Tim HampsonMonday 12 December 2011

Superfast broadband fail to reach rural Britain, claims pressure group

The government's rollout of superfast broadband to hard-to-reach rural areas has stalled as local authorities are struggling to turn Whitehall's promises of digital inclusion into reality, according to a pressure group.

Information obtained by the Countryside Alliance shows that plans for super-fast broadband schemes Highlands and Islands, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Herefordshire finds not much is happening on the ground, the alliance says. The findings bring intro question government plans to put the UK on top of Europe's league for superfast broadband by 2015.

The pressure group has released the results of a freedom of information request sent in October to each of the four areas named by George Osborne in year's pre-budget report on building high-speed broadband networks in rural Britain.

"We asked how much each had received from the government and what they had done in the past year to deliver their rural broadband network," said Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance. She said the results are underwhelming, with a couple of the councils not having spent a penny and the others just moving towards finding local suppliers to get working on a process of getting the projects started.

The alliance says the government is talking a great game but not delivering - the first four areas, which are supposed to be the pioneers, are still nowhere, over a year since being named by the chancellor. "The government can be praised for finding the money and making a big play out of their commitment to rural broadband, but they then seem to be leaving the councils high and dry with no idea of how to get the projects moving," said Barnard."Unless more is done to simplify the process of acquiring and implementing rural broadband projects, the digital divide will continue to grow and the money pledged by the coalition will remain all but worthless," she said.