Last week I met senior BT executives in my office at Westminster to discuss my concerns about broadband in the South Downs area.
Superfast has steadily been rolled out to many towns and bigger villages, in part thanks to the Government and West Sussex County Council’s programme using £21 million of public investment.
That’s the good news. The problem is that, although this programme aims to ensure that 95 per cent of premises in the County will have access to superfast by next year, many premises will be left behind, especially those in the more rural areas which are nowhere near fibre connections.
When the Digital Economy Minister spoke at my ‘digital access summit’, held in conjunction with the South Downs National Park Authority at the end of last year, he was upbeat.
He said that by 2020 the Government’s new broadband Universal Service Obligation will give people the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speeds of 10 Mbps, no matter where they live.
The current guarantee is that premises have access to basic broadband of 2 Mbps. That has applied since the beginning of this year, meaning that people who can’t get broadband at all via a fixed line can now receive a subsidised satellite services. But these speeds are barely adequate for modern needs.
I have given BT a list of 20 communities in my constituency that still have poor broadband or even no broadband at all.
BT are under pressure to deliver. Along with other MPs, I have been urging that the relationship between BT and their broadband delivery subsidiary, Openreach, is examined to see if there is enough competition in this sector.
Openreach has poor standards of service, and many of us - together with competitor telecoms providers - believe it would be better if BT and Openreach were separated.
The regulator Ofcom must shortly make a decision whether to refer this issue to the Competition and Markets Authority. I hope they do.
But in the meantime, the focus must be first on meeting the 95 per cent superfast target, which we are still a long way off, and then on getting superfast to the remaining premises. Fast broadband is now a necessity, not a luxury. The ‘digital divide’ must be closed.