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UK next-gen broadband gets funding body

Broadband Delivery UK will allocate funds for the 2Mbps universal service commitment and next-generation broadband
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

Two major upgrades to the UK's broadband infrastructure have moved closer with the creation of an organisation which will allocate funding for the work.

On Thursday, the government launched Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), which will allocate funds for the two major schemes: the universal service commitment and next-generation broadband. The universal service commitment will ensure all households have a 2Mbps connection by 2012, while the £1bn next-generation broadband fund will supplement private-sector investment with the aim of offering next-generation broadband speeds to 90 percent of the population by 2017.

BDUK comprises 12 staff within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and will inform the public of its work through ministerial and press announcements. It will be led by Adrian Kamellard, head of information, technology and change for Partnerships UK, a quango promoting public-private sector partnerships.

"We welcome the launch of Broadband Delivery UK as an important milestone for the rollout of next generation access across the UK," Broadband Stakeholder Group chief Antony Walker told ZDNet UK on Friday. "We look forward to working with them to deliver this ambitious project and would urge them to work closely with the industry to ensure that we get effective investment in Britain's broadband future."

BDUK is unlikely to make any progress announcements within the next few weeks, BIS said, while it develops "the commercial and business models to make sure funding is spent in the right way".

The general election may result in a change in strategy for BDUK, particularly if the £1bn next-generation fund is axed by the new government — the Conservatives have frequently stated their opposition to the 50p-per-month fixed-line levy that would be used to fill the fund. However, BIS said it did not foresee any major changes to the level of funding available for next-generation broadband.

Also on Thursday, the government released a report which identified a number of areas of the UK at risk of economic and social damage during the rollout of next-generation broadband.

The report, called An assessment and practical guidance on next generation access (NGA) risk in the UK, divided the country into 42,000 tiny geographic areas. It identified just over 4,000 areas that were at risk of not receiving next-generation broadband and that would face the highest impact on their community if they did not receive a rollout. The areas were almost all in Devon, Cornwall, Wales, the east coast of England, the north of England, Northern Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

"It's what you would expect from a rural sense, but what it highlights is that you've got areas of social deprivation which are at risk of not getting the benefits of NGA [next-generation broadband]," Ian Adkins, one of the report's authors at Analysys Mason, told ZDNet UK.

"The benefits they could miss out on are inward investment, inclusion in the general sense, the use of education services and public services and possibly a certain amount of telecare," he said.

"These areas are getting hit by rurality, deprivation and the cost of rollout. You could solve the rollout issue, but it's also a demand issue. No one action will solve all the problems."

Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms said in a statement that the report "makes clear that, without public intervention, some rural areas and less well off rural communities will be left behind and unable to reap the economic, health and education benefits superfast broadband offers".

Separately, a rural campaign group launched on Thursday to lobby the government to oversee the provision of high-quality broadband to the so-called 'final third' of the country: the third that is least economically attractive for market forces. The group, called Final Third First, was formed by the Country Land and Business Association, several regional bodies such as Digital Dales and Community Lincs, and service providers Vtesse Networks and Rutland Telecom.

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