Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael MP launched the new Community Broadband Network at the Access to Broadband Campaign Conference on 27th January.
Supported by government, industry and the co-operative movement, CBN has been set up to help communities get access to affordable broadband - including creating their own services - using social enterprise models.
In a video presentation to the conference the Minister said, "I am delighted to be able announce the launch today of the Community Broadband Network - it is now open for business. As a Labour and Co-operative MP with a community work background you won't be surprised to hear me give enthusiastic support to this approach - so I'm pleased to quote Ewen Cameron (Chairman of Countryside Agency and former President of the Country Landowners Association) who recently said that social enterprise may be good for the urban economy 'but its essential to the rural economy'".
The idea for CBN was initiated by E-Commerce minister, Stephen Timms who said in a speech to the same conference, " I was pleased to join Alun Michael in supporting RuralNet and the Phone Coop in a two-year project to improve the delivery of support for enterprises in this area. The project should crystallise and deliver the experience of social enterprises for the benefit of communities around the UK.
Mr Timms also joined Mr Michael in thanking the Access to Broadband Campaign for all the hard work in helping to accelerate the deployment of broadband throughout the UK, saying "The campaign has been an excellent catalyst in bring together public sector, industry, community and consumer interests around broadband".
CBN's first job is to organise an expert panel to support community initiatives. Based on the successful DirectSupport system for UK Online Centres, the first meeting of experts and mentors attracted 50 people to the DEFRA conference centre in Warwickshire on 22nd January. CBN Manager Malcolm Corbett said, "Whether communities are aiming to meet challenging BT trigger levels, or planning their own alternative services, we are putting in place the know-how to help." CBN partner ruralnet|uk developed the DirectSupport system.
The project's second phase is to work with ABC, the Phone Coop and industry partners to develop technical and business services supporting community projects. Brian Condon, CEO of ABC said, "We need to work on sustainability. It's no good if lots of broadband projects get set up only disappear on a cloud of smoke a few months later." CBN is working on support activities like common billing, joint purchasing of technology and customer services.
As local projects develop CBN expects them to introduce exciting new broadband content and services, driving up demand in their communities. Already flagship projects like Alston Cybermoor in Cumbria are working to deliver Internet telephony (voice over IP) with free local phone calls, as well as new services supporting education and community needs. Malcolm Corbett commented, "With nearly 30% of their rural community connected to the Cybermoor broadband network they are a practical example of how social enterprise is delivering broadband today. They are also well placed to bring innovative broadband services to the local market."
Notes for Editors
1. The Community Broadband Network has been created by a partnership of ruralnet|uk (www.ruralnet.org.uk), The Phone Coop (www.thephone.coop), the Access to Broadband Campaign (www.abcampaign.org.uk) and flagship community project Alston Cybermoor (www.cybermoor.org).
2. Government funding has been committed by the DTI, DEFRA and the Countryside Agency. Funding has also been secured from Co-operative Action, a fund created to support new co-operative and community ventures and from Cisco Systems.
3. CBN has three principle activities:
* To organise the Know-How to support local initiatives. The system in place to manage experts, mentors and knowledge is based on the DirectSupport system for UK Online centres (www.directsupport.org.uk)
* To help community broadband initiatives towards sustainability by organising common back office services, e.g. billing, customer services, joint purchasing of backhaul and other services, technology development.
* To work with the community broadband sector to influence public policy at national and regional level to support community broadband initiatives.
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