High speed broadband is one of the most important issues affecting the lives of people living in rural Suffolk, both in their businesses and at home.
I am always being contacted by Suffolk residents and businesspeople who express their frustration with their broadband services. Broadband is an essential part of our lives in the 21st century and affects all aspects of it. As a result, I secured a key debate in Parliament on the issue of broadband in Suffolk.
I was joined by my Suffolk colleagues Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, and Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, in thanking Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, for the part he has played in the work already done on the roll-out of superfast broadband.
Suffolk has previously received £12 million from the Government, as well as a further £15 million from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and has led the way nationally to deliver faster broadband to very rural areas.
However, there is still much more to be done, and I asked the Minister for his support in ensuring BT works with the county council’s Better Broadband for Suffolk programme, who should be commended for the work that they have already done.
The poor performance of BT, which has been slow to prioritise coverage of areas with poor broadband, has held back the delivery of superfast broadband.
In instances where the Better Broadband for Suffolk team could exceed timescales, BT has limited the delivery, to the detriment of residents in Suffolk who have not received broadband in the timely manner they should expect.
Farming and agriculture are the backbone of our rural economy but farmers have told me that they do not have the infrastructure connections to comply with online Government services.
Poor broadband service is also affecting their ability to innovate, use new technology and meet other regulations like VAT and animal tagging. I made it clear to the Minister it is essential the roll-out of superfast broadband is linked with better mobile phone technology and reception.
It is vital people running rural businesses have broadband connectivity; not just fibre to the home, but being linked through a portable device, an issue intrinsically connected with mobile coverage and 4G. The lack of reliable phone signal impacts on business, welfare and safety and access to weather and emergency alerts for farmers.
I shall continue to push the Government for more funding and support to deliver superfast broadband for all residents of Suffolk, and especially for the 5 per cent who live in very rural Suffolk. They, too, should enjoy a fast, reliable, sustainable and future-proof solution as the other 95 per cent, and I asked the Minister to avoid creating a ‘digital divide’ between the 5 per cent and the 95 per cent.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say he will investigate BT’s behaviour in its delivery of superfast broadband to ensure they help accelerate the roll-out rather than act as a handbrake. I will keep constituents updated in my efforts to ensure every home, farm, business and school receives improved services.