The UK government's plans to deploy faster broadband connections to 90 per cent of homes and businesses by 2015 has once again been criticised by landowners in England and Wales, who have labelled the BDUK process as "too bureaucratic".
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) called on the Department for Media, Culture and Sport - which is responsible for allocating funds to local councils seeking investment to upgrade their existing telecoms infrastructure - to fully commit to a Universal Service Obligation.
Such a move would mean that the DCMS's proposal to roll out faster broadband to most of Blighty within the next three years would be a legally binding requirement, rather than simply a ministerial promise.
CLA president Harry Cotterell said today:
It is unlikely that the government's objective for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 will be realised.
So, we are calling on the government to step up and agree to a Universal Service Obligation rather than just a Commitment. There is no legal sanction behind a Universal Service Commitment - it provides the government with a get-out clause if the benchmark is not achieved, and it is very unlikely it will be achieved by 2015.
The countryside lobby group added that it had launched a policy paper on Monday outlining its vision of rural broadband for local residents and business owners.
Cotterell noted that between 15 and 20 per cent of people living in rural areas remained unable to receive "anywhere near" the government's broadband benchmark of "at least" a 2Mbit/s downstream connection.
The CLA added that the government should consider allowing countryside folk to "piggy-back" onto public sector broadband projects.
Cotterell repeated earlier calls for the DCMS to more rapidly open up to mixed technologies to address the "rural/urban digital divide".
"The CLA advocates a 'patchwork-quilt' model whereby other technologies, such as Wi-Fi and satellite become widely available and used. But the government must create the right conditions for this happen," he said.
In the same report, Cotterell characterised the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) bidding process as "too bureaucratic" and said it had stifled competition for contracts to deploy fibre networks at a local level.
So far, national telco BT has been the only outfit to win any bids involving the £530m government subsidy set aside during this Parliament for faster broadband connections in rural areas.
The Register asked the DCMS for a response to the CLA's latest concerns about the next-generation network deployment. A spokesman at Maria Miller's department told us:
We want the UK to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 with 90 per cent of the country having access to superfast broadband and everyone with access to at least 2Mbps. We are making good progress toward meeting this target.