Fifty million pounds is a very large amount of money, and it was great to read last week’s DCMS announcement that it would be made available to support the roll-out of broadband across Wiltshire, Norfolk, Devon and Somerset. As my mother is the webmaster for the North Devon working gundogs website, I have a feeling that, with the prospect of increased bandwidth for Exmoor, it is now only a matter of time before we see HD video streams of spaniels and labradors. Something to look forward to(?).
However, there is an air of unreality about recent announcements that could lull the casual reader into thinking that we are on course for widespread roll-out of broadband across rural Britain when in fact there is a large hole in the budget. The Broadband Stakeholder Group is a government and industry sponsored group that has been considering these issues for some time. In 2008, as input into the previous government’s Digital Britain project, the Broadband Stakeholder Group commissioned some research that found:
“…rolling out fibre nationwide would cost between £5.1bn and £28.8bn (depending on the technology used) and that the costs of deploying in rural areas will far exceed the costs in urban areas.”
Against that number even the entire £530 million fund put aside by this government seems rather inadequate. Whilst I was not in favour of the funding mechanisms proposed by the last government either (remember the broadband tax?), it seems that the funding gap is being conveniently overlooked in the positive reporting of fund allocations.
Meanwhile, Broadband Delivery UK, the body set up to administer the funds seems like the kind of organisation that would have been created by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Its web-site has a section What are we doing?, which I reproduce below.
“To achieve the goal of best superfast broadband network in Europe and to ensure that by 2015 every household and business can access a basic level of broadband, BDUK is engaging with a wide range of stakeholders (including the ‘industry’, public sector bodies, OFCOM, regional bodies and community groups) to:
- Develop the commercial and delivery models that will be used for investing public money in broadband
- Plan and execute 4 superfast broadband pilots to ensure that the maximum information is gained for targeting potential future government intervention
- Investigate the detail of reuse of public sector networks and assets, identify the challenges and develop solutions
- Develop tools and guidance for communities to come together to help solve their broadband issues
- Develop tools and guidance for local authorities wishing to help solve broadband issues in their areas.”
This reminds me of the story of the emperor’s new clothes – against the funding gap identified earlier in this post it is difficult to see how the actions being taken by Broadband Delivery UK will lead to the achievement of its objectives.