By Steve McCaskill
The government reportedly plans to offer satellite broadband vouchers to homes and businesses in rural areas not deemed economically viable for fiber deployment and not included in government-funded projects like Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).
First reported by The Telegraph, and confirmed to TechWeekEurope by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), two pilots will be held in Suffolk and West Yorkshire with the intention of expanding the initiative across the United Kingdom.
The vouchers will meet the cost of a satellite dish and modem installation, but not the monthly cost, which is believed will be around £25 a month. The plans were first mentioned in the Conservative's manifesto for the General Election earlier this year, but no mention was made in the summer budget.
"We will ensure no one is left behind by subsidizing the cost of installing superfast capable satellite services in the very hardest to reach areas," read the document.
Four providers will apparently participate in the trial as the government attempts to meet its target of ensuring the entire country has access to speeds of at least 2M bps by the end of the year. It is said at least one provider will offer a superfast 30M bps service.
However, some analysts suggest broadband users need at least 10M bps to make the most of the Internet, while Ofcom has suggested increasing the 'universal service obligation' to that speed. Even the previous coalition government's budget in March suggested 5M bps would become the new standard.
Existing broadband projects like BDUK and the Super Connected City voucher scheme, which provides grants of up to £3,000 to small businesses to upgrade their connectivity, have so far connected more than three million premises.
BDUK is confident it will reach its target of covering 95 percent of the United Kingdom with superfast broadband by 2017, but this still leaves around 1.5 million homes and businesses excluded, leading to fears of the emergence of a "digital divide" between urban and rural areas.
"Alternative" technologies such as LTE and satellite have long been touted as a cost-effective way of reaching the 'final five' percent, with Ofcom holding trials in a number of areas.
In February, BDUK CEO Chris Townsend said he would be petitioning the government for more funding to connect rural areas to satellite as part of 'phase 3' of the project.