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Campaigners quiz UK.gov on BB aggregation plans

'We are not reassured'

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As the Government prepares to spend £1 billion of public sector cash over the next three years to help roll-out broadband, lobby group Broadband4Britain is raising concerns that the investment might not deliver long term benefits to end users.

Broadband4Britain met officials from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) last week to discuss a number of issues concerning the Government's broadband policy.

Although it received some assurances, Broadband4Britain remain concerned that the Government's policy could threaten competition. They believe that operators could be handed contracts to wire up rural areas, for example, without assurances that those publicly-funded networks would be opened up to rival operators.

Campaigners are also concerned that the policy of aggregating demand for broadband could breach EU guidelines on state aid.

Earlier this year the Government confirmed it was pressing ahead with plans to aggregate public sector demand for broadband with the creation of nine regional bodies to carry out the work.

The Regional Aggregation Bodies (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.

It will be the job of RABs to combine individual public sector broadband requirements (from individual schools, GP surgeries etc.) into bigger packages to the market.

The theory is that this aggregated demand will entice operators to provide broadband in areas currently deemed commercially unviable for such investment. At the same time, it's hoped that the pooled demand will mean that the public sector gets value for money.

Speaking after last Friday's meeting Andy Williams, Broadband4Britain campaign manager, told The Register: "We are not reassured. We stand by our worries about the £1 billion investment in broadband aggregation.

"We don't query the fact that it is a good idea to do it, we query how it is being done and right now it looks to us like its going to be ineffective at bringing benefits to the private sector, although the public sector will see some benefits.

"And it might potentially still be illegal, which is a problem which the RAB and RDAs are going to inherit from the DTI because effectively they're washing their hands of it," he said.

The DTI plays down the concerns raised by Broadband4Britain; the Government's own legal advisors are confident that the policy does not contravene the EU rules on state aid, a spokesman told The Register.

On the other matters raised by Broadband4Britain, the DTI spokesman said: "The team took note of other points that were made and undertook to give consideration to them in the further work that was in prospect." ®

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