The Countryside Alliance and Federation of Small Businesses have spoken out about a ‘widening digital divide’ in geographical terms.
A spokesman for the FSB accused some regional development agencies (RDAs) of doing nothing to back broadband, and that regional businesses were suffering as a result.
‘There is a lack of continuity across RDAs. Some are doing a lot, some nothing,’ the spokesman said. ‘The government has got to set them clear guidelines and strategies or be prepared to take back responsibility to central government. Some areas of the country will also need subsidies.’
In an attempt to close any gap, ecommerce minister Stephen Timms is to appoint a broadband director who he says will play a ‘big role’ in extending broadband availability.
BT has also called for more local initiatives but, given its own conservative attitude to non-urban broadband, analysts have questioned the right of the telco to make such criticisms. BT largely shuns non-ADSL technologies and demands up front guarantees and subsidies before upgrading exchanges.
But lobbyists say BT has a point when it argues the government has little hope of reaching its target of connecting all schools, GP surgeries and courts with broadband by 2006.
This is especially true in rural areas, unless time scales for implementing public/private broadband initiatives are speeded up.
‘Government efforts have been too slow. We are seeing a glimmer of light but the industry as a whole is strapped for cash so if the government is to meet its set targets it can’t take so long to deliver its strategies,’ said Trish Jones, director for regional broadband partnerships at BT.
Analysts agree that a lack of a coherent strategy is behind many of the problems, but warn the answer is more complex than throwing taxpayers’ money behind BT’s ADSL technology.
Additional methods of delivering broadband have to be made commercially viable.
The Broadband Stakeholder Group continues to urge local organisations to consider a range of services, from cable and satellite to fixed wireless, to find the one that best suits their needs. ‘There are currently a lot of activities to stimulate broadband on a local level but these are unco-ordinated,’ said David Brown, analyst with Schema.
‘While BT has a role to play, there are other technologies that could be more suitable for broadband in rural areas,’ he added.
For more on government broadband initiatives, visit www.e-envoy.gov.uk.
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