Rural broadband debate attracts record MP support
The debate on rural broadband, or rather the lack of it, attracted support from more than 100 MPs, a record, claimed organiser Rory Stewart, MP for Cumbria and the Border.
It was is, after all a no-brainer. No constituency would sling out its MP for supporting the roll-out of high speed broadband to their homes and villages.
But after a highly articulate and motivational introduction from Stewart, the debate quickly bogged down in petty detail, thanks mainly to a rambling turgid recitation of old arguments in favour of the status quo by former Ofcom member Chi Onwurah. (Update: To read Stewart’s full speech go here.)
It is common cause that faster broadband, especially in rural area, will help locals do more business, access more information and services such as telemedicine. This will make them more attractive to start-ups and existing firms, stop penalising school goers, and lower the cost of providing public services. This in turn will slow the depopulation of the countryside, and help to equalise access to opportunities available to residents of villages and cities.
The question is how to do it, given the virtual monopoly BT enjoys in so-called Market 1 (rural) areas?
Communications minister Ed Vaizey maintained the solution will be a raft of technologies, operators and schemes. But his defence of what BT is doing (twice the fibre installation rate of Germany, of AT&T, or Verizon or Singapore) seemed so jingoistic and bombastic, in marked contrast with his normal charming response to other issues, that one wants to question his neutrality on the subject.
BDUK, the government “skunkworks” set up to start spending the £530m budget for next generation broadband, is expected to pass judgment on which local authorities will be successful in their bids next week. But as Stewart noted, the real path forward will be known when Ofcom stats auctioning off the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum in 2012.