LGA slams new Culture Secretary’s updated broadband plans

The Local Government Association (LGA) has slammed newly appointed culture secretary Maria Miller’s decision to allow broadband providers to implement street cabinets without the need for prior approval from the local council.

It has said that the decision takes away from the rights of people to decide what the impact will be on their local environment.

Miller replaced Jeremy Hunt, who has been appointed as the Secretary of State for Health, in last week’s ministerial reshuffle and has said that there is currently a swathe of red tape holding up the delivery of broadband infrastructure in the UK.

“Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs,” said Miller.

“We are putting essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.”

She added: “The government means business and we are determined to cut through the bureaucracy that is holding us back.”

The new plans follow BT’s decision to pull the plug on its deployment of fibre broadband in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, after the Council refused permission to install its street cabinets, purely on aesthetic grounds.

Miller’s plans would allow BT to overrule any such objection from local councils, providing that it didn’t want to install the cabinets on Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport told Computerworld UK that a consultation on the updated plans will begin by Spring, with legislation due to follow shortly after that.

The LGA has said that Miller should be focusing on getting state aid approval from the European Commission, which is holding up the roll out of fibre in the UK and isn’t expected to be gained until the end of the year, rather than taking power away from councils and giving it to private companies.

“The real barrier to broadband roll out is the fact the Government does not have the EU's permission to spend the £530 million it

wants to allocate to broadband. In the absence of state aid clearance there is no superfast broadband programme and resolving this blockage must be the main focus for Government,” said the LGA in a statement.

“Decisions on where to place broadband infrastructure must consider the impact on local environments rather than simply suit the convenience of companies and their engineers.”

It added: “Residents expect councils to protect their homes and make neighbourhoods nice places to live, and planning regulations exist to do just that. The drive to meet broadband targets shouldn't force poorly thought out knee-jerk measures that spoil local environments and needlessly damage roads.”

Miller has also said that government will work with mobile operators, local government and other parties to streamline the planning process and speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure.

The UK government has said that it hopes to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, and has committed a minimum of £730 million up until 2015 to support the rollout. The money is being distributed to local authorities that bid for funding via a framework created by governing body Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

However, there is an increasing concern that the government’s Broadband Delivery framework (BDUK) is favouring incumbent supplier BT, as a number of alternative providers have pulled out of the bidding process, leaving BT to win the majority of public funds.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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