Broadband town will be blank slate

The government insists that sleepy Buckfastleigh will be an excellent guinea pig in the struggle to bring broadband to rural areas - it's just not sure exactly how

After announcing that it is providing the money to broadband-enable Buckfastleigh -- a small Devon town on the border of Dartmoor National Park -- the government has admitted that it doesn't yet know how this will be achieved in practice.

This isn't a problem, though, according to the Department of Trade and Industry. It claims that the Buckfastleigh project will be an opportunity to find the best, and most cost-efficient, way of bringing high-speed Internet services to a rural community.

On Tuesday the government released the details of how the £30m it has allocated to boost the rollout of broadband infrastructure and services in rural areas will be spent. This money has been split between the various UK regional development agencies, and will be spent on a wide range of different initiatives -- from providing high-speed Internet links to business parks in the East of England to looking into the viability of broadband satellite and local wireless LAN services.

The South West of England Regional Development Agency is planning to use some of its £3.78m package to pay for a pilot broadband project in Buckfastleigh. It intends to give broadband connections to local public services like schools, healthcare centres, the town hall and the library. Local people will be offered broadband training at a new community access centre, while a marketing campaign will try to persuade local businesses and consumers of the benefits of broadband.

The reason that the government has had to provide this £30m of funding is that telcos, such as BT and ntl, generally do not offer broadband services in rural areas, claiming that a lack of demand makes it economically unviable.

Thus, as the local exchanges are not ADSL-enabled and there isn't a commercial cable network to link to, whichever method is chosen to broadband-enable Buckfastleigh will require new infrastructure.

"It's very early days, but the whole point of the Buckfastleigh project is that they will have to find the best way of getting broadband into the town," explained a DTI spokesman. "Buckfastleigh has been chosen because it's the kind of place the big telcos are unlikely to invest in."

The DTI would not speculate on what kinds of technology were likely to be used in Buckfastleigh, but said that both satellite and wireless solutions would be examined.

BT recently said it would ADSL-enable a number of local exchanges in Cornwall, in a partnership with the European Regional Development Council.

The DTI did not rule out a similar deal happening in Buckfastleigh, but hinted that while no decisions have yet been made it is likely that several different technologies will be used. "All options will be explored, but the aim is not to favour one technology over another or to create any monopoly," the DTI spokesman explained.


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