Minister praises broadband scheme

RURAL residents have been praised in parliament for starting their own scheme to bring faster broadband to the countryside.

Based in Lancashire, the Broadband for the Rural North initiative aims to offer superfast 1000 megabit connections to rural homes for £30 per month.

The community-led scheme hopes to achieve its aim by raising its own funds and utilising the skills, time, energy and ingenuity of local residents and businesses.

The so-called B4RN intiative was highlighted during a series of parliamentary questions to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday (14 June).

Tory MP Eric Ollerenshaw asked Mr Hunt to confirm that such schemes which initially raised their own funds would not be discriminated against on access to future Government support.

Community-led schemes were endeavouring to bring superfast broadband to remote rural areas, Mr Ollerenshaw told MPs.

Mr Hunt replied: "We are specifically trying to set up a scheme so that, where people raise their own funds to solve broadband problems, it is possible to integrate that into the national network.

"Our objective is to enable as much local self-help work as possible, so I welcome my honourable friend's initiative and those taken by his constituents."

Mr Ollerenshaw later asked Mr Hunt if he would visit Lancashire to meet the B4RN team.

Mr Hunt replied: "We would be delighted to provide support in any way we can, and certainly I or culture under-secretary Ed Vaizey, would be delighted to meet him and his constituents."

The government had now approved 37 out of 43 local broadband plans – that is, almost 90% across the whole country – and nine were in procurement, said Mr Hunt.

"A number of those are almost ready to begin delivery, and the other projects are being prepared for procurement with support from Broadband Delivery UK," he said.

The government's goal was by for 90% of the country to have access to superfast broadband by 2015, said Mr Hunt. But it would not stop there, he added.

"We will have a plan in place for the other 10% which means that they will have a very good prospect of getting superfast broadband.

"In many cases—for example, in my own county of Surrey—plans are being put forward whereby there will be 100% access to superfast broadband by 2014.

"Good local authorities are thinking about the other 10% and making sure that they are not left behind, and we are doing everything we can to help them.

Mr Hunt said people in remote areas who did not have access to good broadband were "at the top of our minds".

The government was determined to put in place a structure that ensured even if they were not in the 90% covered by 2015, they would be covered very soon afterwards.

Alternatively, the government would have a structure in place that allowed them to be covered within that framework.

One of the options proposed by Ofcom would mean 98% coverage of 4G, which Mr Hunt suggested would be extremely important in many rural areas.


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