Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rural broadband developments in Devon and the South West

This post is a bit late, as Devon County Council issued their press release over a month ago on 19th May, but worth reporting all the same. The release sets out the results from a study into broadband access across the county. The results confirm that poor access to ICT and broadband inhibits many rural businesses, affecting their growth and turnover:
"A high-speed and reliable broadband service is now considered as essential as utilities such as phones, electricity and gas but the survey shows hundreds of businesses have no broadband service, let alone Next Generation access. 75 per cent of firms in the business survey said that faster broadband would help them achieve greater profits and growth...Devon County Council's analysis calculates that 30,548 households (9.03% of total) and 1,018 business premises (7.58% of total) receive slow broadband (less than 2Mbps), and 15,159 households/497 business premises receive no broadband (less than 0.5 Mbps)."
ISPReview offer further analysis, reporting that "22% of the UK county suffered from slow broadband ISP connections." In response, the council is looking at which areas would benefit most from targeted investment using strict economic criteria, based on a balance between demand and turnover and aimed at those areas suffering from very slow connectivity. The council's broadband ambitions were set out last year in its Digital Devon strategy, which sets objectives of 100% broadband coverage by 2013, with "average bandwidth speed[s]" being 20Mbps (10Mbps minimum). The Council also hopes to be in the top quarter for affordable quality broadband.

Staying in the same neck of the woods, the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA) announced around the same time that £730,000  has been secured for the region under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE):
"The Devon and Somerset Rural Broadband Project is to get £550,000 for four ‘cluster’ communities. It will involve deploying a community-owned broadband structure in the Blackdown Hills and Exmoor areas so that local businesses and communities can test different solutions and approaches to broadband. They will then be able to operate systems which will deliver the connectivity and systems they need before producing a blue print for other areas to follow...The second grant is for £180,000 and has been given to help upgrade existing infrastructure and provide new lines to help boost the availability and speed of broadband in the Forest of Dean...The project aims to reach communities which would not normally be targeted by the commercial market. It wants to install 5,000 lines to open up better broadband access to people and businesses considered ‘hard to reach’. Such improvements will create and retain jobs and make businesses more competitive in national and international markets."
RDPE funds are part of the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP) to help mitigate against the current impacts of the economic downturn across Member States. RDAs are to be replaced with Local Economic Partnerships as part of the continuing round of spending cuts. Let's hope that this doesn't prejudice future similar funding opportunities for rural broadband.

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