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Government to subsidise satellite broadband for rural residents

Friday, March 27th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government is to subsidise the cost of installing satellite broadband in the country's hardest-to-reach areas.

People living in areas not covered by the rollout of superfast fibre broadband will be given help to install a superfast-capable satellite service, the government has said.

The new scheme, to be launched later this year, will subsidise the cost of installation and equipment, with customers paying for a monthly subscription themselves.

Details of the scheme are included in the government’s response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee report into broadband and digital-only services.

The government has committed to delivering broadband speeds of 24Mbps or faster to 95% of the UK by December 2017.

As part of its rollout, it is looking into alternative ways of delivering superfast speeds to the final 5%, typically those in the hardest-to-reach areas, where fibre is not an option.

The government is already running seven pilot projects looking at various solutions, and has now announced a scheme to subsidise satellite broadband as part of its efforts to reach as many people as possible.

Anne McIntosh MP (Con – Thirsk and Malton), the EFRA committee chairwoman, welcomed the scheme in a letter replying to the government’s response.

She wrote: “However, as we stated in our recent Work of the Committee 2010-15 report, we remain concerned that national figures for broadband coverage disguise considerable local variation with some rural areas experiencing far lower levels of coverage than the national average.

“A competitive rural economy requires effective broadband and mobile services.”

Rural communities still struggling

Ms McIntosh has previously warned that current broadband rollout targets are based on “inaccurate assumptions” that universal basic broadband coverage has been achieved, when she said many rural communities are still struggling with no access or slow speeds.

The announcement of a subsidised satellite scheme was also welcomed by the Countryside Landowners Association (CLA).

President Henry Robinson said: “In our evidence to the Select Committee I highlighted that it is fundamental to achieve a connected countryside for rural businesses and communities to thrive.

“The government’s response to the committee’s report is a major step forward for the CLA rural broadband campaign.

“We are delighted to hear that the government intends to subsidise the cost of installing superfast broadband solutions in hard-to-reach areas and has confirmed a delivery plan.”

Mr Robinson said the CLA had called for a voucher scheme to install satellite and other technologies in hard-to-reach areas.

“It is the quickest, fairest and most cost-effective solution to offer those living and working in the countryside a grant to buy better broadband.”

The government also confirmed it will consult on whether the current Universal Service Obligation (USO) – the legal entitlement to a basic service – on dial-up should be extended to broadband and raised to a faster speed in the next parliament.

Mr Robinson said: “A minimum speed of 2Mbps is now too slow for modern requirements.

“We have called for a USO on broadband to ensure a legal guarantee of sufficient speeds and we encourage the next government to bring forward this consultation as a priority to ensure the rural economy does not get left behind.”

In last week’s budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced an ambition to bring ultrafast broadband of at least 100Mbps to “nearly all homes in the country”, making sure that Britain is “out in front”.

Additional reporting by Ellen Branagh

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