Yorkshire Forward accused of BT favouritism
'It's just a draft'
Plans to hand out grants to help communities in Yorkshire and Humber campaign for broadband services have come under fire from community campaigners. They say the terms are skewed in favour of dominant telco BT and ADSL, effectively shutting out other technologies, such as wireless.
Critics claim the Regional Development Agency (RDA) Yorkshire Forward is using public money to subsidise BT's roll-out of ADSL services in the region.
A leaked document seen by The Register contains details of the scheme and an application form for those wishing to take part. The form is littered with references to "BT" and "exchange" areas, prompting fears that the grants can only be used for BT's ADSL registration scheme.
Local broadband campaigners are concerned that the grant scheme - details of which could be announced as early as this week - will not be available to people campaigning for wireless networks or other technology platforms.
In the application form for Yorkshire Forward's Broadband Campaign Grant Scheme, the RDA says it "wishes to stimulate the demand for broadband in rural areas where ADSL broadband is not currently available". It also says that it is prepared to make a "contribution of up to £300 per exchange campaign" if certain criteria are met.
Yorkshire Forward says it will look to see applications made by individuals or groups who are:
- Registered as a BT campaigner;
- Include a BT campaigner
- Have linked up with a BT campaigner; or
- Have tried to contact a BT campaigner but had no success.
One questions says: "Please indicate the date by which you would hope to reach the trigger level set by BT."
Lindsey Annison, a leading campaigner for community broadband schemes and a critic of the RDA, says the grant scheme cannot be allowed to be implemented unchecked.
"This grant document talks about 'exchange campaigns'. What about wireless areas? How is this a level playing field? How can an RDA be able to put money exclusively into BT Wholesale's pocket like this for ADSL?
"If Yorkshire Forward wants to stimulate the demand for broadband in rural areas where ADSL broadband is not currently available, surely it must make available equal funding for LLU campaigns, community network projects and satellite schemes.
"This grant money must 'generate interest in broadband' through unbiased education about what broadband choices are available. Judging from this application form and criteria, it seems not."
A spokesman for Yorkshire Forward said the scheme has yet to be launched and that the application form leaked to The Register is merely a draft. He denied that Yorkshire Forward plans to subsidise BT while ignoring other technologies or operators.
"It is a broadband awareness campaign that is supplier non-specific," he said. "It is to encourage the take-up of broadband - it could be with any supplier. This is just a draft. Nothing in there says we're supporting one supplier or another."
A spokesman for BT said he was aware of the scheme before adding: "This is not a BT initiative."
The Register understands that the application form is to be re-written before the scheme is formally launched. ®