Posts Tagged ‘rural communities’

The glass is half empty for high speed broadband

17/08/2011, 10:15:07 AM

by Ian Lucas

When is good news not good news for rural communities struggling to get online?

Yesterday’s announcement by the Government of millions of pounds of investment sounds great. But despite the fanfare with which the Government is announcing its allocations, it is only providing half the money for projects.

Ministers are lining up to say how shameful it is that, in 21st century Britain, people in communities across Britain can’t get online in the way others take for granted.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt says people are “suffering”. Environment secretary Caroline Spelman calls the situation “unthinkable.” Scottish secretary Michael Moore says broadband is a “lifeline.” But these are empty words, and more empty promises.

This anger from ministers at the situation communities across Britain face is only half the story – and their solution creates a big money problem for hard-pressed local councils. They must find millions from council budgets to ensure their areas don’t get left behind.

Devon and Somerset were revealed in the DCMS announcement to be receiving £31.2 million. Both counties must now find the same amount themselves. In contrast, in Greater London, a government assumption that the private sector will provide broadband means no government funds – but also no obligation to find the millions to match them.

The government’s decision to provide only half the necessary funds means an inequality in broadband provision is being guaranteed – unless rural councils find extra money from their own budgets.

Labour would have funded universal high speed broadband by 2015 through a 50p per month levy on fixed phone lines and an extra £230 million from the Digital Switchover Fund. The government ditched these plans. But the way in which it has structured their replacement means some local authorities have to find millions and others don’t, simply because of where they are.

The government’s superfast plans are starting to look more and more like a super stealth tax.

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and a shadow business minster.

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