Local Broadband Plans
There has been a welcome shift in the debate about how to deliver better broadband away from an overarching national approach, towards a more local focus. This is reflected both in government policy as expressed in Britain's Superfast Broadband Future, in the statements of ministers and MPs, and by many of the industry players. The truth is that people in local communities, particularly those on the edge of the network in the so-called “Final Third”, have long had to campaign to ensure they got (a) at least some broadband and (b) broadband services that are adequate for their needs.
Success Strategies for Local Broadband Schemes
In the absence of national roll out plans to meet the basic 2Mbps broadband target, or far more ambitious targets for next generation broadband, funded either by the private or the public sectors, local action has moved centre stage in the thinking of policy makers. This is reflected by Broadband Delivery UK funding the four pilot projects in North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Highlands and Islands, and Herefordshire. It is also reflected in activities on the ground with a diverse range of local projects developing from the city-centre fibre project in Manchester, to the Fibrespeed project in North Wales, local fibre trials by Virgin Media, community-owned projects like Alston Cybermoor, Rutland Telecom’s village projects, NextGenus and a growing range of non-incumbent players. In guidance issued to local authorities bidding into the central government pot, BDUK explicitly recognises the role of community activity and local schemes, requiring bidders to prepare ‘Local Broadband Plans’ as both the bid document and business case for funding.
Developing credible county-level or district broadband plans is not easy. The overarching approach – and the challenge - was summarised at a conference on 9 May 2011 by city investment firm Jendens:
The UK Government’s rural broadband initiative, investing more than £500m of public funds, places a significant burden of responsibility on Councils and the new LEPs:
- To demonstrate the economic viability of rural broadband, often against conventional wisdom;
- To develop, present and execute a comprehensive, county-wide broadband strategy;
- And to present plans that are sustainable, with assured access to ongoing private funding.
These assessment criteria represent significant challenges for Councils to match.
Arguably the only way to meet these challenges is to engage with local communities, seeking to maximise their involvement in the process.
The emphasis on local engagement is both welcome and striking, and is reflected at the political level in the speeches and comments of MPs and ministers. On 23rd March 2011, Rory Stewart MP initiated a Westminster debate on the topic of rural broadband. In laying out the challenges faced by many of his constituents and communities around the country he paid tribute to the work of local campaigners and leaders of community broadband schemes. The minister Ed Vaizey, MP responded by saying "I am extremely anxious to see community broadband solutions. It is easier for a county council, perhaps with its own money and additional money from Europe, to seek match funding from the Government, but its tender need not be a big company or big government solution and can include community broadband solutions." [Hansard]
This section of the Knowledge Base is designed to build on these ambitions for ‘localism’ in the development of broadband services with an emphasis on what can help a local scheme to be effective and succeed.