£10m spend to find out real cost of getting superfast broadband to final 5%
The innovation fund has had its cause redefined in the House of Commons, in response to a question by Julie Hilling the MP for Bolton West, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey) has answered indicating that the eight projects currently sharing the £10m innovation fund will be used to assess how much money will be needed to give that final 5% of the country a superfast solution.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab):
This issue is not just a rural problem. At my recent business event, companies told me how lack of access to fast broadband is seriously hampering their businesses. How will the Minister ensure that areas on the edge of major urban centres also get superfast broadband?
The whole point of the rural broadband programme is to help the areas she speaks about. Local councils are in charge of the roll-out, so they should know best where the money should go first for the most impact. As I say, we have had phase 1 to get to 90%; we now have phase 2 to get to 95%; and the money we have allocated for new technologies will give us the figure we need to get to 100%.Hansard Extract from House of Commons Debate 3rd July 2014
It is interesting to see the minister who has with the BDUK process the longest referring to the use of WiFi, satellite, LTE and sub loop unbundling as new technologies which have all been proven technically through trials, commercial services or use abroad and really the only unknown is things like how costly power and backhaul is for the various locations chosen and whether the businesses and residents actually buy into the new faster service or remain with their existing providers, even though existing speeds are less than perfect.
We would like to see a politician stand up and finally admit that what is needed rather than continually pushing on with overlapping projects is to provide a safety net where those who through no fault of their own are thought to be covered either commercially or by a project but have speeds still that are not superfast or below the USC can have their plight officially heard and existing projects made to consider that property once more, i.e. an ongoing open market review system.
The big question is which project will prove popular and how many properties will be served by each, only then we the Government have some idea for the final cost which might be £200m or could be £1.5 billion and the hope may well be that the problem of finding the money not be theirs in a few years time.
Another often overlooked fact is that until coverage hits 100% in reality, it will be the case that the better served parts of a county will be increasing the average coverage for the hardest to serve areas, certainly the aim of the 90% superfast target is not that every village will have 90% coverage, but that at the county level projects will aim for this once combined with existing commercial coverage.