Two issues demand urgent resolution, these being to:
- Permit greater flexibility in what its agency, BDUK, allows to be counted as match funding for Government broadband investment programmes, so that local projects with allocations can actually proceed.
- Demand that providers (who receive public funds) release detailed information about superfast broadband availability at a premises level and costs, so that public programmes have the information needed to target investment and community-led schemes can proceed with more certainty.
The Rural Services Network calls upon an incoming Government to:
- Recognise that fast broadband infrastructure is now of fundamental importance to rural economies and communities. Without it the nation’s rural areas will be at a significant disadvantage, with impacts on business performance and access to services amongst other things.
- Introduce a more ambitious target for universal provision, set much higher than 2Mbps. Explore the scope for an up-to-date Universal Service Obligation for broadband.
- Focus its broadband strategy and investment on achieving coverage where there is genuine market failure, with no broadband available or in prospect, instead of diverting funding to places likely to be commercially viable.
- Set out in more detail how and when it intends to reach the 5% of premises outside its main superfast programme, making use of innovative technologies. Expand the £10 million funding pot for this work.
- Lobby hard for a relaxation of State Aid rules applied to networks built with public subsidy. The current rules present both technical and commercial barriers to providing solutions in the deepest rural areas.
- Examine how improved mobile phone network coverage and competition can be achieved in rural areas, by encouraging more mast sharing between operators and by arguing for regulated access to BT’s backhaul infrastructure for other 4G operators.
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