Rural superfast broadband is in a mess as the government struggles to work out how to reach the last 10% of the population having spent hundreds of millions of pounds connecting people who were relatively easy to connect. The CMS Select Committee has an inquiry into connectivity. The government is working on a White Paper that they ‘hope to‘ publish by the end of the year. I’m up to my neck in a rural broadband campaign, have spent time studying remarkable work by communities around the country and am having a sense of groundhog day from 2001, when I was heavily involved in sorting out the problems of nascent DSL market.
Given how poor Whitehall can be at seeing things from a user, grass roots, rural perspective I have pulled together a draft ‘manifesto’ of issues that need tackling to get broadband to hard to reach rural properties, starting from the position I found myself in of standing in a field in the middle of nowhere wondering how I could get decent broadband. I’d welcome polite, on topic, non ranty comments in the Google document or on this blog post, then I’ll re-edit the manifesto and submit it to the Select Committee as evidence and to Ed Vaizey.
The UK broadband program is being done to people, not being led by them. At present, if you are in a marginal area in England there is nowhere to turn for help, just a confusing sea of websites and people trying to sell you mass market broadband that doesn’t work. Digital infrastructure policy has none of the user focus that has helped transform digital government. Co-operation needs to replace competition in marginal areas, where the government has acknowledged that the market has failed. The plethora of policies are not being communicated in a way that speaks to people’s local need and political accountability isn’t sticking at the local level.
Based on my own experience a person in a current marginal area cannot readily find out:
(a) if their broadband of any sort can or will be improved
(b) what they can do to accelerate that if they are prepared to work with others and raise money themselves.
I propose three simple principles for government in rethinking their policy:
Focus on the citizen, not the telecoms corporation
Connect, inform and empower people to help themselves
Co-operation, not competition – the market has failed in these special areas companies, regulator and government need to work together in a new pact.
Go and have a look at the rural broadband manifesto and help me make it better. If you would like to sign up to or support it put your details in the comments below.
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