Best Practice Guide for Public Broadband Schemes
Parts of the UK have almost a flood of choices for broadband with 3G networks, Virgin Media cable services, unbundled DSL services and the plethora of retail competition with the BT Wholesale services. Some areas are less lucky and may be faced with very limited options.
To help those lobbying their local councils and other public bodies to help resolve availability and/or digital divide issues there is a joint document published jointly by Ofcom and the DTi called Public Broadband Schemes: A Best Practice Guide which may be of help. An example of the sort of scheme this covers is the FibreSpeed project linking up 14 business parks in North Wales. Such schemes don't have to be large to make a difference either as West Somerset Internet, winner of the Best Wireless ISP category at the 2007 ISPA awards, can demonstrate.
So why the need for this guide? Well, the idea of it is to try avoid public money being wasted on schemes that benefit very few and cost far too much. Also there is the issue that by spending public funds to bring next generation broadband to an area may discourage private investment. For example if businesses are provided with next generation broadband via a public scheme, the economics of a provider coming to an area to provide ADSL2+ and SDSL services can be skewed to the point where they don't invest at all, leaving the general public on old generation services.
Of course there are ways of promoting broadband in an area that will stimulate take-up and encourage investment within an area, benefiting those who did not directly receive public money as well. This type of demand generation work is not part of the guide, but can help. Broadband awareness schemes are important in areas where first generation broadband only arrived in the last year or so, as many may not have noticed its late arrival.
Publicly funded schemes come into their own when there has been a clear market failure and businesses or the public as a whole are disadvantaged by this. Two key factors are considered in the
- Comparative service availability: are the kind of services the scheme will deliver widely available in other areas of the UK?
- Likelihood of commercial services: are companies unlikely to invest even if demand can be shown for the services the scheme would provide?
People campaigning for better broadband investment in an area should read the document and its associated FAQ.