The planned investment of nearly £3m of taxpayers’ money into broadband infrastructure within South Gloucestershire might still leave Bradley Stoke without superfast broadband in 2015, according to a report accepted by Councillors at a Cabinet meeting on Monday.
South Gloucestershire Council’s Cabinet has agreed to add £2.2m of its own money to the £710k allocated by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) agency, which is aiming to “make the UK’s broadband the best in Europe by 2015”.
Commercial providers are expected to bring superfast broadband to 82% of premises in the district by 2015, leaving the remaining 18% reliant on public money, but the Council says its target is to bring 24Mbps+ broadband to only 90% of premises, meaning that more than half of the “don’t haves” could be left disappointed.
The only consolation is that those that don’t get superfast speeds will be guaranteed a minimum ‘basic broadband’ speed of 2Mbps (around one quarter of the UK average speed today but likely to be viewed by many as inadequate by 2015).
Detailed broadband coverage maps published by Wiltshire County Council (SGC’s new partner after its original consortium with Bristol and BANES disintegrated) reveal that the Council is NOT expecting BT to upgrade the Almondsbury exchange on a commercial basis within the next three years. The maps also show, for the first time, the parts of Bradley Stoke that are plagued with sub-2Mbps provision, at the granularity of individual postcode areas.
Around 4,000 premises in Bradley Stoke are thought to suffer from sub-standard broadband speeds because they are not served by Virgin Media’s cable network and are too away far from the two BT telephone exchanges that serve the town.
The latest maps suggest that around one quarter (1,000) of the non-cabled premises receive a sub-2Mbps service that entitles them to benefit from the Government’s “basic broadband for all” pledge. The remaining 3,000 premises, thought to be currently receiving speeds between 2Mbps and 4Mbps, will only benefit from state aid if the Almondsbury exchange is selected for upgrade to superfast broadband by South Gloucestershire Council.
The Council’s report makes some vague statements about using a prioritisation scheme to ensure that superfast broadband is deployed in “areas where its impact will be felt more strongly” but there is unlikely to be any certainty about geographical coverage until contracts have been awarded to telecommunication providers in “summer 2012”.
Work on the state-aided project is expected to start by the end of the year and be completed by April 2015.
In other developments, the Council is giving telecommunication providers one last chance to confirm their plans for the deployment of superfast broadband in the district, prior to commencement of the tendering process for the state-aided work. A new ‘Superfast Broadband State Aid Consultation’ started on 1st February and runs until 16th March.
Please help give Bradley Stoke the best chance of receiving its fair share of the available state aid by completing the above consultations!
The Editor comments
South Gloucestershire Council’s investment of £2.2m is well above the ‘match funding’ minimum required by the Government and appears to be a welcome acknowledgement that our slow-coach administrators have finally grasped the scale of the problem.
But the target of 90% superfast is surely too low, given that many of the ‘have nots’ will be left on a ‘basic ’ 2Mbps broadband that will seem pathetic in 2015 – potentially leaving 10% of the population on the wrong side of a new and more pronounced ‘digital divide’.
The Council needs to look to its much vaunted Localism principles and urgently consider other funding mechanisms that, where necessary, allow local communities to supplement the state aid to ensure they aren’t left festering in ‘broadband backwaters’ for years to come.
- Broadband coverage maps (Wiltshire Online)
- Submission from Bradley Stoke Councillors to Monday’s Cabinet meeting [PDF]
- Better Broadband Campaign (The Journal)
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