5 Rural broadband policy |
53. There is a general trend towards online services
becoming the norm: this is true of the public sector (Government
digital strategy) and the private sector (shopping, learning and
banking all increasingly take place online). Nearly every council
and Local Enterprise Partnership for growth emphasises the importance
of superfast broadband and other digital infrastructure in attracting
and retaining businesses of all sizes.
Councillor Tom Howard suggested that broadband was a core service
requirement for rural living,
while the Local Government Association added that:
Access to fast and reliable broadband is as important
a strategic consideration as electricity, planning, housing and
transport for living and doing business in the twenty-first century.
54. We have received written evidence about the increasing
use of online-only access across a range of services. It has become
apparent in the course of this inquiry that lack of broadband
availability is not an issue only in remote, rural communities.
Premises in developed, urban locations also experience poor coverage
when the copper cables which connect their house to the street
cabinet have to travel a long distance. Nonetheless problems with
poor connectivity arise mainly in rural areas: Chris Townsend
of BDUK noted that the last 5% of premises to receive access to
superfast broadband represent 75% of the UK's geographical area.
Even so, access to good broadband should not be thought of as
an exclusively rural issue. Rural broadband policy should not
be separated from the policy for urban areas: the same high speeds
and increased coverage rates experienced in urban areas must be
attempted in rural settings.
55. Sean Williams from BT highlighted the main problems
faced when balancing delivery of urban broadband alongside rural:
You want to get as much value in connectivity for
the money available, and so you get to the most expensive, hardest-to-reach
places last. The most rural and dispersed farm communities are
among the last to get the service.
56. During the 2010-15 Spending Review Period a total
of £530 million (including £300 million from TV licence
revenue) has been allocated to broadband delivery. Funding for
2015-17 has not yet been allocated from central Government but
the licence fee settlement (agreed in 2010) provides a further
£150 million for BDUK funding in each of 2015-16 and 2016-17,
if required. Some
£100 million of funding was set aside for the Urban Broadband
Fund, and £20 million for the Rural Community Broadband Fund,
which, until it closed down in March 2014, was a fund to help
'hard to reach' communities.
57. The Government's 'Broadband Connection Vouchers
Scheme' offers businesses an opportunity to obtain a connection
voucher worth up to £3,000 for faster, better broadband.
This scheme is active in 22 cities across the UK. In the Autumn
Statement 2014, the Government provided an extra £40 million
for its broadband connection voucher scheme, and the scheme has
been extended to March 2016 and more cities.
58. The allocation
of funding between urban and rural areas is greatly unbalanced.
Those who live in urban areas have on average higher percentage
coverage of superfast broadband, coupled with access to voucher
schemes which can subsidise access. Rural areas are lagging behind.
Those in poorly connected areas are sometimes asked to pay twice:
once through their taxes for the Government-funded Broadband Delivery
UK (BDUK) programme and potentially again from their own pockets
if the BDUK programme does not reach them.
59. We recommend the introduction of a voucher
scheme, similar to that available in cities, for those who live
in areas with no access to fixed-line broadband or where they
are unable to access a minimum of 2 Mbps broadband. The vouchers
should subsidise the cost of satellite broadband access for those
60. On 21 March 2014, the Government invited applicants
for a new £10 million innovation fund, intended to test innovative
ways to help take broadband to Britain's most remote communities.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that
suppliers could submit bids in three areas: technology; operating
models; and financial (testing innovative funding models).
The Minister confirmed that the awards for pilots were made in
June 2014 and that the pilot projects were now being finalised
with the hope that results would be returned in 2015.
The Minister confirmed that Defra are in regular dialogue with
DCMS on this project to help the last 5%.
Chris Townsend, of BDUK, said:
We will have a business case to take to the Secretary
of State by the end of March (2015). We will also be looking for
additional funds in order to rollout some of these further technologies
into the harder to reach areas.
61. It is not clear how the success of the pilots
will be judged, or whether the results of the pilot tests will
be made public. Neither is it clear whether more funds will be
made available if the appropriate technologies are tested and
ready for rollout. Chris Townsend assured us that the pilots have
been selected and completed according to schedule and that they
will be rolled out on a wider scale this year.
62. It is frustrating for those living in remote
areas and those without access to adequate broadband coverage
that it has taken nearly five years into the rollout of broadband
before new technologies have been researched. Reassurance is required
on how this 'Innovation Fund' will succeed where the Rural Community
Broadband Fund did not. That fund received 110 applications for
funding; only 22 were approved.
63. Fibre to
the Cabinet does not offer a solution to all premises. Alternative
technologies must be investigated and it is encouraging that the
Government is now investing in this research. It is disappointing
that research into solutions for hardest-to-reach areas has taken
64. The Innovation Fund is the first step to providing
superfast coverage to the last 5%. The results of the pilot test
must be published and the most suitable schemes rolled out nationally.
48 Local Government Association (RBB 0090) para 3 Back
Councillor Tom Howard (RBB 0083) para 5 Back
Local Government Association (RBB 0090) para 1 Back
Fixed Broadband: Policy and Speeds 2014, Standard note
SN06643, House of Commons Library, December 2014 Back
Local Government Association (RBB 0090) para 13 Back
Department for Culture, Media & Sport '£10 million broadband fund'
accessed 26 January 2015 Back