Public sector spending to boost rural broadband

Regional broadband advisors, together with a team to help public sector bodies buy broadband, will boost high-speed Internet services, claims e-commerce minister Stephen Timms

The e-commerce minister, Stephen Timms, has announced several initiatives to improve the take-up of broadband by the public sector, particularly in the regions.

The new measures are part of the government's strategy of using public sector demand for broadband as a mechanism to boost the rollout of high-speed Internet services in rural areas.

The scheme will mean the creation of a network of broadband advisors, who will try to increase the take-up of broadband in rural areas. According to the DTI, these advisors will attempt to use public sector broadband spending as a lever to help "regional economic development and private sector investment." A second team, based within the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), will offer support and advice to the public sector on how best to buy broadband services.

A "Broadband Unit" will coordinate the activities of these two groups.

The OGC is also drawing up some framework agreements for public sector organisations -- which could include council offices, libraries or training centres -- to use when signing up for broadband.

Opening the Broadband Britain Conference in London on Wednesday, Timms said he was confident that the new policy would help those people who still cannot get access to affordable broadband.

"It will bring together work focused on public sector procurement with work focused on increasing availability in the private sector. It will stimulate economic development and enhance the delivery of public services through extending broadband services -- at the regional and local level," Timms said.

"The UK is making good progress on its journey towards Broadband Britain. These new initiatives mean that together, government and industry can increase the momentum," Timms added.

Keith Todd, chairman of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, has welcomed the announcement. "Regions can play a pivotal role in progressing the broadband services journey. This new announcement is a very constructive and helpful step in making this happen," he said in a statement.

Over 30 percent of the UK population cannot get affordable broadband at home because of the limited coverage of BT's ADSL network and the cable networks of ntl and Telewest, and the current failure of local-loop unbundling.

Despite this, the government refuses to subsidise broadband infrastructure rollout.

Timms told ZDNet UK last week that the government's main contribution to broadband rollout would be as a consumer. He believes that by creating and aggregating public sector demand for broadband in rural areas, telecoms firms will be persuaded that it is commercially sensible for them to make high-speed Internet services available in those areas.

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