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Shropshire councillor defends county's fibre broadband rollout

Thursday, June 18th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The man at the helm of Shropshire's broadband rollout has hit out at “detractors” of the programme, and insisted that it remains in a “very positive” position.

Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s deputy leader and its cabinet member responsible for broadband, said he wanted to “dispel some of the myths” about the Connecting Shropshire programme through an open letter.

In the letter, which was published in the Shropshire Star, Mr Charmley said the project remains focused on getting better broadband to all communities in the council’s area.

“The Connecting Shropshire programme remains a key strategic and priority programme of activity for Shropshire Council,” he wrote.

“It is fully supported by its funders and Shropshire Council has invested more than £9m in capital and revenue into the programme up to 2016.

“It remains a key enabler of service transformation, supports our local and LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) business economy and is no longer a luxury but a necessity that all our communities expect.”

Mr Charmley’s defence of the project comes in the wake of criticisms by campaigners in Shropshire who have voiced disappointment that people in the hardest-to-reach areas have not been given priority in the rollout.

In his letter, he said Shropshire Council had secured funding towards broadband infrastructure in Shropshire of £26m in Phase 1 and £17m in Phase 2.

He said state aid – using taxpayers' money to pay for work by private companies – is a “key constraint” within the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, and any failure to follow the rules could put the council in breach of European laws.

'Engineering challenge'

Mr Charmley described the delivery of fibre broadband as a “significant engineering challenge”, taking time, needing road closures and often needing new ducts and cables.

He said: “The programme remains ‘on target’ in its current Phase 1 delivery that started in March 2013 and is due to complete by winter 2016.

“Phase 1 aims to deliver superfast broadband to 87% of premises, when added to commercial providers’ obligations.

“To date we have delivered to over 35,000 premises (out of 64,000), all of which now have access to fibre enabled service. Average speeds across the 180 cabinets already built is on average 50Mbps.”

He said the council had decided to use the BDUK framework for the second phase of the rollout, using £11.38m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The goal is to take superfast broadband to at least 90% of Shropshire, and BT’s contract will use £4,7m of the total £11.38m BDUK funding to provide another 4,000 premises with access to fibre.”

At least £6.68m unallocated funds will give the council the opportunity to “reassess the wider market” and look at new technologies to provide broadband to those “most impacted by the lack of fibre broadband coverage”, he said.

Summarising, Mr Charmley said: “The Connecting Shropshire programme remains in a very positive position with delivery on schedule to cost and timescale.”

He said the team behind the project had always provided an “open” and “honest” approach, and added: “While some may not agree with our strategy this does not mean that our strategy is wrong."

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