I am glad that the government is on track to deliver its manifesto commitment to provide access to superfast broadband to at least 95 per cent of the UK by the end of next year. However, representing a rural constituency I receive a lot of queries from exasperated constituents about broadband in the area and many people highlight difficulties with Openreach, BT's infrastructure division. Indeed, BT have admitted themselves that their customer service is not yet good enough. It remains the case that too many people, and businesses, in counties like Devon continue to be hampered by slow speeds and poor connections and I am clear that connectivity in the countryside must be on a par with urban areas. I believe we need to see services improve as ensuring high speed digital connectivity is a defining factor in our long term success, allowing us to create new opportunities and growth. However, unless we are better able to hold Openreach to account this is an uphill battle.
Therefore, I welcome Ofcom's determination in tackling issues that may prevent this from happening. In November 2016, Ofcom confirmed that it is proceeding with a formal notification to require the legal separation of Openreach from BT and you can read more about this here:
For a long time now Openreach have been accused of underinvesting in upgrading the network and installing high speed fibre, and Ofcom's insistence that it become a separate company within the BT group will help to provide more customer focus. I know BT have stated that, in line with government policy, they wish to provide every property in the UK with better broadband by 2020 and I do hope this will be the case.
I am pleased that the government is now focussing on the 'final 5 per cent' which encompasses those in places that are not covered by existing plans. Measures being taken in this area include the introduction of a Universal Service Obligation (USO), so every premises in the country will have access to broadband at a speed of 10Mbps as an absolute minimum by the end of this Parliament. This speed allows you to watch video on demand, something I know would be great for those of us tired of watching the whirling circle! The government have now asked Ofcom to analyse the factors that will help design the USO and you can read more about this here:
The progress of the Digital Economy Bill is also positive news for those in the countryside, it is vital that our infrastructure keeps up with the changing nature of business in the modern world and this bill will help rural businesses seize future opportunities. The measures included will drive investment in digital infrastructure by giving communications providers the ability to install and update equipment at less cost and with fewer regulatory hurdles. You can keep up with the progress of the Digital Economy Bill here:
A further £1 billion investment in our digital infrastructure was encouraging news in the Autumn Statement, but the priority must be to make sure that enough of this money makes it way to those communities still left behind when it comes to accessing super-fast broadband and this is a point I will keep on pressing on my colleagues up in Westminster.
You can read more about broadband delivery by the government in general here: