Oxfordshire County Council have confirmed today that in Oxfordshire at least there has been no communication between the government’s two mega-projects aiming to bring modern connectivity to rural areas. The County Council administers the BDUK broadband scheme to bring superfast broadband to areas of market failure. This requires bringing bandwidth to rural communities and distributing it mainly by wires via BT. The government backs another scheme to bring bandwidth to rural areas but distribute it by mobile signal – the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project, for the so-called not spots where you can’t get a phone signal at all. It’s possible, but unlikely that there are no mobile not-spots in Oxfordshire – we don’t know because the scheme is quite opaque.
There is an obvious overlap between the two schemes – the bringing in of bandwidth. In consultant speak, there is a vast potential for synergy between the two. For instance if Openreach were to bring fibre to an isolated rural cabinet the mobile companies could then use that bandwidth to drive 4G mobile off a nearby mast or church steeple. A 4G signal carries much, much further than Superfast DSL down a wire, bringing near 4G superfast speeds to people currently with 0.5Mbs or less. In my own case I get 25Mbs on 4G. This gets these poor people off BDUK’s back. Or maybe if Arqiva, who run the MIP scheme and whose customers, the mobile networks need backhaul from a new mast asks BDUK to move that site up the stack as it will benefit more households. Or BDUK in the county hall who generally know all the local broadband campaigns could help deploy the broadband-demanding citizenry to support a MIP planning application for a mast.
I had expected that MIP and BDUK both funded by the same government department and not in any commercial competition would exchange plans at a local level. Something like:
‘There’s a mobile not spot over here, how does it look on your map’
‘Ah right yes the the DSL broadband is weak there too, but we won’t get to it for a few years.
‘What if you tweak things and put a superfast cabinet there ahead of plan for us to run the mast off at 4G.
‘Ok and we’ll let the local people know that this will get them good 4G quickly, that should help your planning application and reduce my mail bag.’
‘That’s great we both have an easier life and save money. Kiss?’
‘No, we are engineers’
Following an internal review of my FOI request OCC have confirmed that there are no records of communication between the two projects in Oxfordshire. I asked for an internal review because I couldn’t quite believe the initial response. I went down this route because I had detected that this was the case in many places – MIP was adrift from BDUK. In our rural broadband manifesto I called for more join up between projects and thinking ‘total broadband’ not just ‘DSL down the wires’. To get to people in hard to reach rural areas we need far more joining up. Is this experience isolated or universal? Does anyone know of good joint working between the two schemes?
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