Superfast broadband campaigners see hope in Budget 2011

Although Chancellor George Osborne spared just one sentence to refer to superfast broadband in yesterday’s Budget, that was enough to inspire hope in campaigners INCA (Independent Networks Cooperative Association).

In the Budget speech, Osborne announced the government’s plans to establish 21 urban ‘Enterprise Zones’ in the UK, with businesses in every zone having access to superfast broadband. Ten of the zones were revealed yesterday, including Birmingham and Solihull, Greater Manchester, the Black Country  and Nottingham.

“This [superfast broadband rollout] will be achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive planning environment and, if necessary, public funding,” he said in the Budget report.

INCA, which welcomed the announcement, is a member organisation for people building broadband networks in urban and rural areas, with the aim to have 100 percent coverage in the UK. Its members include Cable and Wireless, Alcatel Lucent, as well as local authorities.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, said: “It is a potentially very valuable statement. If the government is going to provide some support for this process [of building widespread superfast broadband networks], it is going to be very useful indeed.”

Corbett said that there could be a number of measures, not necessary financial, that the government could do to facilitate the broadband rollout.

The biggest cost of implementing the network is digging up roads and putting in the physical infrastructure. Corbett suggested that one way that the government could help to reduce the cost of this is by allowing operators to reuse public sector networks.

He added:  “The government could forgo some of the business rates that apply to these networks.”

The government has already announced, as part of the Budget, a 100 percent business rate discount for businesses that move into an Enterprize Zone over the next five years.

INCA is now planning to organise a roundtable with government ministers to explore the options available.

At the end of last year, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed the government’s plans to set up publicly-funded, local ‘digital hubs’ that would help all areas of the UK to have access to superfast broadband by 2015. These would be supported by a £830 million fund the government has made available for the broadband extension.

Meanwhile, in January, BT announced that over 40 market towns would be getting "super-fast" broadband over fibre connections next year. The rollout is part of a £2.5bn BT fibre-broadband programme to increase UK broadband speeds generally, including in rural areas.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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