SENIOR officials have admitted a pioneering project to bring internet broadband coverage to rural communities across North Yorkshire is being blighted by bureaucracy amid accusations the scheme has stalled.
The Countryside Alliance has claimed four national pilot projects – including North Yorkshire – have failed to get off the ground more than a year after the Government announced major funding to boost broadband in Britain’s countryside.
North Yorkshire County Council is overseeing the regional scheme which has been given £17m in funding from Westminster as part of the trial to contribute to an estimated overall cost of £40m of increasing broadband coverage. An existing scheme called NYnet, which was unveiled in 2007 to improve internet coverage across North Yorkshire with high-speed broadband access, is being used as a foundation for the Government trial.
The council’s corporate director of finance and central services, John Moore, conceded the project had proved “frustrating” due to a raft of regulations that needed to be adhered to. But he stressed the introduction of broadband is progressing and is considered as important as maintaining North Yorkshire’s roads infrastructure for economic growth.
He added: “The council cannot be blamed for the rules and regulations. We have to work within the confines of the rules that have been set out by Europe and national government, and while it can be incredibly frustrating at times, we have to keep focused on the benefits.
“We are developing the first strategy of its kind to provide broadband for domestic, business and public sector use. The introduction of broadband coverage across North Yorkshire is hugely important, and we have identified it as one of our key aims for several years now.”
While Mr Moore agreed that the Countryside Alliance was right to raise questions over the length of time the procurement process is taking, he maintained that the criticism levelled at the county council was “too simplistic”. Major broadband providers including BT, Cable and Wireless and Fujitsu are all understood to be bidding for the North Yorkshire contract and the procurement process is due to come to an end in June next year.
Mr Moore said: “If it was economically viable, then a telecommunications company would have moved in already to set up the broadband coverage. But there simply are not enough people living in many of these communities to interest the big internet providers, unless a Government-backed trial is launched to help provide funding.”
The Countryside Alliance sent requests under the Freedom of Information Act to all four authorities overseeing the national pilots which revealed all of them had yet to receive any of the funding from the Government.
The Countryside Alliance’s head of policy, Sarah Lee, said: “The Countryside Alliance has frequently praised this Government’s commitment to improving rural broadband coverage and the funds they have put aside for councils are very welcome.
“However, these responses show that local authorities are struggling to turn Whitehall’s promises into reality. It has been over a year since these pilots were set up and the people who live in areas with no or unreliable broadband coverage haven’t seen any improvement.
“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.”