Four local councils provided with government funding to deliver superfast broadband in rural areas over a year ago have failed to make any progress on their projects according to the Countryside Alliance.
The alliance sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the four councils selected for the first trials in October 2010 – the Highlands and Islands, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Herefordshire – and discovered that work had barely begun on the projects.
The group said two councils, Cumbria and the Highlands and Islands, had not spent a penny on their projects while the other two, North Yorkshire and Herefordshire, had only started working on sourcing suppliers to build the networks.
Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said while the organisation welcomed the government's support for rural broadband projects the information uncovered showed it was not doing enough to make sure its funding was being utilised.
"As the responses show, local authorities are struggling to turn Whitehall's promises into reality. It has been over a year since these pilots were set up and the people who live in areas with no or unreliable broadband coverage haven't seen any improvement," she said.
"Unless more is done to simplify the process of acquiring and implementing rural broadband projects, the digital divide will continue to grow and the money pledged by the coalition will remain all but worthless."
V3 contacted the Department for Culture, Media and Sports, responsible for the allocation of the grants, for comment but had received no response at the time of publication.
Cumbria Council dismissed the Countryside Alliance's criticisms, arguing that "firm progress" was being made but added that such a large-scale project was not an easy task and had to be carefully managed.
"The reality is that addressing the historical lack of superfast broadband provision for an area like Cumbria will take time and effort, so despite some expectations it does not happen overnight," it said.
"Multi-million pound procurement exercises need to be done well as we are dealing with taxpayers money."
Since the first pilot projects were announced last year, the government has provided funding of £4m, £15m and £30m to Wiltshire, Norfolk and Devon and Somerset respectively as it looks to ensure all citizens have 2Mbit/s access by 2015.
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