THE new Co-op-aided Community Broadband Network will help revolutionise rural social enterprises, says Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael.
Mr Michael, Labour/Co-op MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, told delegates at the Access to Broadband Campaign conference in London that the Campaign had acted as an excellent catalyst, bringing together public sector, industry, community and consumer interests in the broadband debate.
"It illustrates again how important it is to take a multi-stakeholder approach to overcoming problems of the digital divide," he said.
Supported by government, industry and the Co-op Movement ? thanks to funding from Co-operative Action ? CBN has been set up to help communities get access to affordable broadband, including creating their own services, using social enterprise models.
The Phone Co-op is among the four partners involved in the project and, announcing CBN's launch, Mr Michael declared himself "delighted" with the progress made so far. He said: "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 initiative, so I'm pleased to quote Ewen Cameron (Chairman of the Countryside Agency and former President of the Country Landowners Association), who recently said that social enterprise may be good for the urban economy but is essential to the rural economy."
CBN's first major task 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 a conference in Warwickshire last month.
The CBN plans to work with ABC, the Phone Co-op and industry partners to develop technical and business services supporting community projects.
Brian Condon, ABC's Chief Executive, commented: "We need to work on sustainability. It's no good if lots of broadband projects disappear in a cloud of smoke a few months later."
As local projects develop, CBN expects them to introduce exciting new broadband content and services, driving up demand in their communities.
Flagship projects like Alston Cybermoor in Cumbria are working to deliver internet telephony with free local phone calls, as well as new services.
CBN Manager Malcolm Corbett told the News: "With nearly 30 per cent 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.`
? For further information, visit: www.thephone.coop or: www.abcampaign.org.uk