the most obvious one right now. The issue is that the Gov are utterly rudderless, and the BT anchor is the only thing they have to cling to. BT say it should be a particular way and BDUK/DCMS shrug and agree.
It is not a Government job to 'pick' the right tech. It is a Government job to create an environment where the right tech emerges. They have summarily failed to do this, and the rest of us are left anxious, and a frustrated about our futures.
We need strong, positive leadership. We have it only from BT. BT is not the problem (it is part of the solution) but the utter lack of appropriate policy in Government is.”
Wispa Limited’s alternative solution to nationwide broadband funding (in a nutshell) would be to provide cash bounties for ISPs should they reach set targets to provide superfast connections in specific areas. A kind of carrot and stick approach with cash and/or tax breaks as the carrot and a whole lot of nothing as the stick.