Open letter to Council's, MP's and press

The following letter/email has been drafted for anyone in rural Devon or Somerset to send to Councillors, MP's, the press and other influencers following the February 25 announcement of an extra £22.75M funding from BDUK for rural broadband in the two counties. (See Western Morning News) NB: Margaret Hodge MP's Public Accounts Committee has suggested that this additional funding be withheld until BT clarifies how it is spending the £1.2B in public funds that it is already receiving, after BT managed to secure ALL the contracts for rural broadband across the UK. See BBC News .

The letter is based on one used in a similar broadband campaign in Shropshire. Devon & Somerset have one month to claim this money, but as yet no mention is made of it on the CD&S website. The money must be matched £1 for £1 with money from other sources. At the bottom of this page, Word and RTF versions of the letter are available for download.

Councillor and MP email addressed can be found by using one of these websites:

For MP email and postal addresses, see:

For Devon County Councillor email and postal addresses see:

For Somerset County Councillor email and postal addresses see:

Open letter/email to whoever it may concern.............

Dear .......................................................

More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition to say it is unacceptable that the Devon and Somerset rural broadband programme is failing to upgrade those with no or poor service in rural areas whilst upgrading those with already good speeds in towns. Meanwhile, because minimal information has been provided on BT’s 11 phase deployment schedule, many rural homes and businesses remain ‘in the dark’ on any improvement they may get other than an eventual guaranteed and rather paltry 2 Mb sometime after 2016. Only an inferior and expensive satellite broadband service is on offer for the first 1024 people to sign up for it. Providing fast broadband speeds in all rural areas has the support of parish councils. High speed broadband is essential for individuals and businesses to function effectively. Those in danger of being left out feel that they are being abandoned.

Devon and Somerset County Councils are not solely to blame for what has happened. Broadband Development UK provided local authorities across the country with the choice of BT as supplier or no-one, and by all accounts BT appears to be using its position of publicly funded monopoly to its own advantage rather than to provide the best value for money for public funds. In Jul 2013, Maria Miller MP wrote to all Councils urging them not to enter into new Non Disclosure Agreements and to put all available deployment information in the public domain, citing Northamptonshire as an example of what can be done. In January 2014, Sean Williams, BT’s MD said, in front of Margaret Hodge MP and the PAC, that BT are not preventing Councils from publishing full deployment details. Nevertheless, the County Councils have a responsibility for putting right what is not of its own making.

New funding made available on Tuesday, February 25th from BDUK’s Superfast Extension Programme presents a watershed for rural broadband in Devon & Somerset. The counties allocation of £22.75M is believed to be the largest in the UK, as was BDUK’s previously allocated £53M. The Councils must take full control of all of this Extension money and in doing so prioritise those residents and businesses with no or poor broadband. This money requires £1 for £1 matching, which must be found. It would be a tragedy for the Councils to say that it can’t find it. Matching can be sourced in different ways:

    • grants from other bodies; can the Local Enterprise Partnership help, for example?
    • private Investors will be interested, a modest but secure return can be had from broadband infrastructure and services
    • there are local communities’ own resources e.g. in kind wayleave values, grants that local authorities can’t access, and although not entirely fair, their own cash if it’s the only way forward
    • or a mixture of all of these

There is one month for Devon and Somerset County Councils to agree to take the money, but longer to decide how to match it.

Once secured and matched, a more flexible approach is required

    • tendering must attract a range of broadband providers offering a variety of technologies
    • an expensive single technology option as so far deployed will not reach everyone and will not provide value for money; a mix of technologies will
    • Devon and Somerset County Councils and BT must be open with current deployment information; if BT tries to withhold that information, effectively preventing other providers from entering the market, they must be challenged; some LAs are now starting to do that. Similarly, if any communities still won’t be reached with the new money, they will need that information in case they wish to set up their own broadband scheme
    • the involvement of communities will be required to bring ideas, resources and local knowledge, therefore a close partnership is required with parish/town councils and maybe other organisations instead of the top-down approach hitherto adopted
    • Some communities may want to top up their share of the Extension Fund to commission broadband to an even higher specification
    • Communities that straddle county boundaries may want to work with their neighbours to create a more viable proposition for attracting provision

These options should be permitted so in addition to the functions of funder and contract manager, Devon and Somerset County Councils should take on a facilitating role to bring or find expertise if it is lacking. Such scenarios obviously present challenges to the parishes and town councils. No doubt some will be more pro-active than others.

Even then the new money may not be sufficient to connect everyone, so a commitment is required from the top to keep trying until everyone who wants a superfast service can have it. The ‘top’, doesn’t just mean Council leaders, but also our MPs, business leaders and other influencers to ensure that rural areas of Devon and Somerset do not get left behind.

In summary:

Devon & Somerset County Councils must:

Agree to take the £22.75M Superfast Extenion money

Find ways to match the money, then take control of it

Make full deployment information available to all. (The MD of BT says Councils can)

Find ways of working with communities

Prioritise those with poor or no broadband

Don’t abandon the 10% - commit to 100% connection

Sincerely, ............< Your name>