Super-fast broadband plan ‘is two years behind schedule’ in rural areas

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An audit has resulted in the government’s plans to bring in high-speed broadband infrastructure being criticised.

Despite the government aiming to have almost all parts of the UK connected up to super-fast broadband within the next few years, the plan is seriously lagging behind for rural areas, new research has found.

According to the National Audit Office, only nine out of 44 countryside locations will reach their targets for high-speed internet installation by 2015.

Three of the worst affected areas are Merseyside, Oxfordshire and Derbyshire, where some residents have no idea when their infrastructure will be upgraded.

It means plans for businesses to implement more flexible working and to store documents in the cloud could be seriously hindered by a failure to provide reliable and fast infrastructure.

The National Audit Office also said it is concerned that the only company to really benefit from the super-fast broadband rollout will be BT.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said: "The rural broadband project is moving forward late and without the benefit of strong competition to protect public value. For this we will have to rely on [the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s] active use of the controls it has negotiated and strong supervision by Ofcom."

In 2011, the government said it wanted 90 per cent of UK households to be able to access internet speeds above 24 megabits per second by May 2015.

However, this was revised last week to 95 per cent of premises by 2017, even though David Cameron once called faster broadband "absolutely vital" for business growth.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted that it is working closely with local authorities to ensure the needs of rural residents are being met.

Last month, a poll by uSwitch found that 86.2 per cent of people think super-fast broadband would be a more sensible investment prospect than the proposed HS2 high-speed rail network.

The New Economics Foundation told ISPreview it would like to see £5.5 billion spent on fibre-to-the-premises internet in the countryside.

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