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Rural areas win UK.gov broadband upgrade, but some miss out

Three councils given £50m from £530m BDUK piggy bank

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The government has divvied up £50m of its £530m rural broadband cash to councils in Wiltshire, Norfolk and Devon and Somerset, in its final wave of pilots.

The culture secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed this morning that each area would receive "multi-million pound" funding.

He said that those local authorities bagged the money, after making successful bids to its broadband delivery unit, BDUK. Chancellor George Osborne allocated the £530m funds last autumn during his "Comprehensive Spending Review".

"Other councils will soon have the chance to bid for a nationwide funding programme as part of our plan for virtually every community in the UK to have access to superfast broadband," said the minister.

That comment echoed culture and communications minister Ed Vaizey's remarks in the Palace of Westminster last week.

He told MPs that this would be the last wave of pilots because the delivery plan had been rejigged to be done on a "first-come, first-served basis".

"Any local authority whose bid is not accepted can sit down with Broadband Delivery UK, work through the bid to find out where the gaps are and then come forward again when it is ready," said the minister.

As for today's announced pilots, which will be propped up with private investment funds, different wads of cash were allocated to the councils depending on the size of the area's rural spread and local population.

Devon and Somerset got the lion's share of funding, with £30m handed over to that authority, while Norfolk received £15m and Wiltshire £4m, following their successful bids.

The DCMS said that it expects another 15 authorities to be handed a portion of the £530m funds during the current Parliament – in other words, over the course of the next four years.

Similar network upgrade pilots are already underway in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and the Scottish Highlands.

Once the latest upgrades are completed, ISPs will be able to use the infrastructure, on a wholesale basis, following a contractor procurement process carried out by the earmarked councils.

The DCMS said it hoped to see ISPs begin the broadband rollout within a year of their first gaining access to the infrastructure.

"It is anticipated that a mix of technologies will be used, including mobile, satellite and fibre connections to hubs in the heart of communities," the department said.

Vaizey said in Parliament last week that having the best "superfast" broadband in Europe was "dependent on a range of measures, including choice, coverage, speed and take-up." He added that the government couldn't directly intervene on how broadband was rolled out across the UK.

He also admitted that the government would "have to say no to a few" authorities bidding for the broadband upgrade in their area.

The DCMS said today that an announcement would be made later this year on broadband cash for every local authority in the country, presumably in an effort to appease councils that will miss out on the $530m round of funding. ®

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