Broadband

15 years ago, few people owned a home computer and the internet had barely been heard of.

Today, I visit primary schools where tiny children are confidently using PCs.  When I visited Rydon College last year, I was told that a survey of parents found that only one household did not have a PC at home.

E-mail is now routine - I've received around 6,500 from constituents alone since I was elected.  In fact, I'm writing this on a train from Newcastle, with my laptop connected via mobile broadband.

This week Gordon Brown even said that broadband was an essential service, "as indispensable as electricity, gas and water", and he pledged to give every home access, making broadband "truly available to all" by 2012.

About time, too.  As I said in the Commons this week, while it‘s claimed that a large majority of the population can get some form of broadband, the truth is that at least half a million households cannot obtain reasonable speeds, and many get no acceptable level of internet connection at all - as many infuriated local people tell me.

Only last week one of my South Downs constituents told me that he has to pay £11,000 a year for a relatively slow connection to his converted farm buildings.  In an urban area, the cost would be a few pounds a month.

At the recent Amberley Business Breakfast, Councillor Roger Paterson made a passionate plea that we should not accept the "digital divide" between areas with broadband and those without.

The divide will grow wider still when super-fast fibre-optic broadband is rolled out to half of the population, in cities and large towns, but not to rural areas.  The Government's answer, typically, is a new tax on phone lines, which is hardly fair on people who don't want an internet connection.

Without next generation communications, we will not fulfil the potential of rural Britain to be home to small businesses generating the sustainable jobs of the future.

Michelle Taylor