Battle to get faster rural broadband

NORFOLK MPs are to meet BT bosses next month to urge them to close gaps in broadband coverage in the county.The MPs, led by South Norfolk's Richard Bacon, will ask BT why some areas of the Norfolk are still broadband “not-spots” without an effective, affordable broadband connection.

NORFOLK MPs are to meet BT bosses next month to urge them to close gaps in broadband coverage in the county.

The MPs, led by South Norfolk's Richard Bacon, will ask BT why some areas of the Norfolk are still broadband “not-spots” without an effective, affordable broadband connection.

They will also press the company, the county's largest broadband provider, to address gaps in rural broadband provision and to improve the quality and reliability of connections to homes and businesses.

Mr Bacon said: “A fast, reliable broadband link is increasingly seen as an essential utility, like water or electricity. However, in many rural areas, broadband is either still not available or the speed and quality of the connection is just inadequate.


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“Broadband is vital to the rural economy yet it is estimated that a quarter of rural areas are in 'not-spots', where homes and businesses cannot get access to fixed-line broadband because they are too far from the nearest exchange.

“It is true that BT is in a difficult position, because often the smallest and least economically viable exchanges are also the most expensive to upgrade. However, it is not good enough simply to provide a basic level of service for rural users. Everybody should be able to access the same quality of service nationwide.

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“I hope BT will be able to tell us what they are doing to stamp out Norfolk's 'not-spots' and get rural homes and businesses out of the broadband slow lane.”

So far Norwich North's Chloe Smith is the only other MP to commit to the meeting on September 11, but there are hopes that the remaining MPs will also attend.

The meeting had originally been scheduled for June but was postponed because representatives from BT Openreach were not available.

On the same day BT officials will also meet representatives of Shaping Norfolk's Future, a business-led partnership that works to create wealth and jobs for the county.

Chief executive Chris Starkie said: “We, like the MPs, are keen to ensure that BT provides a broadband service that will enable Norfolk's businesses to compete on an equal footing with businesses in other parts of the country and the world.

“We're entirely united with the MPs on this issue. Broadband coverage and speed in Norfolk is inadequate and we all need to work together to improve the service for business and householders. We want to work with BT to look at ways of developing funding models to fill in some of these gaps.”

But he warned: “BT is not the only show in town, and if they are unable or unwilling to deliver we will be looking to alternative providers.”

BT spokesman Jason Mann said: “We welcome the opportunity to meet MPs and Shaping Norfolk's Future and discuss this matter.

“We estimate more than 99 per cent of homes and businesses in Norfolk could receive broadband if they wished and we're working to find solutions for the relatively small number of customers that are unable to access broadband for technical reasons.

“We're continuing to make a multi-million pound investment in broadband in Norfolk.”

Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, published in June, recommended that everybody in the country should be able to access broadband at speeds of 2Megabits per second (Mbps) or higher by 2012.

While the speed available in Norfolk's towns and in Norwich can be as high as 6Mbps, in some villages, it can be lower than 0.5Mbps.

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