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Lack of rural broadband still a ‘challenge’ – eminister

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Getting affordable broadband to areas currently regarded as commercially unviable continues to be a "challenge", according to eminister Stephen Timms.

But he's convinced that aggregating public sector demand will provide a big enough incentive for private sector companies to invest in bringing broadband to areas currently without high-speed Net access.

He described the £1 billion of public sector funding - announced last year by prime minister Tony Blair to be used to hook up schools and GP surgeries, for example, to broadband - as a "big lever which we can use".

"By aggregating the procurement of this public sector demand we can influence the investment decisions of the suppliers and make sure that that investment makes broadband more widely available," Mr Timms told attendees at the World Broadband Forum in London yesterday.

"Substantial, assured long term demand from a gilt-edged customer - central and local Government - lowers the risk to investors and changes the business model for broadband fundamentally in rural areas.

"It means that there will be sufficient demand to justify investments from the service providers in many more places than would be the case if each department proceeded on its own," he said.

In July the Government announced the creation of nine Regional Aggregation Bodies (RABs) charge with aggregating public sector demand for broadband.

Due to start work by November, the RABs - set up in partnership with Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) - will be responsible for buying broadband services for public sector organisations while cutting costs for the public sector. ®

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