Why rural broadband is late

The plans are already two years late, with taxpayers footing a greater proportion of the bill, the National Audit Office said in July. The worst-affected areas included Merseyside, Oxfordshire and Derbyshire, which were among those councils that are yet to sign a contract with BT.

Well, yes, it does tend to work that way. Don’t sign a contract to get something done then the something doesn’t get done.

11 thoughts on “Why rural broadband is late”

  1. Hang on – Merseyside? Rural broadband?

    Liverpool is rural these days? Have they finally demolished the ghastly place and allowed it to return to pasture?

  2. Richard-

    I’m in Northampton, a town with a population over 200,000. One day some years ago somebody arrived at the door with a clipboard and started asking me about services, and she explained she was doing a survey on “rural” services. I asked her what defines rural, since she was in the middle of a town asking me this. She did not know, but agreed that it seemd a trifle absurd.


    As to “rural broadband”, this is a rerun of the first great nationalisation- not, as people think, by those nasty Labour people under Attlee, but way back in 1868 with the telegraph system. In private hands, it was growing rapidly with multiple competing companies, and efficiency and coverage rising with prices finding their market value.

    So, people complained- and Scottish boards of trade are notably in the frame here- that rural areas were not being served, and there was “inefficient duplication” in the major towns, and something must be done. And a forgotten but important historical figure, Frank Ives Scudamore, who was cheif wallah at the Post Office (and having beaten Anthony Trollope to the job, the latter went off to write novels instead) produced a series of glowing reports of how a nationalised system would serve the rurals, and abolish the inefficient duplication of telegraph offices and wires, and with it all in one company engineering would be much cheaper and so on. And the new radical press eagerly declared that a modern nation does not leave things to the chaos and dog eat dog of the private sector, and so it was nationalised, and Scudamore had his empire.

    Service levels fell, costs rose, the staff all went on strike for higher wages, and it nearly brought down Gladstone’s government.

    But, the precedent was set. And, here we are,150 years later. Still doing the thing that didn’t work all the previous times it was tried, over and over again.

  3. This message is coming to you from deeply rural (Oishida, pop 10,000) northern Japan. It’s coming via fibre optic cable which connects directly to my router.

    NTT seem to be able to roll out fibre optic to most of the country (including deeply unfashionable Oishida/Yamagata/Tohoku) and make a profit, without government intervention.

    There are several reasons why I chose to migrate to Japan. A reverence for practical, technical solutions to problems is one. Delivering on promises is another.

  4. Elsewhere in the BBC’s report it reveals that the two-year delay is solely down to the EU which demanded that the UK government stop until it had satisfied the EU about the evil subsidisation of private companies to do work demanded by government that was certain to lose them money.

  5. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is Hodge The Dodge complaining that a company which won the tender for installing rural broadband is the only one doing so? A tender that was created by a Labour government?

  6. SBML

    Yes, Hodge is complaining about BT’s profiteering. Hodge’s Law atates that anything said by Margaret Hodge is either incorrect (because she is badly informed) or a blatant lie. The law still seems to hold true. Hodhe seems to believe that there is no cost involved in rolling-out a network.

  7. @ Hector Pascale

    To my mind, you’ve “nailed it”!

    @Ian B

    Is that really all true? I assume so but I will go Google now. Great post btw.


  8. Richard – yes, Merseyside is considered rural though the BT deal excluded Liverpool City Centre (which is looking pretty good these days). It was mostly for rural bits of Sefton, the Wirral, St Helens etc. Not exactly the outback in terms of size or remoteness, but still.

    And Merseyside signed up back in July/Aug, so the report is already out of date.

    BDUK, the broadband arm of DCMS had a framework for Councils to choose from that originally had 2 providers on it, Fujitsu pulled out, so only BT is left. The Councils still must run a mini competition off that framework where they know there is only one bidder, which is a complete waste of time.

    Ritchie’s solution is to nationalise – but he assumes that the nationalised entity will have a higher level of judgement, competence etc as the current lot, an assumption he can’t seem to justify.

  9. Paul, yes it is, if somewhat simplified. I have a book on it; which is badly nerdy I admit. Scudamore is almost forgotten, and yet was one of the most important British civil servants of his age. He transformed the Post Office into the presumed State manager of communications (as well as into other areas such as savings accounts (I think)). Because of Scudamore, the telephone had to be nationalised too, and then when radio arrived it was defined as a “wireless telegraph” to bring it under the wing of the government (hence, why we call it the “wireless”) and then, with wireless controlled, so had television to be… and so on to the internet.

    Scudamore’s breezy optimism in his reports and accountings during the nationalisation campaign are gloriously Victorian; he’s got it all costed down to the last L, s and d. There was sure to be a surplus once all that inefficient competition was done away with!


  10. Guess what, where I live in Suffolk, the Govt money is going into extending fibre broadband in non-rural locations like Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe (as trumpeted on our local BBC tv news a few weeks ago). I have seen no sign of any intent or activity to bring fibre broadband to villages like the one I live in.

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