Brussels, UK still at odds over broadband targets
There are material differences between Westminster and Brussels over what will result from the European Commission’s approval of a blanket purchasing agreement for next generation broadband connections in rural UK.
The differences can be summed up thus, in BDUK/Commission order: ‘Superfast’ equals 24/30Mbps; Investment equals £530m/£1.5bn; Universal access equals 90 per cent/100 per cent.
These were the views either side held at the start of the year when BDUK applied for approval. Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s recent visit to Brussels did not resolve them, but it did unblock the cash flow.
According to the Commission, the total value of aid to be delivered by the scheme is around £1.5bn (€1.8bn). “This will most likely enable the UK to achieve the objective of the EU Digital Agenda of coverage of 30 Mbps networks for all European citizens (see IP/10/581 and MEMO/10/199),” it says.
The commission goes on to say the design of the BDUK scheme contains several ‘best practices’ which will help to ensure more effective, better targeted and less distortive public interventions. A national competence centre will advise smaller local authorities. Ofcom will have a “crucial role” in designing wholesale access prices and conditions.
All information related to projects under the scheme (including mapping, public consultation, tenders, aid beneficiaries) will be published on a central website.
“The UK has also committed to submit an evaluation of the scheme to the commission before 31 March 2015 and to ensure that any forthcoming scheme will take this evaluation into account,” it says.
BT can now start extending its £2.5bn fibre to the cabinet network upgrade, firstly into rural Wales and Surrey. Projects in Cumbria, Rutland and Herefordshire and Gloucestershire should follow shortly. Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Highlands & Islands are busy with their procurements.
This will open up the World Wide Web as a potential marketplace for tens of thousands of small and medium sized businesses, and give them access to a wider choice of suppliers. It will allow them to take advantage of technology such as hosted applications and cloud computing, and improve the speed and efficiency with which they do business. In a nutshell, it should make Britain’s SMEs more competitive at home and abroad, and for that we should be delighted.
But the issue of whether Britain’s future networks should be built of fibre or copper is unresolved; taxpayers may have to cough up sooner than they think for a long term network solution to extend fibre to our homes and offices.