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Councils "using broadband cash to feather their own nests"

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By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 30 Aug 2011 at 11:02

A rural broadband specialist has accused councils of using public money intended for public broadband to improve their own networks.

According to the founder of NextGenUs, a network provider targeting rural areas with wireless and fibre networks, councils are using their share of the £530 million rural broadband pool to improve their own networks, with the prime purpose of the grants bolted on as an afterthought.

The use these crumbs off the table to justify spending all the money on council services – and it's not just Cumbria, it's all around the country

“The councils have to have IT equipment and they haven't got any capital money to spend, and this windfall arrived in the shape of broadband grants from Broadband Delivery UK,” said Guy Jarvis, NextGenUs founder.

“The funding is getting diverted off into something where its primary purpose becomes an inconvenient truth and a bit of an add-on.”

Jarvis cited Cumbria as one of a number of regional authorities planning to use the broadband cash to bolster its own networks.

In its plans for “Accessible Cumbria”, the authorities have laid out ideas that would upgrade the core public service networks to schools and other council buildings, and then allow communities to piggyback onto hubs based around those buildings.

“We want to utilise the power of existing public-sector networks (connections we already have between many public-sector buildings, hospitals, office) and the Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online network,” the council says in its plan.

But according to Jarvis, the move sees too much investment going towards propping up the councils' own equipment, rather than being spent directly on rural rollout.

“A lot of counties are looking at using county networks,” he said. “What Cumbria has put forward is a procurement for a public-sector network using the money and it's basically spending it on beefing up its servers, beefing up the desktops, beefing up support and the WAN connectivity.

“Then it's a case of 'Oh yes - this money is supposed to be use for helping people without broadband, so what we'll do is create community hubs, possibly, and these will provide backhaul points for networks to be built by communities'.”

Jarvis said the councils would use these “crumbs off the table to justify spending all the money on council services – and it's not just Cumbria, it's all around the country”.

Council response

In response to Jarvis's claims, Cumbria said it made sense to use existing infrastructure as a starting point. "The county council has a significant network providing services to schools in remote areas,” a spokesperson said. “The proposal is to use that network as starting point for the Community Broadband project to avoid the waste of funds in duplicating a service some other way."

The council said upgrades to its own education network would only go ahead where they benefited wider broadband availability.

“In this way the 'education network' actually makes the rollout of broadband more economic and allows us to do more with the money,” the council said. “Any upgrade of the education network will be only for the benefit of the community broadband project."

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User comments

Is anyone seriously surprised by this? There is an even bigger incentive than normal for councils for nobble cash were ever they can right now.

Pehaps I am just being too cynical but it looks like this money is going to the council and anything it has a target or league table for with the hub access thrown in as a fig leaf. If there are some rural torrent addicts or business' eating the bandwidth with video conferences will they or the kids or the council have priority?

By JamesD29 on 30 Aug 2011

Don't see any mention of libraries either.

By JamesD29 on 30 Aug 2011

I'm shocked, shocked!

Well, not that shocked.

The only difference between the UK and a Banana Republic these days is that we put on a better PR face about our corruption.

We're true blue Englishmen don'tcha know and we play cricket!

By Lacrobat on 30 Aug 2011

And in other news, road tax isn't spent on roads...

The ten commandments of Local Authority:-
1. Cover thine own arse
2. Line thy pockets
3. Treat sick leave as holiday
4. Blame, not solution, is the answer to all problems
5. Denial is the word
6. Always say you are poor before spending a fortune elsewhere
7. When in doubt, have two people do it (from the parable of employing the 5000)
8. If at first you don't succeed, try again at exta cost
9. When a decision must be reached, contract out (covers commandments 1,2 & 6)
10. Never resign in the face of failed responsibilty, litigate until it is someone else's fault

By cheysuli on 30 Aug 2011

If they were really interested in improving the rural broadband situation they should spend this money first on the remote community hubs, and anything left on improving their own side of the network.

They'll hold plenty of meetings with full expenses and meals, they'll have meetings with suppliers, then they'll waste all the money whilst making sure they have a nice new car out of kickbacks / a job to go to when the council one runs out / a financial stake in whichever company gets the contract.
Like Lacrobat says, our leaders just hide how corrupt they really are a tad better than Gadafi et al. Do they have moats in Cumbria that need cleaning?

By TiredGeek on 30 Aug 2011

Out of curiosity, will people be able to get to these internet cafes?

Especially when you consider cuts elsewhere eg. Buses.

Also, this will be a stop gap solution at the most, eventually youll more than likely need the internet in the home.

By tech3475 on 30 Aug 2011

@cheysuli

Brilliant!
True!
Depressing!

By Grunthos on 31 Aug 2011

Two words.

Gravy, and Train.

By rozman on 31 Aug 2011

Makes sense

Well actually, what they're saying makes sense. If you already have an expensive high speed connection to a village school, why not just upgrade that and then provide links from that to local residents (ie backhaul).

Installing ANOTHER high speed connection or multiple high speed connections would cost a lot more and therefore be wasting money, surely?

By GAZZAT5 on 31 Aug 2011

@GAZZAT5

It's funny how this is being suggested now.. 5 years ago i suggested the same thing to the DfES (as it was known then) about doing the same thing. That idea was shot down in flames. Maybe this is good the idea is returning, but i can't help feeling a little sceptical.

Don't ever let yourself be fooled. The government is all about self interest. And having them involved at any level will quickly turn this money into vapour. I can see this move as a justification for shuffling funds, nothing more

By _Alex_ on 1 Sep 2011

Unsurprised

York City Council under the last LibDem administration installed a new fibre broadband link to my local village on the eastern outskirts of York.To the best of my knowledge this only links in to the Branch Library computers and perhaps primary school and BT exchange ( no publicity ) .We are an ideal fast broadband customer base but there hasn't been any publicity or potential customer surveys.My fastest average speed is 7 gigabytes with Plusnet. I cannot find anyone capable of answering questions! This Government odour is no better than the last.

By novice8 on 1 Sep 2011

Don't see any mention of libraries either.

Dont come to Warwickshire for a library, they are closing the lot, called cutbacks. Only the odd one has escaped, they will be run by the community in another building, like the pub, if that manages to stay open.

By roberttrebor on 2 Sep 2011

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