Broadband Access for All:
Sir George Young's Campaign


Broadband in rural areas:
Best practice study
The Countryside Agency's September 2003 Report

   

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In September 2003 the Countryside Agency published a report, "Broadband in rural areas: Best practice study". You can download the report from http://www.countryside.gov.uk/publications/ by searching with the term 'broadband'.

The report cites 13 case studies of projects to deliver broadband services in rural areas; with one exception they have received some public funding. There is much here that will be useful to local communities who are considering starting their own initiative to provide a local (usually wireless-based) service where commercial providers will not invest. However there are also some important caveats that are not made clear in the report:
  1. There is little evidence that such projects are economically sustainable - able to continue to deliver high quality, dependable service at an attractive price after the initial public funding ends.
  2. Several projects have encountered difficulties because the local community (or the project) lacked some critical skills - which include business and financial skills as well as technical skills.
  3. Many such projects are the result of energetic and committed endeavour by one individual or a very small group. There are concerns about how such projects will be sustained if and when the enthusiasm of the group wanes or individuals move.
  4. The report says nothing about technological market sustainability - what happens when a new technology or a new approach from mainstream suppliers delivers the same or better performance from a more robust commercial platform. Or, for example, when price-performance changes reduce the revenues anticipated by the original business plan.

The report, though excellent in what it does cover, was compiled by consultants whose main business appears to come from advising local authorities and communities on the planning and implementation of such local projects. It seems to place emphasis on 'how to do it', without sufficient analysis of the risks and without any commentary as to whether or not this 'bottom up' approach is an appropriate strategy for what the Government and others regard as a service that will be essential for all of us and is already of critical importance to many rural businesses.

Read with care!

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