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Government plans broadband for rural areas

High speed surfing for farmers by 2002

The government has proposed a plan to bring broadband Internet technologies to some remote and economically hard-hit rural areas in the country, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DTER).

As part of its white paper, "A Fair Deal for Rural England," the government has laid out its plans for "stimulating wider broadband coverage to make high speed Internet access and business data transfer available in more rural areas."

Specifically, the government said it will connect all rural schools to the Internet by 2002 and will establish 100 Internet access points across rural UK in post offices and Internet kiosks. The kiosks in particular will be created through a £15 million ‘community service fund’.

A timetable was not laid out for when users will be able to access those Internet kiosks.

"The Government will stimulate and promote industry investment in higher bandwidth services so that as many people as possible can get faster access to the Internet and other information services. But the market alone will not deliver affordable high-speed connections to all rural areas," the white paper reads.

This was demonstrated last week when the government auction for 28GHz BFWA (broadband fixed wireless access) licences - allowing companies to deliver Internet and multimedia services over the airwaves wirelessly - failed to sell in any rural areas.

Only 16 of the 42 available licences were auctioned, raising a mere £38.2 million far below the £1 billion the government had hoped to generate through the auction.

As a result of the lacklustre auction, Patricia Hewitt, minister for small business and e-commerce, called for an official inquiry into the auction process to in part "examine the scope for awarding licences in those regions where no licences were sold."

Furthermore, the Department of Trade and Industry suspended its plans for additional auctions in 2001 for spectrum at 3.4GHz, 10GHz and 40GHz.

"The UK is definitely behind the rest of Europe in terms of getting onto broadband, at least by six months. Broadband is more difficult than people would like and one fundamental problem is that broadband turns out to be more expensive than people (and companies) want to pay," said Tim Johnson, principle analyst for market research company Ovum.

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