The government has proposed a plan to bring broadband Internet technologies to some remote and economically hard-hit rural areas in the country, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DTER) has announced in Parliament.
As part of its white paper, "A Fair Deal for Rural England," published on Tuesday, the government laid out its plans for "stimulating wider broadband coverage to make high speed Internet access and business data transfer available in more rural areas."
Specifically, the government said it will connect all rural schools to the Internet by 2002 and will establish 100 Internet access points across rural U.K. in post offices and Internet kiosks. The kiosks in particular will be created through a £15million "community service fund," Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Nick Brown said in the official introduction to the white paper. A timetable was not laid out for when users will be able to access those Internet kiosks.
"The Government will stimulate and promote industry investment in higher bandwidth services so that as many people as possible can get faster access to the Internet and other information services. But the market alone will not deliver affordable high-speed connections to all rural areas," the white paper reads.
This was demonstrated last week when the government auction for 28GHz BFWA (broadband fixed wireless access) licences - allowing companies to deliver Internet and multimedia services over the airwaves wirelessly - failed to sell in any rural areas. Only 16 of the 42 available licences were auctioned, raising a mere £38.2million, far below the 1 billion pounds the government had hoped to generate through the auction.
As a result of the lacklustre auction, Patricia Hewitt, minister for small business and ecommerce, called for an official inquiry into the auction process to in part "examine the scope for awarding licences in those regions where no licences were sold." Furthermore, the Department of Trade and Industry suspended its plans for additional auctions in 2001 for spectrum at 3.4GHz, 10GHz and 40GHz.
"The UK is definitely behind the rest of Europe in terms of getting onto broadband, at least by six months. Broadband is more difficult than people would like and one fundamental problem is that broadband turns out to be more expensive than people (and companies) want to pay," said Tim Johnson, principle analyst for market research company Ovum.
According to Johnson, the government needs to actively encourage companies to do broadband trials and tackle problems that arise when attempting to set up a broadband infrastructure. "The government needs to try things with wireless licences in rural areas. For example, invite companies to offer experimental use of broadband in rural areas, or offer companies subsidized or free licences in rural areas perhaps," Johnson said.
Neil Rickard, research director of networking for Gartner Group also agreed that the U.K. government has not been pro-active enough in pushing the development of new technology in urban or rural areas. "The UK is now behind Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark in broadband Internet access which is not how it used to be. The UK totally liberalized the telecommunications market -- voice and data -- before everyone else in Europe," Rickard said.
Specifically, Rickard pointed to the UK government's efforts to force BT, to unbundle the local loop network. The government's regulator Oftel has given BT a deadline of July 2001 to unbundle the local loop even though the European Parliament said in October this year that unbundled services should be available in all of the European Union by January 2001.