Concerns over rural broadband

Serious concerns have been raised about the project for better rural broadband in a report from the National Audit Office.

The report, published last Friday, said that the government programme to make superfast broadband available to 90 per cent of premises in each area of the UK is currently expected to be delivered nearly two years later than initially planned.

The delay is partly because gaining approval for the project under EU state-aid rules took six months longer than expected.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The rural broadband project is moving forward late and without the benefit of strong competition to protect public value.

“For this we will have to rely on the Department’s (for Culture, Media and Sport) active use of the controls it has negotiated and strong supervision by Ofcom.”

In last week’s infrastructure announcement that followed the Spending Review, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced a further £250million to ensure superfast broadband will reach 99 per cent of the UK by 2018.

Countryside Alliance executive chairman Barney White-Spunner said: “For a long time we have known this strategy is not making the in-roads it needs to make to ensure that the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom in Northumberland.

In January, it was announced that Rothbury’s bid to Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) was successful and in April, a contract was signed with with BT and GreySky Consulting to deliver the community-led scheme.

A pioneer for rural broadband schemes, the Rothbury project was namechecked in the infrastructure announcement by Mr Alexander, who visited the village in January.

The county council’s iNorthumberland project has also signed a contract with BT to deliver superfast broadband for 91 per cent of the county as well as provisionally gaining £1.6million of funding from the RCBF.