COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE

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Whitehall leaving super-fast broadband schemes "high and dry"

The Countryside Alliance has released the results of a freedom of information request sent in October to each of the four areas named by George Osborne in his Pre-Budget Report on 20 October 2010 (Highlands and Islands, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Herefordshire) as launching pilot superfast broadband areas.   They were billed as ‘models for how the public and private sectors should collaborate to build high-speed broadband networks in rural Britain’. We asked how much each had received from the government and what they had done in the past year to deliver their rural broadband network.
Unsurprisingly the results are very underwhelming, with a couple of the councils not having spent a penny and the others just moving towards finding local suppliers to get working on a process of getting the projects started. The Countryside Alliance response is that the Government is talking a great game but not delivering – the first four areas, which are supposed to be the pioneers, are still nowhere over a year since being named by the Chancellor. In effect, the Government can be praised for finding the money and making a big play out of their commitment to rural broadband, but they then seem to be leaving the councils high and dry with no idea of how to get the projects moving. For rural people still struggling with no or an unreliable internet connection, this is simply not good enough.
Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: 
“The Countryside Alliance has frequently praised this Government’s commitment to improving rural broadband coverage and the funds they have put aside for councils are very welcome. However, as the responses from the pilot councils show, local authorities are struggling to turn Whitehall’s promises into reality. It has been over a year since these pilots were set up and the people who live in areas with no or unreliable broadband coverage haven’t seen any improvement. Unless more is done to simplify the process of acquiring and implementing rural broadband projects, the digital divide will continue to grow and the money pledged by the Coalition will remain all but worthless.” 

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