One of my major concerns for a long time has been the unreliability and slow speed of broadband services in Suffolk. Access to high speed broadband is an essential part of our lives in the 21st century and affects all aspects of it, from education and farming to wellbeing and health.
Fast broadband should be a readily available facility in all our communities and should not create a ‘digital divide’ between those living in urban areas and those in rural villages, which is one of the many reasons I have been fighting for the swift rollout of superfast broadband since being elected in 2010.
Last week I continued that fight as I joined 120 cross-party Members of Parliament in signing a new report from the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG).
It highlights the fact that despite £1.7 billion of taxpayers’ money being pumped into subsidising the construction of UK high-speed broadband, there are still a staggering 5.7 million people across Britain who are unable to access Internet at the Ofcom required ten Megabits per second.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich falls into the bottom 20 per cent of Parliamentary Constituencies for the number of connections with speeds slower than ten Mb/s.
The situation is also bad for business, with 42 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises reporting problems with their Internet connection, at an estimated £11 billion cost to the economy.
I find this situation unacceptable and last summer I held a debate in Parliament on the issue of broadband in Suffolk where I highlighted the poor performance of BT to Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy.
Despite the fact that the Better Broadband for Suffolk team and Suffolk County Council could exceed timetables and deliver faster, BT has at times impeded delivery and this has been to the detriment of Suffolk residents.
The Minister was grateful to me for raising the issue and agreed to investigate the behaviour of BT in its delivery of superfast broadband to ensure that they help to accelerate the roll-out rather than act as a handbrake.
The recently published report ‘BroadBad’ follows on from the issues I raised in my debate and calls on Ofcom to take radical action over the ‘natural monopoly’ too long enjoyed by BT Openreach.
The report, which details connection speeds in every part of the country, argues that given our modern economy being so reliant on the Internet, it is time to stop being held back by BT’s lack of ambition and under-investment.
Britain should be leading the world in digital innovation, yet instead we often suffer from having a BT run monopoly clinging to outdated copper technology with no proper long-term plan for the future.
We need to start converting to a fully fibre network so we are not left behind the other nations who are rushing to embrace digital advancement. The Broadband Report makes the case that formal separation of BT from Openreach will bring fresh competition and a concerted ambition to deliver, which will create the broadband service that we all need in Suffolk.
For further details, see www.drdanielpoulter.com