Tardy Councils ordered to expedite broadband plans

Broadband - photo by charmcitygavin (licence: cc-attr)

South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) and other local authorities in England that have so far failed to publish plans for improving broadband infrastructure in their areas have been set a deadline by Whitehall officials concerned that the Government’s promise of delivering the “best broadband in Europe” by 2015 could be in jeopardy.

The news comes three weeks after South Gloucestershire Council launched a lengthy 13-month public consultation in which residents and businesses are being asked to “register interest in receiving improved broadband connectivity”, which triggered an avalanche of negative comments from dismayed Journal readers.

An impatient Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has now ordered all authorities to submit a draft Local Broadband Plan by the end of February 2012. Plans must be agreed with the Government by the end of April and procurement of equipment must begin within a further three months.

Any authority that has not begun procurement by by the end of July is likely to see the Government stepping in to take remedial action.

In the Government’s original plan for the delivery of superfast broadband published in December 2010, local authorities were expected to submit detailed bids for a specific share of the £530m funding. By April 2011, so few Councils had submitted plans that the Government abandoned the bidding process and decided to allocate the remaining money based on its own assessment of local needs.

The West of England (South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset and Bristol) was allocated £1.4 million from the fund in August 2011. Since then, BANES has voted against accepting its share of the Government money, which must be match-funded by each Council. The Journal has also heard a rumour that SGC is considering leaving the West of England group to pair up with another local authority whose broadband plans are more advanced.

Around 4,000 homes in Bradley Stoke suffer from low broadband speeds because they are too far away from BT exchanges in Almondsbury and Filton.

BT has scheduled the Filton exchange for upgrading to its Infinity ‘fibre to the cabinet’ service but Almondsbury has so far failed to feature in the company’s upgrade plans.

The Almondsbury exchange once again failed to feature in BT’s latest upgrade announcement made earlier this week, promoted locally as a “bonanza for Bristol”.

Although the company has said it considers Almondsbury to be in the ‘final third’ of the country that will not be be upgraded on a commercial basis, it is not clear whether the exchange will qualify for Government subsidy as it is classified in the ‘Market 3’ category by Ofcom, indicating that there is a high level of competition from different telecoms suppliers.

More info: Deadlines set for local authority broadband plans

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