DEFRA superfast broadband funding may fall short

The government has announced that it will allocate up to £20 million to help bring  superfast broadband to rural communities.

The rural Community Broadband Fund set up by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs  (DEFRA) will see funds will come from the Broadband Delivery UK’s (BDUK) £530m budget and the Rural Development Programme for England for community-based broadband projects.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) reckons that the DEFRA share will also come from TV license money.

However, he raises concerns to TechEye that the funding might not be enough to ensure all rural areas get the benefits.

“While we’re pleased to see DEFRA putting in the money, these funds may not cover all areas,” Corbett told us.

“There’s been some issues surrounding who will cover all the costs and now the framework needs to be changed to allow communities to fund their own projects or be able to receive private funding on top of that provided by big providers such as BT and Virgin.” 

He also said it was unclear whether DEFRA’s allocation was new money or a repackaging of existing funding.

Announcing the plans, secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt said: “Remote and rural areas have the most to gain from access to broadband but these are the communities currently missing out.

“The whole of the UK should be able to share in the benefits of broadband and we are determined to make this happen by the end of the Parliament.”

DEFRA pointed out the importance of bringing mobile communications to rural communities, and said it hoped that fibre deployments and Ofcom’s 4G spectrum auctions will reduce coverage “not spots” in rural locations.

It said the rollout of fibre-based technology in hard to reach areas will potentially improve the availability of mobile networks, and make it more viable to provide wireless broadband services where they might otherwise not reach.  

Corbett agrees: “The availability of additional spectrum is also important in achieving new mobile broadband services, and that is why the government has directed Ofcom to run an auction of suitable spectrum as soon as possible.”

Mr Corbett added: “Fast reliable broadband is one of the biggest problems that many rural areas face. Local communities have long been setting up their own schemes in the face of apparent indifference from BT and a sometimes patchy response from the public sector.

“These initiatives have often achieved great results with very little resource and lead the way in thinking about how to create future-proofed next generation broadband solutions that involve the community – a genuine ‘Big Society’ response to tackling the problem.”