A MAP of Oxfordshire has given residents and business leaders a first look at the future of broadband provision in the county.
But the decision to provide a private company with taxpayers’ money in a climate of cuts has divided opinion across Oxfordshire.
Oxfordshire County Council and BT last week signed a contract to run a £25m project to bring faster broadband to 67,000 homes and businesses.
The scheme, which will receive £4m of Government money, £10m from the county council and £11m of investment from BT, will aim to have a minimum speed of 24 megabits per second (Mbps) available to 90 per cent of businesses and homes by the end of 2015, and a minimum of 2mbps to the remaining 10 per cent.
The idea of faster broadband has been welcomed by people in areas which will benefit, but questions have been asked about the need for such a level of public subsidy.
It comes in the wake of cuts of £119m already made at County Hall, with a further £46m of savings planned over the next four years – and as council accountants are counting the cost of Chancellor George Osborne’s latest spending review, thought to be at least £25m.
The map, published by the county council, is the first indication of which areas will benefit from up to 80mbps broadband.
It comes as BT announced it is embarking on the survey phase of the project, which could take up to nine months.
The map shows in brown the areas where fast fibre broadband is already available commercially, including Oxford, Abingdon, Witney, Banbury, Bicester and Wallingford.
The areas shown in blue are on track to get broadband of speeds between 24mbps and 80mbps, while those in white will get between 2mbps and 24mbps.
If the final rollout follows the indications on the map, it will mean that even some fairly large areas like Burford will have ‘superfast’ broadband for the first time.
Ian Hawkins, general manager at the Burford House Hotel, said: “Most of our business nowadays is over the internet and it can be extremely slow, which can be embarrassing when you’re waiting for pages to come up and you’re trying to tell guests about rates and that sort of thing.
“It’s a hindrance, so it will be nice if we get a better service.”
But many small villages in Oxfordshire won’t get more than 2mbps, and the scheme has been criticised by Northmoor parish council chairman Graham Shelton, who likened the map to a ‘moth-eaten blanket’.
Mr Shelton said Northmoor had applied for separate funding for its own fibre broadband from the Rural Community Broadband Fund as soon as villagers realised they probably wouldn’t benefit from the county scheme.
He said: “What we’ve got here is BT taking Government money and cherry-picking the best bits and leaving the other bits virtually unconnectable. It looks like some kind of moth-eaten blanket.
“We’re very fortunate in Northmoor that we had several people who knew enough about it to see we would have a problem and we took action, but there are going to be a lot of people who will be very indignant when they only get something like 2mbps, which is quite a low speed these days.”
BT spokesman Ian Read said: “BT’s mobilisation and detailed survey phases for the whole of the county will be around six to nine months from the start of the contract, before engineering work can begin. This will enable more detailed information to be available on which areas may be able to have access to fibre broadband in future.”
He said: “The brief at the moment is to bring as much improvement to broadband in the county as quickly as possible, and this is what the map shows. The Government has announced a new tranche of broadband funding of £250m, and the details of this are expected in the autumn.
“This new funding has been earmarked to address any remaining gap in broadband coverage across the country. The county council has already started work to identify how this new funding can be pulled into Oxfordshire to stretch our coverage further.”
'I'd be happy with 12mpbs'
SUTTON resident and former RAF pilot Bill MacGillivray is an instructor for the Witney Air Cadets and a secretary for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association (SSAFA).
The 75-year-old said he was pleased his village had been included in a blue section of the map.
He said: “Certainly I would welcome anything faster than what I get at the moment, which varies, but is round about 1.2mbps.
“It’s called broadband, but when you’re trying to send a 12-page case study with attachments to the Royal British Legion and the RAF benevolent fund then it’s not very good.
“To be honest, I’d be happy if we got 10 or 12mbps.”