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Rural councils hit back at claims of super-fast broadband delay

Tuesday, December 13th 2011 by Paul France
No rural broadband delay, insist councils

Public-funded rural broadband projects are on schedule, according to councils and development agencies.

Rural councils involved in government-backed super-fast broadband pilot schemes have hit back at criticism that the projects are falling behind schedule.

The Countryside Alliance claimed last week that trials in Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and the Highlands and Islands have stalled, with little or no progress made in the year since the plan was announced.

Freedom of information requests obtained by the rural campaign group discovered none of the councils or development agencies involved had yet proceeded past the procurement stage - a result it described as "underwhelming".

But despite the Countryside Alliance's claims, all four organisations told ZDNet UK that their broadband pilots were on schedule and good progress has been made.

North Yorkshire County Council said it expects to begin rolling out its next-generation broadband infrastructure in June 2012, while Highlands and Islands Enterprise declared its deployment should begin within the next 12 months.

Plans are in place for Herefordshire County Council to award a contract for the installation next spring, with the rollout expected to begin shortly after that.

"Despite claims ... that plans to bring fast broadband to rural areas have 'stalled', plans for the two counties [Herefordshire and Gloucestershire] are progressing well and are on target," the local authority stated.

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson revealed the administration is also looking to have a contract in place by spring 2012 and stressed it takes time to address the "historical lack of super-fast broadband provision" in the area.

"Multimillion-pound EU procurement exercises, which we have significant experience of dealing with, take time and need to be done well as we are dealing with taxpayers' money," they added.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport stressed it is "standard practice" that none of the state funding has been released to the four councils as yet.

This money will be allocated when spending on the individual projects begins, he explained.

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