Monday, September 24, 2012

CLA: Broadband Fit for Rural Growth

The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) has today published Broadband Fit for Rural Growth, a policy paper on the importance of rural broadband (press release here).

The CLA perceives a number of shortcomings in UK policy in this area, suggesting that it is unlikely that the Government's objective for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 will be realised. In addition, the CLA "is not convinced the £530million committed (or £1.06billion when including match funding) is sufficient."

The paper argues that more emphasis should be placed on the universal availability of basic broadband services, rather than on the rollout of superfast services which are unlikely to benefit rural areas any time soon:
"The CLA believes that the key is universal coverage. It is accepted that many rural businesses currently do not need speeds associated with superfast broadband to operate efficiently. Of course, this will change in the future and this is why it is essential that any broadband network is proofed against future developments in business."
Similarly, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) should be re-cast to support basic as well as superfast broadband provision:
"The CLA continues to have serious misgivings about Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund. We believe it has missed a major opportunity through seeking only a superfast broadband solution. The effect of this will be to reduce very slowly the number of people in rural areas who have no connection rather than facilitating broadband for all in the countryside. We question why there has been so little consideration given to how to ensure universal coverage."
The Government should "look again at the implementation and structure of the Rural Community Broadband Fund to ensure more businesses have access to the available funding." This focus on universality over superfast echoes the similar arguments made in the report of the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, Broadband Services in Wales, published last week (more here). The CLA also calls for a more binding universal service obligation, as opposed to the current universal service commitment:
"The CLA advocates the adoption of a broadband USO and we remain concerned that the Government is only promoting a USC which has no legal sanction behind it. We did not agree when the previous government advocated the USC and we remain concerned that a USC provides government with a get-out clause in the event that the two Mbps benchmark cannot be achieved by the stated deadline of 2015…If, as the House of Lords Communication Committee report states, there is likely to be a stronger case for a USO in the future, we see no reason why the Government should not now begin to put in place a workable structure so that a USO can take effect by 2015.”
The CLA also advocates that better use should be made of existing public sector networks in support of broadband in rural areas:
"...the CLA continues to be alarmed at the Government’s lack of support for rural communities to be allowed to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband. The examples where rural communities have been able to take advantage of unused public sector bandwidth to feed into community wireless networks are few and far between."
A couple of such examples are described in this previous post. The Government should "provide an appropriate framework to allow rural communities to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband", according to the CLA.

Coverage from ISP Review here and the BBC here and here.

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