Councils held to ransom as government seeks truth over rural broadband

Rural broadband schemes may lose their funding unless councils agree to reveal their secret plans, which could once again mean rural communities are left out in the cold.

Councils across the UK may risk losing their share of a £250million fund to improve rural broadband unless they start being more upfront and open about how they intend to spend the money.

Culture secretary Maria Miller wrote to councils nationwide last week, demanding full details of which of their towns and villages would be upgraded with fibre optic broadband as part of a £1.2billion roll-out.

At present, the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme - funded by the taxpayer as well as BT, which is carrying out most of the work - will aim to reach 95% of the population with superfast broadband by 2017.

The remaining 5% will rely on smaller providers and community based projects.

Before they can swing into action, they will need some financial help from the government, namely a share of a £250million pot that's been earmarked for rural broadband improvements.

But a report in The Telegraph suggests some regions could miss out if their councils refuse to share information about which streets are lined up to get superfast broadband as part of the BDUK scheme.

Until now, lots of councils have kept this information secret for fear of a backlash from the minority not included in the roll-out. Now they may have no choice but to open up.

An anonymous source from the Departure of Culture, Media and Sport, is quoted as saying: "We have long argued that the broadband roll-out needs to be more transparent, and we have asked local authorities to publish their data coverage plans.

"There is a £20million investment to be made and it is only logical that it will be much more difficult for us, and the market, to factor in those local authorities that refuse to be transparent about their plans."

Such information would be welcomed by households and businesses eager to know of their broadband speeds will soon be improved.

It should also smaller, rural broadband providers, and communities that have drawn up their own alternative arrangements, to finally get the ball rolling.

Superfast fibre optic broadband is now available to around three-quarters of UK homes and businesses, with around 20% having signed up so far.

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