BDUK broadband money needs partly to be spent  on education.

Much has been written on the subject of rural broadband and the digital divide and yesterday it all hit the news again as the Government published details of which areas will get how much money towards taking “broadband to all”.

This ranges between zero if you (are lucky enough to?) live in densely populated London to £31million if you live in Devon.

I’m not going to repeat stuff previously written on this other than to say I see the government is caught between a rock and a hard place – the few organisations able to deliver scale are unlikely to deliver what’s best and more over cost effective for the longer term prosperity of UK plc.  I don’t however see an alternative strongly waving a flag saying “this is how it should be done”.

There are islands of hope – for example B4RN.  However B4RN is lucky enough to have someone local called Barry Forde driving the project that really understands what he is talking about.

I listened to BF and a council official being interviewed on Radio 5 Live yesterday afternoon. Not only did the presenters not know what they were talking about but neither did the council official. How can we expect local authorities to create projects in their regions if they don’t understand the issues facing them? The outcome is that councils resort to accepting the friendly arm round the shoulder from a incumbent whose goal in life is not to help them but to take as much of their money as they can.

It would make sense to me for some of the BDUK broadband cash to be used to fund independently provided educational programmes for people wanting to champion local broadband network projects. At least then they would be able to make informed decisions about what to do with the money.

PS I realise it is a game but I do wish the Government would drop this PR spiel about having the “best superfast broadband network in Europe by the end of this parliament”. Who is kidding who?

Published by Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of trefor.net, writer, poet, philosopherontap.com

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  1. Lindsey Annison

7 Comments

  1. Nice idea but several councils already tried something similar and were forced to back down because after 2 seconds they had newspapers talking about “fat cat broadband zar’s” that eat up all of “your” taxes etc. Paranoia sets in; people claim the money is being wasted and so forth.

    In fairness you would effectively be spending money to educate people about what they can’t get, at which point you’d still need to spend even more cash to build the networks. If you’re going to educate anybody then force the councillor in charge of broadband to either demonstrate his pre-existing understanding of the tech or to take a course in IT/networking.

    Many councils will not have enough IT knowledge to make an informed decision about a very technical subject, which always leads to bad policy decisions.

  2. By my reckoning there’s £40m left in the BDUK pot, though at least some of that may be needed to cover their running costs.

    Have you read the Govt”scorecard” being developed for the “best superfast broadband….” ? I suspect throwing retail competition, price, takeup and coverage into the mix will allow a self-defined measure to come out quite well.

  3. ha, well said tref. I thought the same when I listened to the interview. So many folk don’t understand the issues, but throwing money at them won’t help, there is a company with a massive advertising budget undoing all the good we do. I think the bduk money will go down the copper mine, and the next government will have to take the bull by the horns and do the job right.
    I doubt there are enough barry fordes and b4rn to go round.
    chris

  4. @mark – how much does an educational programme cost? 2-3 pints on Tuesday night is what mine will cost here in Cumbria. Today, we recorded 7.5mins of audio for….um… nothing. What did Wray’s IT club cost? Again, nothing. But did any of the council people ever attend? Let me check……no. I would refer you to back to my blog post (but that would be shameless promotion and I know you can find it!)

    Phil says there is £40M left. Sounds like someone somewhere has blown a substantial amount of money on desks and wages to me then….instead of JFDI. Realistically, right now NOT A SINGLE PENNY SHOULD HAVE BEEN SPENT. There is nigh on £500+M in the kitty. The question should be: are we going to waste it? Again?

    We are holding a call in next week on an online radio show, and every week after, for all of you who regularly comment on blogs such as this. Please get involved. Your voices need to be heard. @cyberdoyle just needs to know you are interested in contributing and we’ll get back to you over the next month or so about your slot on our new Radio Lentil show.

  5. NextGenUs aims to offer superfast FiWi broadband service in Northern Lancashire before the end of 2011, as an extension of its Cumbria operations, with performance levels similar to those attained elsewhere in the UK, offering fit-for-purpose speeds from 10Mbps symmetrical and upwards to 100Mbps.

    Having led the way in the UK delivering both FTTH and FiWi community network deployments for several years already, the NextGenUs social enterprise view is that the communities that Bazza’s B4RN concept proposes to address are actually better served through taking a more measured and much lower capital cost FiWi approach.

    Real life experience shows that most people don’t actually have any need in the immediate term for the capacity that FTTH offers, so long as there is a firm commitment to move to FTTH when the community is ready.

    Lancashire County Council made a difficult and correct judgement call to pull the funding from the B4RN concept and redirect to offer more benefit to more folks.

    The challenge with Bazza’s B4RN is that according to its business plan an average of £1500 is required from 1000 members of the local community which is a big ask from a such a novice team.

  6. Just for clarity, the £40m is unallocated, rather than unspent. Most of the actual money will indeed not yet have been spent, nor will it for a couple of years.

    In other words BDUK have committed it to various councils / devolved administrations. So you now have to argue with N bodies rather than one, if indeed it isn’t all too late.

    An educational approach might be to take a town of 20,000 or 40,000 and FTTP the whole lot as a “living lab” big enough to get measurable outcomes. A subsidy of £500 per property would allow the bigger town to be done for £20m of subsidy. Kings Lynn, Worksop, Market Harborough, Retford, Stamford, Grantham, Newark – market towns in Tref’s region. Weren’t CBN going to do that in Berwick ? Any similar sized towns in the new Enterprise zones ?

  7. £31m actually covers Devon, Plymouth, Torbay, Somerset and North Somerset.

    Maybe the government should announce we want to have the ‘third best super broadband network’.

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