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Community broadband schemes are a prudent way of ensuring that rural areas get improved broadband access and must be more thoroughly investigated as part of the government’s Broadband for All plan, it has been claimed.

Last week, the government unveiled its long-awaited Digital Britain report into the future of UK telecommunications. Chief among the document’s provisions is that all UK households have access to a broadband connection of at least 2Mb by 2012.

The report, which was helmed by Lord Carter, also outlines proposals for the roll-out of next-generation, fibre-optic broadband networks across the UK. In order to ensure this takes place, the government is proposing to subsidise the cost in rural areas where it would not be viable for broadband providers to do so alone.

Responding to Lord Carter’s findings, the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) has welcomed the efforts being made on behalf of rural areas but has called for greater investigation of alternative funding methods.

These would take the form of community schemes, whereby funding and facilities and shared among the likes of local news providers, the public and government-associated amenities such as libraries. Also required is an advisory body to assist communities which wish to set up their own broadband schemes, the organisation claims.

The report states: “The CRC wants to see more support for communities to help themselves in delivering their own solutions to digital technology challenges.

“We would wish to see a comprehensive support network for community broadband networks including practical advice and guidance to help communities deliver their own local solutions by setting up community broadband networks.”

Other key recommendations in the 'Mind the Gap - Digital England, a rural perspective' study, include that the government sets up a body to regularly “monitor the level level at which the Universal Service Commitment is set to ensure it keeps pace with the fast pace of demand for bandwidth".

Only if is this policy is in place will it be ensured that “appropriate action” is taken to ensure that people in the countryside do not receive a broadband service that is significantly slower than their urban counterparts, the report claims.

A study into community broadband schemes conducted earlier this year found that there are currently around 40 operating in the UK. Among these, many employ super-fast broadband networks capable of delivering the super-fast broadband connections that will be required to allow the countryside to keep pace with the digital revolution.

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