LGA criticises culture secretary’s controversial broadband plans

“Superfast broadband is vital for our country’s future”

Newly appointed culture secretary Maria Miller’s decision to allow broadband providers to implement fibre cabinets without the need for approval from the local council takes away from the public’s right to consider effects on the environment, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

Miller has said she wants to completely do away with any red tape that comes in the way of setting up “superfast broadband” which is “vital to secure our country’s future”.

We are putting essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.”

The new plans follow BT’s decision to pull the plug on its deployment of fibre broadband in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, after the council refused permission to install its fibre cabinets on aesthetic grounds.

Miller’s plans would allow BT to overrule any such objection from local councils, providing that it didn’t want to install the cabinets on Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and while broadband companies have welcomed the news, the LGA believes that “decisions on where to place broadband infrastructure must consider the impact on local environments rather than simply suit the convenience of companies and their engineers.”

The LGA has also said that Miller’s focus should be on getting state aid approval from the European Commission, which is holding up the roll out of fibre in the country, while councils like Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea have said that such extreme measures are not needed and they are cooperating with broadband companies with initiatives like waiving planning fees and Sohonet, Soho’s own fibre network.

Miller has also said that government will work with mobile operators, local government and other parties to streamline the planning process and speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure.

The UK government has said that it hopes to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, and has committed a minimum of £730 million for this end. The money is being distributed to local authorities that bid for funding via a framework created by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that a consultation on the updated plans will begin by spring, with legislation due to follow shortly after that.

Jennifer Scott, writing for Computer Weekly, believes that “if the arguments drag on, a situation could arise where the broadband roll-out is stalled by local councils. This could end up putting the broadband roll-out even further behind schedule while the apparatus of government sifts through the legal ramifications.”

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